Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is one of the most highly praised novels of the past year. It’s the fiction debut of Deepa Anappara, an Indian journalist transposed to London. It seems likely that in other hands, the story she tells in this novel might well have wandered off into sensationalism, pathos, or worse. But Anappara deftly relates a horrific tale of child abductions in a New Delhi slum by telling it through the voices of children. It’s a virtuoso performance, at the same time both deeply affecting and revealing. The book lays bare the harsh reality of child trafficking in India today more poignantly and more memorably than any journalistic account.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (2020) 345 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
A nine-year-old boy tells the tale
The protagonist of this novel is nine-year-old Jai, a reluctant schoolboy who lives with his parents and his big sister, Runu, in a one-room home we would consider a shack. Their basti (neighborhood) is located adjacent to several high-rise luxury towers and not far from the Purple Line of the Delhi Metro. Jai is a devotee of cop shows on TV, and when a schoolmate named Bahadur goes missing, he attempts to enlist two of his friends to join him as detectives. Pari is a girl who is one of the school’s top students and is far smarter than Jai. Faiz, who is Muslim, is convinced that djinns (ghouls) have snatched Bahadur and is terrified of crossing them. And he won’t let Jai boss him around.
Police indifference to child trafficking in India today
Local police refuse to investigate, even when the boy’s mother bribes the senior officer. They insist that he simply ran off and will soon return. But Jai and Pari set out to learn what happened to Bahadur. Their search takes them far and wide and exposes them to the ever-present dangers of India’s densely crowded capital. Along the way they have a close encounter with child traffickers, spend time with a gang of resourceful street children, and witness tension on the verge of open violence between Hindus and Muslims in the basti.
A microscopic view of the nationalism and authoritarianism driving India today
Anappara adroitly conjures up the troubling outcome of Narendra Modi‘s increasingly authoritarian and nationalistic policies. There is a great deal of good in India, and hundreds of millions live rewarding lives, but they’re not portrayed in this novel. Instead, the book brings a microscope to bear on what so many of India’s poor experience on a daily basis. Violence-prone anti-Muslim demonstrations by Modi’s followers. Ineffectual and indifferent public school teachers. The petty corruption of the local police. Senior officials who share the proceeds of criminal enterprises. And among the worst of those crimes is child trafficking, which is all too common in India today. According to a report by the country’s National Human Rights Commission, 40,000 children are abducted each year and sent into slavery as servants, factory workers, or prostitutes. In the people of Jai’s basti, Anappara brings that reality home.
About the author
Deepa Anappara was born in Kerala in southwestern India and worked as a journalist in India for eleven years. Her reports on the impact of poverty and religious violence on the education of children won numerous awards. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is her first novel. She now lives in London.
For further reading
Check out 25 good books about India, past and present and especially Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (A searing look at poverty in India that reads like a novel).
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