Looking for Pi in Pondicherry

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive Pondicherry Botanical Garden

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“Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud...”

- Yann Martel, Life of Pi

When life imitates the art that imitated it, memories run off the rails. In Pondicherry, The Great East Coast Road Drive went in search of the zoo in Life of Pi.

Piscine Molitor Patel, or Pi as we've now come to know him, love him, and relate to his extraordinary journey with the Royal Bengal Tiger Richard Parker in the open Pacific Ocean, is the protagonist of Canadian author Martel's Booker Prize-winning novel. He constructs with vivid clarity the zoological garden in Pondicherry that Pi's father ran, and where he met the tiger. In the book, Pi and a raft of animals are the only survivors of a shipwreck that drowns his family, a scene that Ang Lee reimagined along another dimension in the Oscar-winning film adaptation. Lee populated the zoo with realistic CGI zebras, tapirs, leopards and, of course, Richard Parker. If you have watched the movie, the most enduring image of the zoo is of the toy train that runs between two stations. So inspiring it was that we went looking for the garden in Pondicherry.

Imagine our surprise when we found that one such exists. It's not a zoo, but a botanical garden planted by the French administrators of Pondicherry and dates back a good couple of centuries. There was a railway track, and we finally saw the train. But it was nothing like we had expected.

Follow the Great East Coast Road Drive

Photos: AZHAR MOHAMED ALI
Text: BIJOY VENUGOPAL

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