This was one of the books I “discovered” through NPR’s 2020 book concierge after applying certain filters, and it was an enjoyable albeit sad read.
The book focuses on poverty, religious conflicts, child labor, kidnappings, class/caste distinction, and the poor living conditions in slums or bastis in India through the eyes of various children, including the protagonist, nine year old Jai. When a boy from his slums disappears, Jai plays detective, inspired by the countless police detective dramas and real-life investigations he watches on television. With the help of his two best friends, Jai sets out to find the missing boy by interviewing schoolmates and different people in the community. Their investigation leads them to several conclusions about the boy’s disappearance, including running away from home and being kidnapped (and eaten) by an evil djinn. However, shortly after the first boy’s disappearance, another boy disappears, followed by several other children and a young woman, all from their slums. As Jai and his friends try to solve the mystery of the missing children, the novel reveals the many problems experienced by certain members of society, such as police brutality, corruption, the poor public education system, poverty, caste and religious discrimination, child labor and prostitution, the underground organ trade, and gender inequality.
Despite the serious themes highlighted in the novel, Jai’s innocent and naive perspective softens the harsh reality of the tragic events and slum life, often casting them in a humorous light. Jai’s and his friends’ efforts and determination to find the missing children showcase children’s resilience and adaptability in less-than-ideal situations, which are often stronger than those of adults.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, which is Deepa Anappara‘s debut novel, is a very readable and seemingly “light” novel; however, it reveals the all too common problems encountered by marginalized populations in developing countries. Moreover, despite the comic antics and ideas of Jai and his friends, the novel is deeply sad and disturbing.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line (2020) – Deepa Anappara
Chatto & Windus; 352 pages, export trade paperback
Personal rating: 3/5