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Chapter 6
He's an excellent cook. His overheated house is alwayssmelling of something delicious. His spice rack looks like anapothecary's shop. When he opens his refrigerator or hiscupboards, there are many brand names I don't recognize;in fact, I can't even tell what language they're in. We arein India. But he handles Western dishes equally well. Hemakes me the most zestyyet subtle macaroni and cheese I'veever had. And his vegetarian tacos would be the envy of allMexico.
I notice something else: his cupboards are jam-packed.
Behind every door, on every shelf, stand mountains ofneatly stacked cans and packages. A reserve of food to lastthe siege of Leningrad.
Chapter 7It was my luck to have a few good teachers in my youth,men and women who came into my dark head and lit amatch. One of these was Mr. Satish Kumar, my biology teacherat Petit Seminaire and an active Communist who was alwayshoping Tamil Nadu would stop electing movie stars and go theway of Kerala. He had a most peculiar appearance. The top ofhis head was bald and pointy, yet he had the most impressivejowls I have ever seen, and his narrow shoulders gave way toa massive stomach that looked like the base of a mountain,except that the mountain stood in thin air, for it stoppedabruptly and disappeared horizontally into his pants. It's amystery to me how his stick-like legs supported the weightabove them, but they did, though they moved in surprisingways at times, as if his knees could bend in any direction. Hisconstruction was geometric: he looked like two triangles, a smallone and a larger one, balanced on two parallel lines. Butorganic, quite warty actually, and with sprigs of black hairsticking out of his ears. And friendly. His smile seemed to takeup the whole base of his triangular head.
Mr. Kumar was the first avowed atheist I ever met. Idiscovered this not in the classroom but at the zoo. He was aregular visitor who read the labels and descriptive notices intheir entirety and approved of every animal he saw. Each tohim was a triumph of logic and mechanics, and nature as awhole was an exceptionally fine illustration of science. To hisears, when an animal felt the urge to mate, it said "GregorMendel", recalling the father of genetics, and when it was timeto show its mettle, "Charles Darwin", the father of naturalselection, and what we took to be bleating, grunting, hissing,snorting, roaring, growling, howling, chirping and screechingwere but the thick accents of foreigners. When Mr. Kumarvisited the zoo, it was to take the pulse of the universe, andhis stethoscopic mind always confirmed to him that everythingwas in order, that everything was order. He left the zoo feelingscientifically, refreshed. The first time I saw his triangular formteetering and tottering about the zoo, I was shy to approachhim. As much as I liked him as a teacher, he was a figure ofauthority, and I, a subject. I was a little afraid of him. Iobserved him at a distance. He had just come to therhinoceros pit. The two Indian rhinos were great attractions atthe zoo because of the goats. Rhinos are social animals, andwhen we got Peak, a young wild male, he was showing signsof suffering from isolation and he was eating less and less. Asa stopgap measure, while he searched for a female, Fatherthought of seeing if Peak couldn't be accustomed to living withgoats. If it worked, it would save a valuable animal. If it didn't,it would only cost a few goats. It worked marvellously. Peakand the herd of goats became inseparable, even when Summitarrived. Now, when the rhinos bathed, the goats stood aroundthe muddy pool, and when the goats ate in their corner, Peakand Summit stood next to them like guards. The livingarrangement was very popular with the public.
Mr. Kumar looked up and saw me. He smiled and, onehand holding onto the railing, the other waving, signalled me tocome over.
"Hello, Pi," he said.
"Hello, sir. It's good of you to come to the zoo.""I come here all the time. One might say it's my temple.
This is interesting…" He was indicating the pit. "If we hadpoliticians like these goats and rhinos we'd have fewer problemsin our country. Unfortunately we have a prime minister whohas the armour plating of a rhinoceros without any of its goodsense."I didn't know much about politics. Father and Mothercomplained regularly about Mrs. Gandhi, but it meant little tome. She lived far away in the north, not at the zoo and not inPondicherry. But I felt I had to say something.
"Religion will save us," I said. Since when I could remember,religion had been very close to my heart.
"Religion?" Mr. Kumar grinned broadly. "I don't believe inreligion. Religion is darkness."Darkness? I was puzzled. I thought, Darkness is the lastthing that religion is. Religion is light. Was he testing me? Washe saying, "Religion is darkness," the way he sometimes said inclass things like "Mammals lay eggs," to see if someone wouldcorrect him? ("Only platypuses, sir.")"There are no grounds for going beyond a scientificexplanation of reality and no sound reason for believinganything but our sense experience. A clear intellect, closeattention to detail and a little scientific knowledge will exposereligion as superstitious bosh. God does not exist." -Did he say that? Or am I remembering the lines of lateratheists? At any rate, it was something of the sort. I had neverheard such words.
"Why tolerate darkness? Everything is here and clear, if onlywe look carefully."He was pointing at Peak. Now though I had greatadmiration for Peak, I had never thought of a rhinoceros as alight bulb.
He spoke again. "Some people say God died during thePartition in 1947. He may have died in 1971 during the war.
Or he may have died yesterday here in Pondicherry in anorphanage. That's what some people say, Pi. When I was yourage, I lived in bed, racked with polio. I asked myself every day,‘Where is God? Where is God? Where is God?' God nevercame. It wasn't God who saved me – it was medicine. Reasonis my prophet and it tells me that as a watch stops, so wedie. It's the end. If the watch doesn't work properly, it must befixed here and now by us. One day we will take hold of themeans of production and there will be justice on earth."This was all a bit much for me. The tone was right – lovingand brave – but the details seemed bleak. I said nothing. Itwasn't for fear of angering Mr. Kumar. I was more afraid thatin a few words thrown out he might destroy something that Iloved. What if his words had the effect of polio on me? Whata terrible disease that must be if it could kill God in a man.
He walked off, pitching and rolling in the wild sea that wasthe steady ground. "Don't forget the test on Tuesday. Studyhard, 3.14!""Yes, Mr. Kumar."He became my favourite teacher at Petit Seminaire and thereason I studied zoology at the University of Toronto. I felt akinship with him. It was my first clue that atheists are mybrothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word theyspeak speaks of faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs ofreason will carry them – and then they leap.
I'll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in mycraw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must allpass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played withdoubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night inprayer, if He burst out from the Cross, "My God, my God,why have you forsaken me?" then surely we are also permitteddoubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as aphilosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means oftransportation.


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