Chapter no 35

Life of Pi

We left Madras on June 21st, 1977, on the Panamanian-registered Japanese cargo ship Tsimtsum. Her officers were Japanese, her crew was Taiwanese, and she was large and impressive. On our last day in Pondicherry I said goodbye to Mamaji, to Mr. and Mr. Kumar, to all my friends and even to many strangers. Mother was apparelled in her finest sari. Her long tress, artfully folded back and attached to the back of her head, was adorned with a garland of fresh jasmine flowers. She looked beautiful. And sad. For she was leaving India, India of the heat and monsoons, of rice fields and the Cauvery River, of coastlines and stone temples, of bullock carts and colourful trucks, of friends and known shopkeepers, of Nehru Street and Goubert Salai, of this and that, India so familiar to her and loved by her. While her men—I fancied myself one already, though 1 was only sixteen—were in a hurry to get going, were Winnipeggers at heart already, she lingered.

The day before our departure she pointed at a cigarette wallah and earnestly asked, “Should we get a pack or two?”

Father replied, “They have tobacco in Canada. And why do you want to buy cigarettes? We don’t smoke.”

Yes, they have tobacco in Canada—but do they have Gold Flake cigarettes? Do they have Arun ice cream? Are the bicycles Heroes? Are the televisions Onidas? Are the cars Ambassadors? Are the bookshops Higginbothams’? Such, I suspect, were the questions that swirled in Mother’s mind as she contemplated buying cigarettes.

Animals were sedated, cages were loaded and secured, feed was stored, bunks were assigned, lines were tossed, and whistles were blown. As the ship was worked out of the dock and piloted out to sea, I wildly waved goodbye to India. The sun was shining, the breeze was steady, and seagulls shrieked in the air above us. I was terribly excited.

Things didn’t turn out the way they were supposed to, but what can you do? You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it.

As the ship was worked out of the dock…

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