Excerpt from Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

by Deepa Anappara

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara X
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2020, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2021, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat
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Runu-Didi has stopped talking to stretch her hands behind her back. She thinks she's Usain Bolt, but she's only on the school's relay team. Relay isn't a real sport. That's why Ma and Papa let her take part though some of the chachas and chachis in our basti say running brings dishonor to girls. Didi says basti-people will shut up once her team wins the inter-district tournament and also the state championships.

My fingers are going numb in my ears, so I pull them out and wipe them against my cargo pants that are already spattered with ink and mud and grease. All my clothes are dirty like these pants, my uniform too.

I have been asking Ma to let me wear the new uniform that I got free from school this winter, but Ma keeps it on top of a shelf where I can't reach it. She says only rich people throw clothes away when there's still life left in them. If I show her how my brown trousers end well above my ankles, Ma will say even film stars wear ill-fitting clothes because it's the latest fashion.

She's still making up things to trick me like she did when I was smaller than I'm now. She doesn't know that every morning, Pari and Faiz laugh when they see me and tell me I look like a joss stick but one that smells of fart.

"Ma, listen, my uniform—" I say and I stop because there's a scream from outside so loud I think it will squish the walls of our house. Runu-Didi gasps and Ma's hand brushes against a hot pan by mistake and her face goes all sharp and jagged like bitter-gourd skin.

I think it's Papa trying to scare us. He's always singing old Hindi songs in his hairy voice that rolls down the alleys of our basti like an empty LPG cylinder, waking up stray dogs and babies and making them bawl. But then the scream punches our walls again, and Ma switches off the stove and we run out of the house.

The cold slithers up my bare feet. Shadows and voices judder across the alley. The smog combs my hair with fingers that are smoky but also damp at the same time. People shout, "What's happening? Has something happened? Who's screaming? Did someone scream?" Goats that their owners have dressed in old sweaters and shirts so they won't catch a chill hide under the charpais on both sides of the alley. The lights in the hi-fi buildings near our basti blink like fireflies and then disappear. The current's gone off.

I don't know where Ma and Runu-Didi are. Women wearing clinking glass bangles hold up mobile-phone torches and kerosene lanterns but their light is wishy-washy in the smog.

Everyone around me is taller than I am, and their worried hips and elbows knock into my face as they ask each other about the screams. We can tell by now that they are coming from Drunkard Laloo's house.

"Something bad is going on over there," a chacha who lives in our alley says. "Laloo's wife was running around the basti, asking if anyone had seen her son. She was even at the rubbish ground, calling his name."

"That Laloo too, na, all the time beating his wife, beating his children," a woman says. "Just you wait and see, one day his wife will also disappear. What will that useless fellow do for money then? From where will he get his hooch, haan?"

I wonder which one of Drunkard Laloo's sons is missing. The eldest, Bahadur, is a stutterer who is in my class.

The earth twitches as a metro train rumbles underground somewhere near us. It will worm out of a tunnel, zoom past half-finished buildings, and climb up a bridge to an above-ground station before returning to the city because this is where the Purple Line ends. The metro station is new, and Papa was one of the people who built its sparkly walls. Now he's making a tower so tall they have to put flashing red lights on top to warn pilots not to fly too low.

The screams have stopped. I'm cold and my teeth are talking among themselves. Then Runu-Didi's hand darts out of the darkness, snatches me, and drags me forward. She runs fast, as if she's competing in a relay race and I'm the baton she's about to pass to a teammate.

Excerpted from Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara. Copyright © 2020 by Deepa Anappara. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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