We took the most clichéd beginning possible to any story — ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ — tweaked it a bit and threw the line at our readers. The idea was for them to come up with the first paragraph of an imaginary short story or novel with that single opening line. What we received in our mailbox over three weeks was pretty much every permutation and combination in terms of story lines, genres and styles.
While the traditional opening line usually leads the reader to a Gothic ghost story or a freeze-inducing mystery novel or even into Daphne du Maurier-meets-Stephen King territory, readers writing in used the twisted line as a jumping board to journey into everything from a humorous tale and a social realistic novella to a noir reconstruction of 26/11.
And just for the record, it wasn’t a dark and stormy night at all. But it could have been.
Heat of the Moment
It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but quite the opposite actually. The afternoon lozenge sun threw sharp shafts of light that seared my skin like the words of an angry poet. So hot were the walls of my little room on the roof that I could have made chapatis on them. The air around me sizzled blue-orange. Downstairs, they all slept in the air-conditioned bedroom in an artificial draperied darkness. It was the Sunday-afternoon-nap-after-the-Biryani ritual. Even after I crept into their cool room, allowing a single beam to bisect the sleeping family into Light and Dark, I could still feel the sun, roasting my insides like ripe eggplants on a hot stove. Later, much later, when Inspector Madanagopal asked me why I had done it, I only said, “It was the heat.”
Nirupama Subramanian, Gurgaon
Inside the Batcove
It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but the opposite actually. One good thing about this place was you could have it any way you wanted. I saw her then. She’d been crouching near the doorway of the dark and deserted alley and by some instinct whipped around as I approached. Her eyes widened in fear and I thought she was going to scream. “You... you’re... Batman aren’t you?” I nodded. She spoke with effort. “They’re after me.” She stopped. “You’ve got to help me. Listen. There isn’t much time...” She slowly slumped forward. I reached her in a bound. She’d been shot and had lost a lot of blood. “There they are.” As I heard the shout, the picture faded. Mummy had switched off my Cyberspacer. She craned over to look at it. “Batman,” she read and bit her lip. “Seven hours is enough, Batman,” she said. “Go outside and play.” “But it’s a dark, stormy night outside, mom,” I said...
AK Vijayakumar, Chandigarh
It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but quite the opposite actually. I knew something was wrong. I had the feeling that somebody was staring at me. He was following me. I wondered what he wanted. I could hear his footsteps. I swallowed hard. A chill ran down my spine. My mouth suddenly felt dry. He squeezed my shoulder. I froze in dread. I could feel him, but I couldn’t move. He waved his hand in front of my face. But I couldn’t blink. Couldn’t move my eyes. “Hey, Rick you’re kidding right?” he asked. “Did I scare you? Say something.” But I had already died moments before.
Ankur Khanna, New Delhi
Train of Thought
It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but quite the opposite actually. The Jodhpur-Howrah express raced towards its destination with most of the passengers sunk in deep slumber. Seth Loknath tossed and turned restlessly on his berth. Though not an insomniac, what lay ahead robbed him of his sleep. He had fixed up a meeting with his old lawyer in Kolkata to change his will. With a deep sigh he sat up and tottered towards the toilet in the fast-moving train. Finding it occupied, he stood beside it, staring out into the dark night. He started as he felt a hand on his shoulder. But before he could turn his head, a violent shove sent him flying into the yawning abyss below. His scream was drowned in the roar of the train as it sped towards Howrah, oblivious of the missing passenger.
B. Amisha, Jaipur
Giving It Back
It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but quite the opposite actually. To Henry, it seemed a lovely spring day. The daisies sat in a perfect row, each 18.4 inches tall. Henry looked at them; even though one was 18.1 inches, he admired its simple beauty. Lovely cirrus clouds floated in the blue sky of Henry’s consciousness. The night’s conflicting winds had subsided and he prepared for his daughter’s arrival. She was bringing her fiancé. She was bringing the man who had stolen his daughter’s heart. But that was okay, he smiled to himself as he polished his .33 caliber, he was getting it back.
Aanandita Chawla, New Delhi
In His Shadow
It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but quite the opposite actually and Kishori was all set to close her laptop when her husband, Ramesh, came in. He was in a hurry. While buttoning his shirt, he said, “I have to leave for an important office get together. Hope it is fine by you.” There had been too many late nights lately, thought Kishori. She generally wasn’t the suspicious type and in fact, even now, continued to pack her laptop as if she wasn’t bothered. Ramesh mistook her silence for agreement and started to move towards the main door. It was at that very instant that Kishori decided to listen to the voice coming from a small corner of her heart and follow Ramesh. As she heard him start the ignition of his Honda City, Kishori found herself grabbing the keys of her Maruti Alto.
Gagandeep Kaur, New Delhi
Blue of Noon
It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but quite the opposite actually. The day was bright and balmy with hardly a cloud on the horizon. Yet the sunrays flicking merrily over the waves did nothing to lessen the knot of darkness that lodged inside Aadil’s heart. All the years of preparation and fortitude, of piety and dedication to the cause — all was coming to fruition. No going back now, he thought as he looked around the boat. Nine equally grim and determined looking faces met his gaze. It was the afternoon of November 26, 2008 and they were still several hours away from the shores of Mumbai.
Rajat Gulati, Noida
It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but quite the opposite actually. Dinesh, accompanied by a friend passed through the busy market. They were on their way to a place where many sought pleasure in the dead of night. A world away from the world, souls seeking refuge from their miseries, desperate to escape the world …Wasn’t Dinesh’s idea though. It was late evening when the friend said, “Dinesh, come let’s enjoy the night.” Though hesitant, he agreed on his friend’s insistence. After a couple of drinks, both were drunk. Sometime later, Dinesh knocked on a door. When it opened, he exclaimed, “Nirupama — are you not ashamed of yourself? What are you doing here?” She replied gently, “Dinesh, when you can come here, why should I be ashamed of being here?”
VR Ashok, Ghaziabad
Seen from a Window
It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but quite the opposite actually. I was sitting by the window in my apartment staring at the driveway that led to the building. Only occasionally did my eyes flit towards the fountain in the society lawns below. I sighed and glanced upwards at the clear skies. Something was seriously amiss, I told myself. I reached out and picked up my cell phone from the coffee table in front of me. Restlessly, I unlocked its keypad and then locked it again. I kept it back on the table and then once again focused my attention on the driveway.
Satwinder Singh, Chandigarh
Train from Pakistan
It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but quite the opposite actually. All was quiet in the stalled train. It’d been 13 hours since she’d last seen Sindh, but Devi still felt dead inside. Weeping was a luxury; something had to be done now. The money was the only thing standing between them and utter pennilessness — it could help her family avoid the terrifying “refugee camps on the Indian-side” everyone was talking about. But the guards would be here any moment. She’d heard horror stories, of husbands being taken away, of children thrown over the bridge into this very river — all for the discovery of just one ‘Pakistani’ rupee on them. Devi weighed her three daughters, one son and one husband against the pillowcase, against what her preceding four generations had ever earned. Finally she stood up, grabbing the overstuffed pillowcase as she made her way to the toilet.
Manisha Dhingra, Thane