Cbr12bingo Violet (this is also a debut novel if you are looking for one)
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is a sort of detective novel told from the point of view of a nine year old boy who dreams of solving the mystery of the missing children from his “basti” (neighborhood, or in this case slum) in a major city in India. Author Deepa Anappara was inspired to write this story after spending time as a journalist interviewing children in the slums of Delhi and Mumbai. While the narrative focus is on children, the subject matter is decidedly not whimsical or childish. Anappara tackles the very real problem of missing children in India, as well as poverty, discrimination, and injustice, all from the point of view of those most likely to suffer from it and least able to do anything about it.
Jai serves as our narrator. He, his sister (Didi) Runu and their parents live in a crowded, dirty slum near both the garbage dump and the expensive, gated high-rise (or hi-fi/high finance) apartments that the wealthy inhabit. Jai’s mother, like many women in the basti, works as a domestic servant for a wealthy hi-fi lady, and his father also works. Jai and Runu attend the local school, which is full of children who share their situation. Jai’s best friends are a very smart girl named Pari and Faiz, who is Muslim. Runu, aged 12, mostly avoids hanging out with her annoying little brother and is very busy with running track, as she is a gifted runner. When Jai’s classmate Bahadur goes missing, Jai, a fan of detective and police TV shows, decides he will use what he has learned to find Bahadur. He enlists Pari and Faiz to help him, and through their eyes we see life in the basti. No one has their own bathroom and so every morning they stand together waiting to use the communal toilets. Children, even the very young, might miss school in order to work as assistants to local shopkeepers or as carers for younger siblings while parents work. Street children, usually under the leadership of some older child or adult, scavenge the dump for empty bottles or other items that can be sold for a little money. Life is crowded and uncomfortable, but Jai and the children in this story find ways to roll with it. But as more children go missing, life in the basti becomes more uncertain and dangerous.
Every time a child goes missing, Anappara provides a short chapter from that child’s point of view at the moment just before it happens, and we learn a lot about the hard life that children face when they are poor, suffer a disability, are female, are from an ethnic minority, have very limited options in life. We also learn that when parents go to the police, nothing good happens. Mostly, the police don’t care about “slum rats.” They tell parents not to worry, to wait a few days, that their children might just return. The authorities don’t take notes or investigate but they do expect bribes. Parents fear that if they push too hard, the police will raze the basti, as has been done before. As tensions rise in the basti, so does suspicion, especially of Muslims. Demonstrations and anger are on the rise, as the people of the basti demand justice. Yet even when Muslim children disappear, the accusations against Muslims do not. When the truth about the missing children finally comes out, it will be due to the observations of children and the desperation of basti parents.
Anappara divides the novel into three sections, each beginning with a short chapter called “This Story Will Save Your Life.” I find these stories to be very interesting, as each one deals with a ghost or djinn who helps those in desperate need. Faiz, who is less interested in investigating the missing kids than Pari and Jai are, says throughout the novel that evil spirits known as Djinn have taken the children. Pari scoffs, but Jai isn’t so sure he is wrong. What we see is that humans, like Djinn, can be good or evil and that life forces everyone to deal with pain and loss at some point. In the case of Jai and his community, we see that those painful and hard lessons can come quite early in life, and yet it is possible to retain hope and some kind of resilience.
Djinn Patrol of the Purple Line would be appropriate for young adult readers and up, although matters related to child abuse and abduction could be triggering to some. As mentioned above, this is not a lighthearted fairy tale; it is a story rooted in reality, which I think makes it all the more necessary to read.