Chapter no 36

Life of Pi

The cities are large and memorably crowded in India, but when you leave them you travel through vast stretches of country where hardly a soul is to be seen. I remember wondering where 950 million Indians could be hiding.

I could say the same of his house.

I’m a little early. I’ve just set foot on the cement steps of the front porch when a teenager bursts out the front door. He’s wearing a baseball uniform and carrying baseball equipment, and he’s in a hurry. When he sees me he stops dead in his tracks, startled. He turns around and hollers into the house, “Dad! The writer’s here.” To me he says, “Hi,” and rushes off.

His father comes to the front door. “Hello,” he says.

That was your son?” I ask, incredulous.

Yes.” To acknowledge the fact brings a smile to his lips. “I’m sorry you didn’t meet properly. He’s late for practice. His name is Nikhil. He goes by Nick.

I’m in the entrance hall. “I didn’t know you had a son,” I say. There’s a barking. A small mongrel mutt, black and brown, races up to me, panting and sniffing. He jumps up against my legs. “Or a dog,” I add.

He’s friendly. Tata, down!

Tata ignores him. I hear “Hello.” Only this greeting is not short and forceful like Nick’s. It’s a long, nasal and softly whining Hellooooooooo, with the ooooooooo reaching for me like a tap on the shoulder or a gentle tug at my pants.

I turn. Leaning against the sofa in the living room, looking up at me bashfully, is a little brown girl, pretty in pink, very much at home. She’s holding an orange cat in her arms. Two front legs sticking straight up and a deeply sunk head are all that is visible of it above her crossed arms. The rest of the cat is hanging all the way down to the floor. The animal seems quite relaxed about being stretched on the rack in this manner.

And this is your daughter,” I say.

Yes. Usha. Usha darling, are you sure Moccasin is comfortable like that?

Usha drops Moccasin. He flops to the floor unperturbed.

Hello, Usha,” I say.

She comes up to her father and peeks at me from behind his leg. What are you doing, little one?” he says. “Why are you hiding?” She doesn’t reply, only looks at me with a smile and hides her face. How old are you, Usha?” I ask.

She doesn’t reply.

Then Piscine Molitor Patel, known to all as Pi Patel, bends down and picks up his daughter.

You know the answer to that question. Hmmm? You’re four years old.

One, two, three, four.

At each number he softly presses the tip of her nose with his index finger. She finds this terribly funny. She giggles and buries her face in the crook of his neck.

This story has a happy ending.

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