In praise of : Great Openings

It has been advised not to judge a book by its cover (here are some clues if you do) but they did not say anything about its opening lines, which surely is a fair game. For if the author can’t take the trouble to carve out a good starting point from where rest of the story suppose to flow, then how she would handle the peak where interpretive pressure is highest.
Although, its the ending of a story which leaves a permanent residue in our conscience, a good beginning, however, makes it easier for a time-starved reader to reach such a point. In these days of modern hectic life,  people don’t have time to think in abundance. Either they have given up thinking all-together or are thinking in tweets. Such humans often relies on snap judgements thought for them by someone else. As one gentleman is trying hard to convince us about the ‘power of thinking without thinking’ by writing some best selling books. According to Charlie Brown, this book ‘was all bullshit‘. Judging a book by its cover may be downright dumb but It’d be only less philistine to judge a book by its opening only. Wouldn’t it? But anyway.

When the opening is great (by great I mean something I like), few will put down the book. During high-school, in a magazine India Today, when I read in an opening of a story about a Scooter that its owner Ram Gopal has changed his name to ‘Pal Gomra’ to Westernise himself – supposedly a very common Indian disorder – I liked it instantly and it is the only fact from this story, I am able to remember till date. Next came Oscar Wilde, with his one of many wits, “But beauty, real beauty ends where an intellectual expression begins. …  Intellect in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face.” Ah, who wouldn’t read on?

I like the way characters introduce themselves. In ‘My name is Red’, I met a very unlikely protagonists, “I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of a well” and one of the ‘Midnight’s Children’ told me, “Clock hands joined palms in respectful greetings as I came“. And if you agree for time being that opening lines can run into first few  pages then I found George Orwell telling me some rather unintuitive ideas, “War is peace, freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” and goes on to introduce double-speak and thought-crime. It was too much for a 18 year old sophomore!

Talking of twisted wisdom: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Anna Karenina) showed me literature ‘first and best secret‘ : sympathy, ‘that source of all distinctively human interest, is what turns type into character.‘ Is has been said that there is ‘no literature without sympathy, no individual without suffering.‘ Ok, I’ll keep this in mind.

Some openers are so sharp that they seem to make a hole through the rest of the story. And who can write sharper prose than Arundhati Roy. In her first and only work of fiction, she introduces us to Rahel. In each of school she went to, the teachers noted that she ‘(a) Was an extremely polite child. (b) Had no friends.‘ About her, her classmate whispered to each other, ‘as though she didn’t know how to be a girl.‘ And Arundhati later tells us that ‘they weren’t far off the mark!’

Describing characters! Lewis Carrol tells us about Alice that ‘She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it), and sometimes she scolded herself so severely as to bring tears into her eyes‘. Alice was ‘very fond of pretending to be two people.’ and while wondering in Wonderland she thought whether it is useful ‘to pretend to be two people!‘ Why? ‘There’s hardly enough of me left to make ONE respectable person!‘ Well, one really wants to read more about such lovely characters.

Not all of characters are innocent and lovely. There are some who knows the reality of world inside out. Like poor people, they don’t wonder about the world for they know how it works. Balram Halwai , “The White Tiger” (and an Entrepreneur) is one of them. Writing to Chinese Premier, he says, “Sir, Neither you nor I speak English, but there are some things that can be said only in English.” and “Apparently, sir, you Chinese are far ahead of us in every respect, except that you don’t have  entrepreneurs. And our nation, though it has no drinking water, electricity, sewage system, public transportation, sense of hygiene, discipline, courtesy, or punctuality, does have entrepreneurs. Thousands and thousands of them.”

These are some of my favourite openers (till date). What about yours!


Dilawar

Advertisements

Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

2 thoughts on “In praise of : Great Openings”

  1. How about Dicken's "tale of two cities":"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way"

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s