In one of the most captivating openings of a book this eNotes Educator has ever read, Boo using incredible visual imagery coupled with the technology of fast-forwarding and rewinding a tape/memory to capture the setting in the Annawadi Slum. The focus of the slum setting is on the people that make up the setting instead of the surroundings.
There is no better way to report on the opening use of language than to quote directly from Boo in her book and then explain.
Let it keep. The moment when Officer Fish Lips met Abdul in the police station. Rewind, see Abdul running backward, away from the station and the airport, toward home.
Note the terms here of "let it keep" and "rewind." It might take the reader an extra moment (especially in light of the first sentence), but those two terms can be likened to the "freeze frame" and the "rewind" of what you might call the videotape of memory. The irony here is that we, as readers, don't have a memory, yet, of the characters of Officer Fish Lips and/or Abdul. They, of course are important characters in the book and in Annawadi as home. This is our first glimpse of them as readers. It is a fascinating way to present both setting and characterization. Boo continues to introduce other characters in this way as well (and immediately following).
See the flames engulfing a disabled woman in a pink-flowered tunic shrink to nothing but a matchbook on the floor. See Fatima minutes earlier, dancing on crutches to a raucous love song, her delicate features unscathed.
Again, here we are presented with graphic images of what we will read and understand in the future. Leaving "a disabled woman" unnamed is significant. Most people are nameless in Annawadi. Boo vows to remedy that, but her point in presenting us immediately with this graphic image is to remind us of what she is up against as a writer: the poor as anonymous. Then, of course, we see the character of Fatima. Why does she follow a graphic death? Fatima will eventually have a graphic death, herself. Here we are introduced to her character: yet another disabled woman (almost as anonymous as the woman above) who dances and has delicate features.
It is at this point where Boo's words of setting change. Why? She needs to begin her story.
Keep rewinding, back seven more months, and stop at an ordinary day in January 2008. It was about as hopeful a season as there had ever been in the years since a bitty slum popped up in the biggest city of a country that holds one-third of the planet's poor. A country dizzy now with development and circulating money.
With the words "keep rewinding" we learn that we have been given some of the foreshadowed future of the setting and the characters here. We are "rewound" to ta time of more hope. The specific setting of time is given: January 2008. The specific setting of place is given first in the title of the chapter ("Annawadi") and next in the words here, "bitty slum."
In conclusion, please note that the beginning language here ends with the word "now" which shows that even after all of the events in the book, the huge mass of poor people still exist despite the "development" and "circulating money" that still can be found in an anonymous elsewhere in Mumbai.