Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Of opening lines...

Taking off from my last post ...

Opening lines sure are elusive things... You spend hours mentally hunting one down and have nothing to show for it. And then there are times you write half a dozen pages without a single break just because one brilliant line came visiting.

Some lines just step out of mundanity and stick to you forever... popping up everytime the context suits them and at times even when it doesn't.
So yesterday after the 'first post-first line' struggle I sat me down and listed out lines which I have read, liked and then carried with me through the years.

There is this 2nd paragraph of 'Angela's ashes' ... "When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood". I still remember how on reading it the 1st time I was quite amused... I wondered what made the author write something like this. At that time I had no clue of how difficult life was in Ireland in that era. Reading the book was an education to that end.

The next one that came to mind (maybe becoz in some ways it is on the same lines) is the opening line of 'Anna Karenina' ..."Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I read this book when I was too young to appreciate it fully. I was around 11 or 12 years old! And then I reread it a few years later. Can't remember much of it now (time for another read!) but what still lingers with me is the feel of the story, the social fabric that was described so tangibly by Tolstoy and the sorrow one feels for Anna. I still remember the 1st scene of the book, where Anna gets off the train, as if I had seen it in some long forgotten 60's movie (though I haven't, all I have done is read the book). That scene is one of the finest introductions to a character... Anna emerges to the reader as this charming and fascinating woman who has a lot of poise, an innate sense of style and an admirable amount of self-confidence. She is the kind of woman who generates respect among total strangers.

And how can one forget the 1st line in 'Pride and Predjudice'. "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" This one novel alongwith 'Little Women' are books which are in the most sorry state amongst all others in my bookshelf. There was a time when everyday after coming home from school I used to take either one of them with me to read at lunch.

I do so love the poem 'Law of the jungle' in 'The Jungle Book' by Rudyard Kipling, especially the 1st 2 lines:
"Now this is the Law of the Jungle -- as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
I love the use of the words "may" and "must" in the 2nd line to show how imminent the death of a law-breaker is :) as if it is some royal decree! It emphasis that death is the undeniable, unescapable fate of someone who dares break the law. The last 2 lines are quite amazing too, they go like this...
"Now these are the Laws of the Jungle, and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the Law and the haunch and the hump is -- Obey!
In fact the whole poem is quite brilliant and like all other Kipling poems has great rythm and like most of his poems it rhymes beautifully.

'Jungle Book' like so many good timeless children's books is a classic which can be enjoyed by children of all ages... And at every stage in your life when you read it, there is a new takeaway for you. Another one of this genre which is also among my all time favorites is Antoine de Saint Exupery's 'Le Petit Prince'. This little book (it is less than 150 pgs!!) is full of powerful one liners which will make you stop midway to admire the simple truth they convey with such clarity. As the book puts it ... "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye."
One of my favorite sentences in this book is "It is such a secret place, the land of tears" And how true. Even in the very same situation the sorrow 2 people face is different. The land of tears is indeed a place where each man ventures alone.
'The Animal Farm' is yet another book which I count among the 2 above, and this maybe misguided, because I don't know whether Animal farm is really meant to be a children's book. But I read it as a child and liked it, even though the underlying concept was lost on me until I read it again recently.

Among the various books am reading currently there is 'The Famished Road' by Ben Okri which has a remarkable and rather unusual set of lines... . "In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry." This book deals with the central myth in Nigerian folklore of the abiku, the spirit-child, which exists between life and death. This book is not a conventional narration but an attempt to explain an entire way of life and a culture... It brings to mind the style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez who through his books lays open to the reader an entire people and an entire country... a task so daunting and so herculean and one he accomplishes so admirably well.

Speaking of famous/unforgettable lines, one book that seems to be abounding in them is Mario Puzo's 'Godfather'. The 1st time I read it I finished it in 1 sitting... starting at around 12:30 one night and finishing at 6:30 the next morning, when mom came to wake me up for school. The book cast some spell on me! Since then I have reread it numerous times. I love the way the story slick and so fast... not a wasted word. And every character is so well etched. Mario Puzo must have been possessed by something unexplainable when he wrote that story extraordinaire. Coz he could never recreate the magic. After Godfather I read all his other books and forgave him every single one of them!

And now that I have poked around a hundred such lines have come tumbling out... i'd better stem the flow and stop here else i would be up the whole night and then some more!!