Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line


Deepa Anappara




Date Reviewed:

October 6, 2021

he book review I read for this book made it sound like it was a mystery story, and that the nine year old protagonist, Jai, emulates the detectives that he sees on the TV shows and works to solve the case. But this is not the Indian version of young sleuths as seen in novels such as The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It is true that in Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, young Jai does attempt to act like a detective, but his efforts are as one would expect from a child. The crime in question is the disappearance of a child, Bahadur, from his neighborhood. Bahadur was in Jai's class at school, and so Jai decides he will solve the case of what happened.

The India Board of Tourism must hate this book. Anappara depicts a society of utter corruption, especially the policemen, who do nothing to solve crimes afflicting the poor. Indeed, the police extort money from the poorest, threatening to bulldoze their shacks unless they pay a monthly fee. Even the cooks at the school are corrupt, stealing food meant to feed the schoolkids, and instead serving rotting and unsafe food. The smog is so thick that at times visibility is reduced to a few yards. The poor use open latrines. A huge dump sits in the city; this noxious eyesore is swarmed over by the poorest of the poor, hoping to salvage some useful scraps from the mountain of trash. The wealthy middle-class people, the "hi-fi" folk, live in high rises that are guarded by burly watchmen. Anappara shows us world of desperate people, abandoned by their own government, a world of radical inequality. It is also a world riven with terrible, and sometimes violent, mistrust between the Hindi and Muslim communities.

Jai enlists the aid of two of his friends: Pari, a bright young girl who is successful at school, and Faiz, a Muslim boy. Jai promises that they can be his assistants - they will be his sidekicks, like Watson, while Jai will solve the case. However, it turns out Pari and Faiz have their own ideas and initiatives, and Jai often finds that he is the tag-a-long. Jai, Pari and Faiz roam through the bazaar and the streets, trying to imitate the detectives that they have seen on TV (Despite the fact that all of the characters in this novel are desperately poor, they have televisions and cell phones). They try to question suspects, or talk to Bahadur's parents. This exploration of the basti (a slum) allows Anappara to show the reader how the poor live in India (Anaparra worked as a journalist in Mumbai and Delhi, focusing her stories on the plight of the children. It is estimated that 180 children go missing every day in India.)

Another child vanishes, and then another. Panic grows in the basti. The police cannot be bothered to even pretend to show interest. The parents are upset and try to protect their children, but Jai and his sister, Runu, hate the restrictions, they don't want to be confined to the boring one-room hovel where their family lives. So they find reasons to slip away to see friends or, in Rudu's case, to keep training as a track star on the high school team. Faiz suspects a magical djinn has kidnapped the other children, but Jai scoffs at the notion.

After I finished the book, I discovered that there is a glossary appended to the back pages. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line contains many Hindi(?) words. Sometimes I could guess what the words meant from context - often they were food or names for relatives or friends (for example, his sister, Runu, is called Didi-Runu, which means elder sister). If only I had known there was a glossary! But I don't flip to the end of books when reading them, I don't want to accidentally glimpse the ending. So if you decide to read this book, know that the foreign words are translated at the back.