Life of Pi
How we cite our quotes:
The pandit spoke first. "Mr. Patel, Piscine's piety is admirable. In these troubled times it's good to see a boy so keen on God. We all agree on that." The imam and the priest nodded. "But he can't be a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim. It's impossible. He must choose."
"I don't think it's a crime, but I suppose you're right," Father replied.
The three murmured in agreement and looked heavenward, as did Father, whence they felt the decision must come. Mother looked at me.
A silence fell heavily on my shoulders.
"Hmmm, Piscine?" Mother nudged me. "How do you feel about the question?"
"Bapu Gandhi said, 'All religions are true.' I just want to love God," I blurted out, and looked down, red in the face. (1.23.49-54)
In a hilarious scene, Pi's priest, imam and pandit accidentally meet on the street. Pi is a little embarrassed. But, in some ways, the three religious figures come out looking like the ridiculous ones. They all vie for Pi's loyalty and insist he must choose one religion. His response is a complex statement for such a young boy. Pi watches helplessly as the proprieties and customs of religion battle it out. Pi, of course, doesn't believe religion is about any of those things.
There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, "Business as usual." But they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.
These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. (1.25.1-2)
In this discussion of religion, Pi points out what he believes to be a major misstep by some believers. While God doesn't need their defense, those who do need their protection, the marginalized and poor, are ignored. Pi goes further: it's true God must be defended, but that place is in your heart. Think ahead to Pi's ordeal on the Pacific Ocean and his recovery in Mexico. How does Pi defend God in heart? Whom does he have to defend God against?
During those days of plenty, I laid hands on so many fish that my body began to glitter from all the fish scales that became stuck to it. I wore these spots of shine and silver like tilaks, the marks of colour that we Hindus wear on our foreheads as symbols of the divine. (2.66.6)
Remember earlier in the novel when Pi talks about atman and Brahman? How the divine in humans seeks the divine in the world? (See Themes: Religion 1.16.3). Here's an image of just such a connection: the fish scales, in a kind of silver-blue flame, draw out the divine in Pi.