‘Life of Pi’ Author was a ‘Backpacker’: The then zoo director

Published: 28th November 2012 10:12 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th November 2012 10:12 AM   |  A+A-


‘Life of Pi’, the Booker Prize-winning story of an Indian boy who is stranded on a boat in Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger, has more Indian connections. While the film adaptation of this book written by Yann Martel is successfully running in theatres worldwide, few know about its connection to Thiruvananthapuram zoo.

 Martel had spent a lot of time in Thiruvananthapuram zoo during his Indian visit in 1996. After winning the Booker Prize in 2002, Martel wrote about the research he did among zoo animals before writing the gripping tale of a shipwreck which leaves a boy floating in the Pacific Ocean for 227 days with a hyena, zebra, orangutan and a Bengal tiger. “I visited all the zoos I could find in the south of India. I interviewed the director of the Trivandrum Zoo,” he wrote.

 The then zoo director Mohammed Sali remembers Martel as a ‘backpacker’ who visited the zoo every day from Ponmudi, where he stayed those days. “It was during 1996 or 1997. I remember him approaching on an evening to do research on zoo animals. A lot of foreigners used to approach us with this demand. Since I had some free time, I accompanied him to the zoo,” said Sali, who is now enjoying his retired life at Vattiyoorkavu.

 “Those days, monkeys were kept in Island Park, an island in the pond. We used a wooden raft to reach the island to feed the monkeys. Martel too came with us those days. He was also keen to study about the behaviour of the hyena,” said Sali.

 Incidentally, Sali has not read ‘Life of Pi’ and was unaware that hyena, orangutan and tiger are the major animal characters in the story. 

“Martel spent most of the time in the carnivorous section. He used to jot down things in a book. Sometimes, he could be seen drawing. He would wander in the zoo until he took the last bus to Ponmudi,” said Sali.

 Sali never knew that the animals in the zoo would turn immortal characters later. “Martel said that he was here for a research and I did not enquire much into it,” he said.

 Abu, the then curator, does not remember Martel’s visit. He, however, said that there were five tigers in the zoo at that time.


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp