Title: Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line
Author: Deepa Anappara
Publisher: Penguin Hamish Hamilton
Genre: Literary Fiction
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is a joy to read – the prose I mean. The story is dark, and will bring you down, but will also make you smile and maybe make you hopeful about the world around us. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara is a revelation – even revealing what you already know but ignore as you live your life on a daily basis.
The book is about children that are disappearing from a basti (slum) they live in. Jai, a nine-year-old kid decides to find these children, with the help of his friends, Pari and Faiz. He is influenced by the true crime show Police Patrol and is confident that his detection skills will make everything alright. He also recruits a dog for this task and names him Samosa. The story then takes off with more children disappearing, their detective work, and what it ultimately leads to.
This is the thread-bare plot of the book. Of course, there is a lot more that goes on. Anappara doesn’t name the city in which the Purple Metro Line runs but you get a sense of it. The hi-fi buildings next to the basti, the large mountain of garbage, the walls built to separate the rich and the poor, and the aspirations that continue to soar.
With this book, she builds a world that is known to us and yet remains unknown. Is it because we don’t want to see how lives are lived there? Is it because we don’t wish to be involved in lives other than ours? There was a lot of morality play at work while I was reading Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line and rightly so. Anappara wants you to question it all – the intent, the society we live in, the rules we follow or make, the ones that we don’t because we are scared, and lives that don’t get the same or equal opportunities such as ours, no matter how woke we are.
A lot is communicated through the book and a lot which readers have to infer. The book also has been published at a time when the Indian democracy is at the mercy of political parties who have the agenda of dividing and ruling basis religion. It comes at a time of Delhi riots, where there is clearly a pogrom at play – that of eliminating Muslims. A major part of the book also speaks of Hindu-Muslim divide in the wake of disappearing children.
There are three sections in the book, and each starts with “This Story Will Save Your Life” chapter which is about the grim reality of the underbelly (so to say) and yet sounds so assuring. Djinn Patrol is narrated by Jai – the language is English, sprinkled with Hindi throughout, which is the lifeline of the book. There is no need for translation of those words because they take the form of emotion. Anappara doesn’t spell all for the reader, she doesn’t want to explain it all – it is left to the reader to decipher – the situations, the language, and hence draw out the meaning.
Jai, Pari, and Faiz are endearing, earnest, and want to live a secure life and nothing more. It seemed to me that Anappara wanted nothing more for them but had to say what she had to. The children are lost, the djinns are legendary, the class divide is real, the rubbish pile dividing them quite literally is as real as it can get, and in all of this is the slum, which is home. The prose brings it all out – nosy neighbours, dangerous children, even more dangerous adults, a trip to the red-light district, the sense of dread, the claustrophobia as you are reading a scene taking place in small spaces, the smells – of shit, oil, ginger and cardamom tea, and the ever-hanging smog – the smog that doesn’t seem to lift like their misfortune.
Djinn Patrol is a coming-of-age story, a thriller, a literary story, a story of imagination and fantasy, a story that is both linear and nonlinear, and a story that is tough with a heart that’s as soft as cotton. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is a book that will stay for long and hopefully will make you pray for the children of the world.