When a child goes missing, nine-year-old Jai decides to use his amateur sleuthing skills to find the missing boy. He enlists his best friends, Pari and Faiz, to help him. But try as the trio might, they can’t stop more children from going missing. But with no substantial clues to follow, and absolutely no help forthcoming from the police or the politicians in charge of the area, should the young detectives admit defeat, or can they solve this case before someone dear to them goes missing?
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line
January 30, 2020
Author Deepa Anappara paints a vivid picture of the characters, the settings, and the lore of Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line. I could see the events I was reading about unfolding clearly before me. Anappara has a gift for painting a picture with only a few words, which makes for compelling world-building. You can feel the smog in the basti on your face, smell the samosas and milky tea that vendors sell in Bhoot Bazaar, and feel the claustrophobia of the cramped, dank one-room apartment that Jai shares with his older sister and their parents.
The world-building also adds to the tension of the story—the smog hides the children, making it easier for them to disappear, be kidnapped, or taken by djinns, which is Jai’s prevailing theory.
However, the descriptions of the slum that Jai lives in has another purpose—to highlight the class divisions in Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line. As the story progresses, we learn that Jai’s slum is a short distance away from an upmarket complex of apartments. A number of the parents in the slum work as caretakers, maids, or cleaners at the apartment complex. But the work isn’t for the faint of heart–Jai’s mother lives in fear of losing her job for even minor indiscretions, like being late to work one day.
Jai’s family consider themselves fortunate to get two square meals a day—even if it is the same rice and lentils every day. In the meantime, the woman Jai’s mother works often has so much food left over, that she gives it away to her maids.
Aside from class divisions, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is stark in its portrayal of corruption. We see how little the police care about the missing slum children—they keep telling the parents that their children have run away or will be back in a little while. When the parents persist, the police retort with threats of levelling the slum instead of helping, and ask for exorbitant bribes not to bring in the bulldozers.
As Jai’s family watches television, they see news of inconsequential events but nothing on the several missing children from their slum. And the more these disappearances are ignored, the more children go missing.
However, what really stood out in Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line was the portrayal of communal tensions. With a handful of children already missing, the Hindu Samaj—an extremist religious group—stir up communal discord by placing the blame for the kidnappings on the Muslim community. Their only ‘proof’ for this is that only Hindu children have gone missing. And even when Muslim children do go missing, the Hindu Samaj refuse to back down on their claims.
This particular aspect of the story is painfully true to life—the religious divisions in India have been increasing over the last few decades. The text presents these matters as they would happen in the real world and it makes for disturbing, albeit realistic, reading.
I appreciate these poignant social commentaries in Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line—it would be easy to gloss over these harsh realities to portray a more wholesome image of India to readers, but Anappara doesn’t shy away from these truths in her book.
The reason why this method works for Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is because this book isn’t designed for a foreign audience—this isn’t the poverty porn of Slumdog Millionaire. This book is very obviously catering to English-speaking Indian readers. The language and vocabulary that Anappara uses won’t be familiar to non-Indians. Nor does Anappara include footnotes or a dictionary for the reader. Will that seem alienating for non-Indian readers? I should hope not. You might find yourself googling a lot, but it won’t affect the reading experience.
However, beyond the cultural commentary of Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, the actual story is quite the slow-burn. Maybe a bit too slow, in my opinion. I found myself struggling to stay captivated by the story, wishing it would move at a better pace.
It doesn’t help that the protagonist, Jai, is the least interesting character in the book. I realise he’s nine, but he comes across as selfish, narcissistic, and extremely unhelpful. His point of view is interesting, but I can’t help thinking that the book would have been elevated had it been told from Pari’s or Runu’s—Jai’s sister—point of view.
India is a very different experience when you are a girl, than when you are a boy—because of that, and the setting of the slum, Pari and Runu would have been better protagonists.
Additionally, because of Jai being the protagonist, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line ends up suffering from what I’ve decided to call Harry Potter Syndrome—where a, frankly, dull male protagonist gets by on sheer dumb luck and the hard work and intelligence of his female friend. So, why is Jai, or Harry Potter, the lead of their stories? They put in minimal effort and are actually irritating—Jai particularly so. There is very little to recommend him as a protagonist, which is odd, considering he is a child and should have more personality. But as much as I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, I just don’t think I can.
I also would have liked a bit more of the supernatural elements that the book only ever touches upon—there’s plenty of talk about djinns and stories about particular djinns who protect people, but they end up having little to no bearing on the actual plot.
The book only really picked up pace with fifty pages left—at which point all the plot points were brought together to answer the prevailing questions. But despite the long-winded exploration of the missing children and the stalled investigations by the police and Jai and his friends, the ending gave us no closure.
The final reveal felt like a complete cop-out—which may be true to life but the book seemed to be heading toward a definitive conclusion in Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line which was nothing close to what readers actually received.
I’m also curious as to who this book is intended for. The language is far too mature for children or young adults to read but the child-like writing, which is consistent with protagonist, doesn’t seem to be catering to the adult reader either. I found that quite confusing.
While Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is a fascinating study of India in the modern age, the plot left much to be desired. The protagonist was difficult to gel with and the pacing was far too slow to be enjoyable. None of which was helped by the rushed ending, which felt like an afterthought and unearned.
I would still recommend this book to anyone who wants an understanding of India, but you will need to keep your google search handy, and be prepared to put up with an annoying protagonist.