The first Mr. Kumar had expressed the wish to see the zoo. “All these years and I’ve never seen it. It’s so close by, too. Will you show it to me?” he asked.
“Yes, of course,” I replied. “It would be an honour.”
We agreed to meet at the main gate the next day after school.
I worried all that day. I scolded myself, “You fool! Why did you say the main gate? At any time there will be a crowd of people there. Have you forgotten how plain he looks? You’ll never recognize him!” If I walked by him without seeing him he would be hurt. He would think I had changed my mind and didn’t want to be seen with a poor Muslim baker. He would leave without saying a word. He wouldn’t be angry–he would accept my claims that it was the sun in my eyes–but he wouldn’t want to come to the zoo any more.
And so Pi stood rubbing his eyes repeatedly in an effort to spot him better, and fending off distractions in the form of friends and strangers asking him troublesome questions.
“I am here, Piscine.”
My hands froze over my eyes. That voice. Strange in a familiar way, familiar in a strange way. I felt a smile welling up in me.
This part of the book made me want to cry and laugh at the same time.
My favourite character so far is the poor Muslim baker. I can see him in my mind. I imagine the sort of self-conscious silence he carries himself with, a determined unobtrusiveness, afraid to impose. The kind that the average person would mistake for vacancy, and dismiss. (I fancy that is the reason Martel specifically described him as “difficult to recognize”.) And then at times, abruptly, he pulls himself up with a boldness and quiet strength in speech.
A person you pity at first, feel this impulse to protect and defend, and then in one swift blow, humbles and awes you. And you feel shame for your arrogance in ever thinking you were in a position to “protect” him.
It forever changes the dynamics of how you interact with the world at large. Who is weak and who is strong. The helper and the helped. Almost like how this word “help” is so discriminatory. (For some time now, I haven’t been able to use this word in a serious context without cringing.)
Why would Martel make the poor Muslim baker and the polio-stricken teacher share the same name?
He also deliberately confused the accounts of the two Kumars feeding carrot to the zebra. I at first attributed the second account to the poor Muslim baker because “He wasn’t so demanding of the zebra.” – quickly allowing the zebra to enjoy the full piece of the carrot, instead of denying it for a bit in the first account. But there is gentleness in both accounts, both in their own way. Though I can’t figure out for sure which is the gentleness that belongs to the baker.