Review for "Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line" by Deepa Anappara (2020)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
An excellent yet heartbreaking debut novel that revolves around an alarming statistic: 180 children go missing in India each day. Deepa Anappara, a reporter, wrote about the children of India for many years. Children that disappear are trafficked, forced into manual labor and sexual slavery, or worse, murdered and never found. The local police, known for corruption and taking bribes, are completely uninterested in solving these crimes or doing any kind of investigation. They presume all children have run away and absolve themselves of any kind of accountability for protecting their citizens.
At the heart of this book is 9-year-old Jai, a boy living with his parents and older sister in a one-room house in a basti in a large, unnamed Indian city. Jai is your guide into life in a modern Indian slum, where smog covers everything, letting in very little sunlight and making it hard to breathe. Schools in the basti offer sub-par education, parents often work as maids and service people for upper class citizens, and the family must pay for the dignity to use a community outhouse. Every day in the slum, people live in fear of police raids and threats to bulldoze their neighborhood. Despite the bleakness Jai is optimistic and hopeful, watching tv detective shows such as Police Patrol to learn how to solve crimes. When one of his classmates comes up missing, he and two of his friends decide to become detectives to solve the mystery. As is common in India, belief in the supernatural is all throughout this book, with characters discussing djinns (spirits that can be good or bad and can appear as humans or animals). As the friends interview parents and locals about their friend’s whereabouts and find no answers, the children begin to wonder if it is a djinn that’s snatching their friends.
There are also many issues explored in this novel, such as the widespread prejudice against Muslims by Hindus. As more and more children disappear in Jai’s basti, Muslims are accused and jailed for the crimes. Even though two Muslim children are among the kidnapped, Muslims are still blamed. There’s also the wide gap between India’s super rich and the poorest of the poor, separated in the novel by a field of garbage. Despite modernization and the legal ‘end’ of caste system discrimination, class differences and the misery of poor people in India have remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years.
Despite the sense of hopelessness that permeates the book, it is Jai’s optimism keeps you reading until the tragic end. Although by the end Jai is forced to shade his innocence and see his world for what it really is, this is still a thoughtful coming of age story. All in all, I loved this book. The characters, the story, the setting, as well as the depiction of Indian life is exceptional.
**Note: Because this is a book with Indian characters, their language is used frequently throughout with no footnotes. There’s a glossary at the back of this book to help, though I found that after awhile I didn’t need it anymore because the unknown words could be inferred by context.