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The significance of Pondicherry as the setting for Pi's upbringing in Life of Pi

Summary:

Pondicherry's significance as the setting for Pi's upbringing in Life of Pi lies in its unique blend of cultures, religions, and colonial history, which shapes Pi's open-mindedness and spiritual exploration. This diverse environment influences his adaptability and resilience, crucial traits for his survival later in the story.

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Why is Pondicherry an appropriate place for Pi's upbringing?

I'll reinforce the other two posts that mention the fact that Pondicherry is a coastal city. It is important for Pi's upbringing, because it means that Pi is familiar and comfortable with oceans and boats. That may seem like a small thing, but once on the life boat with Richard Parker, Pi has one fewer thing to worry about.  

I'd like to go a slightly different way with Pondicherry's culture though. Pondicherry is an incredibly diverse city. It has religious influences from three major religions, and Pi eventually gravitates toward all three. He claims that he is a Christian, Hindu, and Muslim at the same time. He doesn't see that as a problem, because he sees the people of those religions intermixing within the city that he lives in.  

Despite the cultural diversity of Pondicherry, the government is not as tolerant. The book takes place around the 1970's.  India, at this time, is in rough shape. The government is in turmoil, and Indira Gandhi is establishing more and more power for herself. She is implementing more and more stringent rules over Pondicherry and the rest of India.  So what Pi is experiencing is this weird mixture of cultural diversity and political oppression. I believe this has a huge impact on Pi and his personality. It makes him tolerant and resilient at the same time. I believe those two skills are instrumental in keeping Pi alive while on the life boat with Richard Parker.  

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Why is Pondicherry an appropriate place for Pi's upbringing?

When you speak about Pondicherry in this novel, you are speaking of the first incidence of setting of place.  Therefore it's important to discuss the city in that regard.

My first (and strong) inclination is to say the VAST European influence in the city of Pondicherry in India.  This is absolutely imperative in shaping Pi's thinking throughout the story.  It is obvious that Pi was exposed to other religions other than his own family's.  Of course, this is because Pondicherry was predominantly ruled by the French for hundreds of years already.  (Even the idea of having a "zoo" for exotic animals is a fairly European idea.)  Why is this important?  Consider this quotation:

Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat wearing Muslims.

This idea, this blending of religions is the focal point of the book (and the focus of my favorite quotation, and one I will never forget).  Don't forget when the older Pi turns to the reporter and asks him which story he likes better.  The reporter answers that he liked the one with the animals the best.  We should stand in awe at Pi's response:

And so it is with God.

That is to imply that ANY response the reporter would have said, ANY response the reporter would have clung to, ANY response the reporter would believe, ... is the right one.  And all of this from Pi growing up in Pondicherry!

Secondly, yes, I must agree that it is also important that Pondicherry be a coastal city.  With little or no knowledge of the ocean or boats, Pi (despite his smarts) could not have much hope of survival. In this way, then, the setting of Pondicherry makes Pi's eventual story more realistic, for sure.

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Why is Pondicherry an appropriate place for Pi's upbringing?

Pondicherry is an appropriate place for Pi's upbringing for two main reasons.  Firstly, because it is a coastal city - Pi is familiar with the ocean and water.  In a sense his place of birth, as well as his name, Piscine, foreshadow later events in the book.

Secondly, Pondicherry allowed for the various religious influences Pi had.  Because Pondicherry was under French rule for over 300 years, there were Christian monasteries and Christians in the area as well as Hindus so that Pi could become interested in Christianity by experience.  Because, Pondicherry was an international port city, there were also many Muslims living amongst the predominately Hindu majority making it possible for Pi to come in contact with Islam.  This might have been more uncommon if he were living in an area which was not as culturally open as Pondicherry was.   

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Why is Pondicherry an appropriate place for Pi's upbringing?

Ponicherry, Pi's hometown, shapes much of his life experiences. First of all, the zoo there is run by his father. This gives Pi the experience needed with animals to survive his long journey. Observing the animals also allows him to deal with the events and people in his life. Ponicherry also has multiple cultures and religions to influence his development. Pi was very spiritual with a multitude of different beliefs from different religions. Education was available to him that furthered his knowledge of the world and people. Many of his relatives also lived there and were a source of learning to him.

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Why is Pondicherry an appropriate setting for Pi's upbringing in Life of Pi?

The family's circumstances in Pondicherry lead to Pi's parents' decision to leave India and emigrate to Canada. Without this motivation driving the story, the entire plot revolving around Pi's survival at sea would not have happened. In the 1970s, India's economy experienced a significant decline. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had declared a state of emergency which included curfews and censorship. Political, social, and economic conditions led thousands to protest India's government, and the everyday lives of its citizens were disrupted.

Pi's father concluded that the country's lack of stability threatened the future of the family's zoo. The Patels seek to move their business across the ocean, taking their most important animals with them. This is another crucial detail that is integral to the plot—had the family travelled without their animals, there would be no possibility of Pi surviving at sea with Richard Parker, or his experience with the other animals on the lifeboat. Had Pi had been on the lifeboat alone, this would have also changed the ending of the story and its interpretation. Pi tells the Japanese transit officials and the storyteller two versions of his story of how he survived, one with the animals and one without. Without the animals having been transported overseas, the explanation for the animal version of the story would certainly have been imaginary.

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Why is Pondicherry an appropriate setting for Pi's upbringing in Life of Pi?

Pondicherry was the only French colony in India. During the 1930s, when Pi's mother was growing up, the French were trying to make the city as Gallic as the British were trying to make the rest of India Britannic according to Pi (p. 10). Like the city itself Pi is an anomaly. In school he stands out because of his name, Piscine, which he shortens to "Pi" after the other children refer to him as "Pissing." Pi is more cosmopolitan than the people around him, because he knows about many worlds and traditions. He is at first interested in his teacher, Mr. Kumar, who is an atheist. Later he finds Christianity compelling and then becomes interested in Islam. Though he is born Hindu he strives to understand other religions and worlds, and he also strives to understand not only humans but also animals. Pi, like the city of Pondicherry, is unusual, and the cosmopolitan nature of this city makes it an appropriate setting for Pi's upbringing because he grows up knowing about many different traditions and faiths.  

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Why is Pondicherry an appropriate setting for Pi's upbringing in Life of Pi?

Pondicherry is an appropriate locale for Pi's upbringing and childhood because it offered a lot of diversity. The book takes place right around 1970s India, and it is a rough place. Not with gangs and that kind of stuff, but government upheaval is happening. Indira Gandhi is flexing her political muscles and establishing more and more stringent rules over Pondicherry and other parts of India. It feels stifling to Pi and his family, because Pondicherry itself is very diverse. Because it was once part of French India, there is a lot of cultural and religious diversity there. It only makes sense that Pi would gravitate toward that diversity. For example, take Pi's religion. He's Christian. And Muslim. And Hindu. At the same time. Pi doesn't see a problem intermixing his three faiths because he sees them intermixing among the population that he lives with.  

Pondicherry's diversity mixed with the tightening government oppression serves to show the reader how and why Pi himself is both tolerant and resilient at the same time. Those two skill sets are absolutely critical for his survival on the life boat with Richard Parker.  

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