The BookBrowse Review

Published June 9, 2021

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line
by Deepa Anappara

Paperback (11 May 2021), 384 pages.
Publisher: Random House
ISBN-13: 9780593129289
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In this transporting debut novel, three friends venture into the most dangerous corners of a sprawling Indian city to find their missing classmate.

Down market lanes crammed with too many people, dogs, and rickshaws, past stalls that smell of cardamom and sizzling oil, below a smoggy sky that doesn't let through a single blade of sunlight, and all the way at the end of the Purple metro line lies a jumble of tin-roofed homes where nine-year-old Jai lives with his family. From his doorway, he can spot the glittering lights of the city's fancy high-rises, and though his mother works as a maid in one, to him they seem a thousand miles away. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line plunges readers deep into this neighborhood to trace the unfolding of a tragedy through the eyes of a child as he has his first perilous collisions with an unjust and complicated wider world.

Jai drools outside sweet shops, watches too many reality police shows, and considers himself to be smarter than his friends Pari (though she gets the best grades) and Faiz (though Faiz has an actual job). When a classmate goes missing, Jai decides to use the crime-solving skills he has picked up from TV to find him. He asks Pari and Faiz to be his assistants, and together they draw up lists of people to interview and places to visit.

But what begins as a game turns sinister as other children start disappearing from their neighborhood. Jai, Pari, and Faiz have to confront terrified parents, an indifferent police force, and rumors of soul-snatching djinns. As the disappearances edge ever closer to home, the lives of Jai and his friends will never be the same again.

Drawing on real incidents and a spate of disappearances in metropolitan India, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is extraordinarily moving, flawlessly imagined, and a triumph of suspense. It captures the fierce warmth, resilience, and bravery that can emerge in times of trouble and carries the reader headlong into a community that, once encountered, is impossible to forget.

I LOOK AT OUR HOUSE WITH—

—upside-down eyes and count five holes in our tin roof. There might be more, but I can't see them because the black smog outside has wiped the stars off the sky. I picture a djinn crouching down on the roof, his eye turning like a key in a lock as he watches us through a hole, waiting for Ma and Papa and Runu-Didi to fall asleep so that he can draw out my soul. Djinns aren't real, but if they were, they would only steal children because we have the most delicious souls.

My elbows wobble on the bed, so I lean my legs against the wall. Runu-Didi stops counting the seconds I have been topsy-turvy and says, "Arrey, Jai, I'm right here and still you're cheating-cheating. You have no shame, kya?" Her voice is high and jumpy because she's too happy that I can't stay upside down for as long as she can.

Didi and I are having a headstand contest but it's not a fair one. The yoga classes at our school are for students in Standard Six and above, and Runu-Didi is in Standard Seven, so she gets to learn from a real teacher. I'm in Standard Four, so I have to rely on Baba Devanand on TV, who says that if we do headstands, children like me will:

  • never have to wear glasses our whole lives;
  • never have white in our hair or black holes in our teeth;
  • never have puddles in our brains or slowness in our arms and legs;
  • always be No. 1 in School + College + Office + Home.

I like headstands a lot more than the huff-puff exercises Baba Devanand does with his legs crossed in the lotus position. But right now, if I stay upside down any longer, I'll break my neck, so I flump to the bed that smells of coriander powder and raw onions and Ma and bricks and cement and Papa.

"Baba Jai has been proved to be a conman," Runu-Didi shouts like the newspeople whose faces redden every night from the angry news they have to read out on TV. "Will our nation just stand and watch?"

"Uff, Runu, you're giving me a headache with your screaming," Ma says from the kitchen corner of our house. She's shaping rotis into perfect rounds with the same rolling pin that she uses to whack my backside when I shout bad words while Didi talks to Nana-Nani on Ma's mobile phone.

"I won I won I won," Didi sings now. She's louder than next-door's TV and next-to-next-door's howling baby and the neighbors who squabble every day about who stole water from whose water barrel.

I stick my fingers in my ears. Runu-Didi's lips move but it's as if she's speaking the bubble language of fish in a glass tank. I can't hear a word of her chik-chik. If I lived in a big house, I would take my shut-ears and run up the stairs two at a time and squash myself inside a cupboard. But we live in a basti, so our house has only one room. Papa likes to say that this room has everything we need for our happiness to grow. He means me and Didi and Ma, and not the TV, which is the best thing we own.

From where I'm lying on the bed, I can see the TV clearly. It looks down on me from a shelf that also holds steel plates and aluminum tins. Round letters on the TV screen say, Dilli: Police Commissioner's Missing Cat Spotted. Sometimes the Hindi news is written in letters that look like they are spurting blood, especially when the newspeople ask us tough questions we can't answer, like: 

Does a Ghost Live in the Supreme Court? 

or 
Are Pigeons Terrorists Trained by Pakistan? 
or 
Is a Bull this Varanasi Sari Shop's Best Customer? 
or 
Did a Rasgulla Break Up Actress Veena's Marriage? 

Ma likes such stories because she and Papa can argue about them for hours.

My favorite shows are ones that Ma says I'm not old enough to watch, like Police Patrol and Live Crime. Sometimes Ma switches off the TV right in the middle of a murder because she says it's too sick-making. But sometimes she leaves it on because she likes guessing who the evil people are and telling me how the policemen are sons-of-owls for never spotting criminals as fast as she can.

Full Excerpt

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.

This dazzling debut follows three children investigating a series of disappearances in the slums of India.

Print Article Publisher's View   

In an unnamed slum somewhere in sprawling India, children are being plucked off the streets, never to be seen again. Jai, a devil-may-care nine-year-old obsessed with TV cop shows, decides to turn detective and begins investigating the disappearances of his schoolmates and neighbors with help from his two best friends—wise-beyond-her-years Pari and feisty Faiz. Together, these young sleuths try to deduce whether they are dealing with a sadistic kidnapper or something altogether more elusive, evil soul-snatching spirits known as djinn.

The trio fast realize they are facing their unknown adversary alone. The police see the slum as a continual source of annoyance and threaten to bulldoze it to the ground. The wealthy people who live in a gated community of nearby high-rises couldn't care less. And with hysteria creeping in, the adults in the slum begin to turn on each other, causing a rift between the Hindu and Muslim factions within the settlement. With no help or resources, can Jai, Pari and Faiz solve this horrific mystery?

Author Deepa Anappara has taken inspiration for her impressive debut from over a decade of working as a journalist reporting on the impact of poverty and religious violence on children in India. At a moment when there is much heated debate about the legitimacy of which authors get to tell which stories, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line makes a compelling case that nothing can beat a genuine voice drawing from profound first-hand experience.

Anappara's India lives and breathes on the page. Every tin-roofed hut, abandoned alleyway, and overcrowded bazaar fizzes with a richness of detail that could only be rooted in the author's intimate knowledge of her setting. (That's not to downplay her perceptive eye and flair for description, naturally.) Speech is also seasoned with authentic colloquialisms—Jai's favored sign-off of "okay-tata-bye" never fails to raise a smile—and a smattering of Hindi and Urdu patois: arrey (a catch-all term used to express a range of emotions), basti (a slum settlement), as well as familial terms such as didi (elder sister), chachi (aunty) and abbu (father). A glossary is provided at the back for easy reference.

The wealth of description can be a tad distracting at times. Anappara infuses nearly every page with a blaring medley of sights, smells and sounds. It's an assault on the senses that threatens to derail the plot on occasion; like trying to make a beeline through a bazaar and getting drawn to the myriad stalls mounted with colorful spices and shiny trinkets every step of the way. It's fascinating for a while, but there comes a point where you just wish to proceed with blinkers on.

There are also a few tonal inconsistencies. The magical realist touches of djinns and guardian spirits who protect kids in danger lovingly introduced at the start are quickly abandoned, lending the novel a more grounded quality. It's a shame that the supernatural elements weren't explored further. Not only are they a joy to read, but they heighten the ambiguity of the kidnapper, making for a more intriguing mystery.

Minor grievances aside, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is best when it's mining India's dark underbelly, shining a light on the harsh realities slum children face on a daily basis. The country's outright contempt towards its poorer communities. The homeless pickpockets on the streets. The young slaving away at grueling jobs to bring home a few extra rupees for their struggling families. The constant threat of human traffickers attempting to lure kids away with sweets and acts of kindness.

Anappara also delves into the misogyny and racism that still plague much of India. When 16-year-old Aanchal disappears, the men and women of the basti don't offer her the same compassion as they do the prepubescent abductees. Instead, she is blamed for her own disappearance and labeled randi (whore), based on nothing but gossip and ill-informed rumors. "Her boyfriend is as old as her grandfather...But worse, he's Muslim," one woman comments. "Who knows how many boyfriends a girl like that has?" says another.

We face this maelstrom of malevolence through Jai's cheeky, endearing gaze, which makes it all the more harrowing. His exuberance for life is juxtaposed with a world that is hell-bent on stamping out his innocence at every turn.

When the mystery of the disappearing children is finally unraveled, it's a punch to the solar plexus. It's bleak, maddening, unjust. It's a culmination that perhaps doesn't make for the most satisfying conclusion to a novel. However, Anappara earns her right to eschew any happy endings. In an India where as many as 180 children go missing every day, with the vast majority of cases remaining unsolved, the enthralling Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is unafraid to lay bare the country's grim realities and entreats us to stop turning a blind eye.

Reviewed by Dean Muscat

Washington Post
Moving and unpredictable...By story’s end, Jai has grown more hesitant, humbled by tragedy and evils beyond his once-childish imaginings. Even so, his remarkable voice retains a stubborn lightness, a will to believe in the possibility of deliverance in this fallen world.

New York Times
Rich with easy joy, Anappara’s writing announces the arrival of a literary supernova...We marvel at those threads, so vibrantly woven by Anappara, as Jai tracks down the missing children’s families and friends, only to discover that even those closest to them have little understanding of their true selves. This is the power of this novel, how it keeps us grounded — not in the flats of the hi-fi dwellers but in something closer to India’s heart, which she locates in the minds of children with bony shoulders and dirty feet.

Booklist
A model of verisimilitude...[Jai] comes to life on the page to live on in readers' memories.

Library Journal
[Anappara's] bright, propulsive prose...only accentuates the seriousness of her subject: the disappearance of children from villages in India, a real-life issue given intimate treatment here.

Publishers Weekly
The prose perfectly captures all the characters' youthful voices, complete with some Hindi and Urdu terms, whose meanings, if not immediately obvious, become clear with repetition. Anappara's complex and moving tale showcases a strong talent.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
There's an almost Harry Potter-ish vibe to the relationship among the three intrepid kids, and Jai's voice is irresistible: funny, vivid, smart, and yet always believably a child's point of view...Engaging characters, bright wit, and compelling storytelling make a tale that's bleak at its core and profoundly moving.

Author Blurb Anne Enright, Man Booker Prize–winning author of The Gathering
Storytelling at its best—not just sympathetic, vivid, and beautifully detailed, but completely assured and deft...We care about these characters from the first page and our concern for them is richly repaid.

Author Blurb Etaf Rum, New York Times bestselling author of A Woman Is No Man
A stunningly original tale...I stayed up late every night until I finished, reluctant to part from Deepa Anappara's heart-stealing characters.

Author Blurb Christie Watson, bestselling author of The Language of Kindness
The children at the heart of this story will stay with you long after you turn the last page...A wonderful debut.

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Robert Murray
Tough and Creative
In a corrupt society where the poor are lumped in the with garbage surrounding them, a boy tries to channel detective skills he learned from TV to solve the random disappearances around him, aided by two school friends. Reading this novel was a delight from start to finish, and it was hard to put it down throughout. The setting and the characters jumped off the pages, making some of the gut wrenching scenes even more powerful. Mix in some humor and the infectious enthusiasm of youth, and you have a great story that I'll think about long after the last page.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by lani
the slums of India
Because I adore India and have traveled there several times, I treasured the authenticity revealed in this novel. There are some who may be reluctant to read this because it is filled with poverty, class divisions, sadness, kidnapping ,and abandoned children. However, from my time there I found a richness of spirit that is reflected in the characters. Despite very difficult circumstances, the children who narrate this book were independent, bold, saucy, and determined. We follow a triumvirate of children whose mandatory schooling becomes disrupted due to family obligations and religious tensions, to a life brimming with ambiguity in their day to day life and their future expectations. When children in their neighborhood go missing, the trio attempt to become"detectives" and try to find the answers. Muslim and Hindu tensions arise, which is not dissimilar to what is happening in today's world. The characters felt true to reality, from the scavengers, the beggars, to the local police. Narrated by the children, it felt genuine and honest. This is a novel to explore the credible issues in slum areas, the plight of the children living there, and the power of murkiness regarding their future worlds.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by lani
A voice that is textured and enveloping
This was no popcorn thriller that pulled you to alarming heights. No, this was a book to savor slowly enjoying each sentence, sipping slowly to obtain the full body and essence. Her words spilled out with a sumptous resonance, along with piercing observations along the way.It was also one of the most clever and unusual books I have discovered in a long time. I found myself rolling the words around my tongue, tasting their heft and density.There are so many passages I underlined that I felt were exquisite, wanting to store them away safely for my lifetime. The beginning of the novel was eerily prescient when she was taking about the sounds of the city. During this period of coronavirus, I experience sound so differently and find myself quietly tuning in to the absence and presence of echoes and noise around me. The book itself, you can read about in the jacket cover, but I found that it doesn't even do this book justice. If you want a contemplative piece, you will be in your glory.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Victoria
Poignant story of Indian children
I received this as an ARC from Random House and Netgalley. I'm not sure I would call the book enjoyable, because it ends on a dark note and I wished there had been a different ending. But the author has done a masterful job meeting her stated intentions (in her notes afterward) and draw attention to the issue of child disappearances without sensationalizing it or turning it into a serial killer type story. Her ability to get inside the head of her pre-teen narrators was fantastic. If you enjoyed the non-fiction Behind the Beautiful Forevers, or the novel A Fine Balance, you should like this too.

Print Article Publisher's View  

Why Hindu Gods Have Multiple Arms

While investigating a series of missing children taken from an unnamed Indian slum, Jai and his friends Pari and Faiz, the central protagonists in Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, come across many pictures and iconography depicting Hindu gods. Here are some brief insights into the mythology surrounding a handful of these deities.

Painting of Vishnu with four arms and avatarsVishnu is one of the Hindu triumvirate alongside Brahma and Shiva. Known as the Trimūrti, these three gods are responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the world. Vishnu is the protector of the universe and is said to restore the balance between good and evil. In Vaishnaism, the largest Hindu sect, he is considered to be the greatest god. Vishnu is commonly depicted in religious icons in human form with blue skin. In his four arms he holds a conch, a discus, a lotus flower and a mace. These objects represent many things to Hindus. For example, the conch may represent the primeval sound of creation "om"; the discus may represent the mind (also known as the chakra); the lotus flower is often a symbol of glorious existence and creation; and the mace may represent mental and physical strength. Vishnu has been incarnated nine times, but Hindus believe he will return a final time at the end of this world. Krishna is Vishnu's eighth avatar and is considered to be a supreme god in his own right.

Painting of Vishnu with four arms playing stringed instrumentSaraswati is a Hindu goddess associated with knowledge, music and art. Like Vishnu, she also forms part of a trinity, called the Tridevi, alongside Lakshmi and Parvati. This female trinity assists the Trimūrti in creating, maintaining and regenerating the universe. Saraswati is often depicted as a beautiful woman dressed in pure white seated on a white lotus. Sometimes she is shown to have four arms, other times just two. She is also commonly shown to be playing a musical instrument known as a veena, which represents the harmony of expressing knowledge through the creative arts and sciences. Other symbolism associated with Saraswati includes the hamsa or swan, a sacred bird, which if offered a mixture of milk and water, is said to be able to drink the milk alone—a metaphor for the bird's ability to easily distinguish between good and evil. Saraswati is the consort of Brahma. Their union bore a son, Manu, who some Hindus believe to have been the first man and therefore the father of all mankind.

Durga Maa with eight arms riding a tigerDurga Maa is a goddess of war and the warrior form of Parvati (who is the goddess of fertility and love). She is often depicted riding a tiger or lion and possesses as many as 18 arms, each holding a significant weapon of destruction and creation. Legend says that Durga was created by the Trimūrti to slay the buffalo demon Mahisasura, who was gifted with the power of invincibility. Embodying the collective energy of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, Durga set out for battle against Mahisasura and vanquished him. A lot of Hindu iconography depicts Durga during this legendary battle. Of note is her face, which remains tranquil and serene, a sign that the goddess is not acting out of violence but out of a sense of duty and necessity, for the greater good of the universe. The popular Durga-puja festival is held in her honor every year in West Bengal.

Hindu gods are generally depicted with multiple arms to visually represent their supreme powers and superiority over humankind. For example, Durga's arms holding multiple weapons represent her immense power to combat evil forces; while the objects Vishnu holds in his hands are generally symbols of different spheres of human/spiritual life over which he rules.

Vishnu Surrounded by his Avatars by Raja Ravi Varma

Saraswati by Raja Ravi Varma

Durga Maa, courtesy of Hindu Gallery

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

By Dean Muscat

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