Elephants in My Back Yard
A Memoir
Rajiv Surendra
(Regan Arts)
Rajiv has one goal in life. He wants to play the lead in the film version of The Life of Pi. Why?

Well, he's an actor, with physics on his side. He's a Tamil, from what we used to call Sri Lanka. He's young. He's handsome. He's a driven young man. And he's got experience on his side, because he starred in a pot-boiler called Mean Girls as wrought by Tina Fey. He played a "rapping Mathlete," whatever that may be.The movie was all about cliques, and how they stick it to everyone in high school. The teachers too. There was A Burn Book, "a journal filled with rumors, secrets, and gossip about the other girls and some teachers at school."

Cady Heron and her BB are a disgrace, but fortunately Regina, her bête noir, gets so mad at her she runs out on the street and gets run over by a school bus and breaks her back. Regina was one of a gang of "plastics" but after being squashed by the school bus we learn her back is not all that bad because shortly she's playing Lacrosse and she doesn't have to be angry all the time.

(Cady also has a friend named Karen, we are told, who can tell when there is going to be a storm because "her breasts can tell when it is raining" so she becomes a television weather forecaster.)

I stole all this from Wikipedia, and if you can't figure it out, I can't either, but let's hope that Rajiv can, although I couldn't find Rajiv's name anywhere in Wikipedia's summary so I guess his appearance in the film was crucially important, three minutes of fame being a ticket out of being a Tamil living in Toronto, mostly being ignored by the honkies there.

If nothing else, Rajiv is enthusiastic, and gorgeous, and non-stop. He decides that he is going to play Piscine Molitor Patel in The Life of Pi. Pi, it turns out, is not 3.14159265359 but an Indian boy from Pondicherry, who "survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker."

To get in the movie, Rajiv makes contact with Yann Martel who dreamed up this unlikely tale, and becomes email pals with him. He also goes to Pondicherry to see how everyone lives there, and if, before, we were resisting him and his need to overdo everything, we melt with him under the sun in that city.

He goes to a school, becomes pals with three of the students there, and he and the head of the school go off for a visit in the country. When they return, they meet up with a roadblock: a man with a hand torn and bloody from a wreck. Without a pause, Rajiv takes off his fine white linen shirt, which we had gotten rather fond of, binds the man's blood-soaked hand and they drive off to find a hospital, probably saving his life.

The next week, his last day in Pondicherry, he returns for one final visit to the school, and finds himself being lauded by the head of the school on the school speakers:

    Yesterday I witnessed the compassion and care for a fellow human being that was unaffected by caste or creed. I myself refused to help a man in desperate need. It took someone from so far away to show me the error of my ways and the ways of this country.

Rajiv won't let up on his preparation for his place in Pi. He even goes to have a talk with a tiger in the Toronto zoo so he can psych himself up to be in a boat with Richard Parker for seven or eight months. Since Pi will be out drifting in the water Rajiv decides he has to learn how to swim even though he is not very enamored of the thought but tigers can get very hungry in a long journey in a small boat.

So Swim School. And in an early day in the shower room at a local public pool in Toronto, preparing to go in the water, he finds himself next to an "eighty-year-old that looked like he had just returned from Auschwitz, pure skin and bones in a light and airy pair of loose, neon orange swimming shorts." The old man turns and Rajiv sees his back

    was completely covered in peeling skin - - - eczema wounds that were blistering and filled with puss, oozing out as the warm water rippled and cascaded down his bumpy lesions. Great. The bits of microscopic poo in the water could could be joined by thin flakes of sloughing skin and puss.

Beats me. Maybe instead of working for six years aiming to be a star in another film, Rajiv should bone up on his English so that he doesn't confuse the snarky exudate from an old man's scab-encrusted back with those sweet cuddly things that jump up on your lap and purr.

No problem. We are left with the picture of a young man with a mission, which may be more than ones that you or I have ever had, but in the process of his search, he proves himself to be a hell of a good writer, with lotsa heart, someone we would love to get to know, maybe shack up with - - - even if he can't tell the difference between an oozing gack thing on a man's back and a warm cuddly furry thing in your lap.

If nothing else, Rajiv is a master at decorative pictures. Expecting to run into the fish of the seas, he contributes a fine drawing in the book - - - one that he was, we suppose, to see on his many months at sea with this overgrown pus.

--- Pamela Wylie

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