Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anaparra: A review

In a slum in an unnamed city in India, something terrible is happening. Children are disappearing and the police can't be bothered. After all, the people who live in this slum are the poorest of the poor. They are worthless in the eyes of society, so why should the police exert themselves on their behalf? Frantic parents beseech the police and offer them whatever bribes they can scrape together to try to get them to act. But none of the children are found and others keep disappearing.

Nine-year-old Jai lives in this slum with his older sister and hardworking parents. He is an indifferent student at the local over-crowded public school. His best friends are Pari, a whip-smart girl who loves studying, and Faiz, a Muslim boy who works hard to help his family. (No doubt any resemblance to Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley is purely coincidental. Or maybe not.)

When the first child disappears, it is a boy from Jai's school, a neighbor of his. Jai is addicted to true crime shows on television and he has learned (he thinks) investigation techniques from watching those shows. He decides that since the police are not acting, he will do some "detectiving" on his own. He engages Pari and Faiz in his scheme and they wander around the community searching for clues.

Then another child from their school disappears. And the toll continues to mount.

At first, the lost children are all Hindu, and religious hatred being what it is, Muslims are suspected as the culprits. Eventually, the police do actually arrest a Muslim man on scant (read no) evidence and throw him into jail where he languishes. As more children go missing.

The Purple Line of the book's title is the railway that runs through the slum. Jai steals some money from his mother and he and Faiz go on a rail trip with the excuse of looking for clues. But they find no trace of any of those who have gone missing.

There seems to be no pattern to the disappearances. The children range in age from five to sixteen and are both boys and girls. What could be the purpose of their vanishing? Could it be, as Faiz suspects and Jai wants to believe, a djinn who is playing tricks?

This is an incredibly troubling story to read because it is based on fact. As the author explains in her note, some 180 children disappear without a trace in India each year. A former journalist in that country, she had reported on the disappearances and had attempted twenty-eight years before to write this novel but it just never came together. In the intervening years, she wrote other books, but this one continued to niggle at her memory and conscience until finally, she was able to complete it. She did so brilliantly in my opinion. 

Her most brilliant stroke was in making the nine-year-old Jai and his friends her main focus. Seeing the disappearances through the eyes of these children gives them added poignancy and lets us see just how confusing the world can be to such children.

In addition to the crimes against children, the writer also brings home to us, if we needed to be reminded, the powerlessness of women and of the lowest class in India. And in one particular chapter, she gives us a glimpse of another horror that is too often visited on the women and girls of India: that of brutal gang rape. She makes clear to us the terror that girls and women feel if they must be out on the streets alone, particularly at night, but even in broad daylight. As I said, this is a very disturbing read.

The writer did an excellent job of description in setting the scene of events. I felt myself there in that slum and living as the slum-dwellers live, and my overwhelming reaction was disgust with the filth, the ever-present choking smog, the lack of privacy. And also empathy for these people who are, after all, my brothers and sisters who have no choice but to live like this. I also felt white-hot anger at the uncaring bureaucracy, particularly the police who are unworthy of that name. But also, there is admiration for the strength of the people, their sense of community as they try to help and support each other, their resilience in the face of tragedy. The children, especially, are undaunted and confront their world with humor and swagger and a conviction that they are important and that things will turn out all right. In other words, they are like children everywhere. 

I think Anaparra's twenty-eight-year wait was worth it. She has delivered a gem.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Comments

  1. Great review, Dorothy, of what is obviously a disturbing book.

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    1. I hope the book finds an audience. It needs to be read and it is well worth reading.

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  2. I can't imagine what it must be like, and the fact that it is rooted in truth makes it all the more harrowing. So many children, just vanished. It breaks my heart. Fantastic review.

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    1. It is indeed a harrowing, heartbreaking story, but the strength of the families and pluck and spirit of their children are redeeming characteristics of the tale.

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    2. That is good to know, though it does make me sad that kids have to be so resilient because they don't really have any other choice.

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    3. True enough. Though without that resilience one wonders if the human race would have survived.

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  3. Glad you found this one encouraging while brutal. This is the sort of thing I find myself reading lately. Happy stories don't seem to fit.

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  4. This sounds like a book that I could totally emerge in, and I love that it takes place in India, not much books have that setting.

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    1. It's a very well written book. My only problem with it really was that she used a lot of Hindi words for which I could not find definitions so I had to figure them out from context. But that was a minor problem.

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