Updated: Jun 15, 2021
The title of this novel may be a little misleading, a little baffling. This wonderful book is about children who are going missing from the basti of Jai, the nine-year-old protagonist. A “basti” refers to a slum village in India. The title of the book refers to the “djinns” who Jai’s detective partner. Faiz, continually insists are the culprits who are taking the missing children, and the purple line is the railway line that the children use to get to the bazaar where they start their initial search.
“Djinn” in this novel are described as spirits who can possess animals. There are good djinns as well as evil. Pari, the third member of the detective trio, later in the novel even suggests that they start up a tv show called, “Djinn Patrol”.
Initially it is only one child who goes missing. Bahadur is a classmate of Jai. Nobody seems to be looking for him, the police certainly don’t seem perturbed. Jai takes it upon himself to become a detective and find Bahadur. Jai’s motive for finding Bahadur is not just about finding Bahadur, who is not a friend, just a fellow classmate. Jai’s mother believes that with all the fuss that Bahadur’s mother is making she will give the corrupt police more reason to bulldoze the basti, which they have already threatened.
It takes talent to write from the perspective of a nine-year-old-child and capture the authenticity of a young mind experiencing situations they have never encountered before and Anappara does an incredible job using some beautifully descriptive writing to describe the many unique sounds, smells, and general atmosphere only found in India.
The novel also makes your mind boggle. India, the most populous democracy in the world. The clash of religion, the caste system. The seemingly infinite gap between the rich and the poor. The anachronistic feel of India, which at times seems to be a fusion of a third world country and a modern western country with all the perks of modern technology.
Anappara captures all of this beautifully.
“No one will believe me but I’m one hundred per cent pakka that my nose grows longer when I’m in the bazaar because of its smells, of tea and raw meat and buns and kebabs and rotis. My ears get bigger too, because of the sounds, ladles scraping against pans, butchers’ knives thwacking against chopping boards, rickshaws and scooters honking, and gunfire and bad words booming out of video-games parlours hidden behind grimy curtains.”
“In front of us, sparks fall on the ground from a bird’s nest of electric wires hanging over the bazaar”.
As the narrative progresses more children go missing and Anappara will devote a chapter to the perspective of the missing child. This is a masterstroke and these chapters are a direct contrast to the innocence and naivety of Jai’s chapters. They enlighten the reader to the reality of what is happening, build suspense, and prepare the reader for the later darker stages of the novel.
Racism rears its ugly head when it is realised that none of the children who have gone missing are Muslim, so naturally it is immediately assumed that the culprit must be a Muslim. The clashes between Muslim and Hindu, between India and Pakistan seem to be on a never- ending cycle in the news feeds and perhaps this is a jibe at the interminable confrontations.
In these later stages of the novel it darkens more and more as it closes on the ending. I thought that this also was needed and felt it was a natural progression for the narrative.
The novel draws attention to the many children who go missing in India. Abducted and sold for slave labour, the sex trade, many stolen from their lives and never seen or heard from by their family again.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and have to commend Anappara for how effortlessly she transported me into the mind of a child, and the slums and bazaars of India. I think we will be hearing a lot more of her name in the future, 4.5 Stars.
Deepa Anappara was born in Kerala, southern 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 the Developing Asia Journalism Awards, the Every Human has Rights Media Awards, and the Sanskriti-Prabha Dutt Fellowship in Journalism.
A partial of her debut novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, won the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award, and the Bridport/Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel. It will be published by Chatto & Windus in the UK on January 30, 2020, and by Random House in the US. It is also being translated into 16 languages.
Anappara’s short fiction has won the Dastaan Award, the Asian Writer Short Story Prize, the second prize in the Bristol Short Story awards, the third prize in the Asham awards, and has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, where she is currently studying for a PhD on a CHASE doctoral fellowship.
If you enjoyed this novel and want to find out a little bit more about the author and book there is a wonderful article on livemint, link here - https://www.livemint.com/mint-lounge/features/deepa-anappara-writing-about-poverty-in-india-is-such-a-risky-enterprise-11581082444787.html