Youth sleuthingYouth sleuthing: Karin Lock reviews Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
Karin Lock reviews Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
Whenever child trafficking is mentioned, it usually concerns children being brought into a country from outside. Yet statistics show that this is more prevalent within our own borders – with young people being transported throughout the UK for criminal exploitation. Over the last decade, a crisis has unfolded that even police admit is out of control.
One country where this kidnapping phenomenon happens on an alarming scale is India. Officially 180 children go missing on the subcontinent every day. Deepa Anappara’s first novel Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line looks behind the harrowing headlines to reveal why child abduction is so rife.
The book opens with the myth of Mental, a boss-man who gave toys and sweets to his child gang of rubbish collectors (rather than beating them). This story introduces the modern slavery context, where snatched or runaway children are controlled for personal gain. Mental himself was a former runaway fleeing domestic abuse at a young age.
The narrator ten year-old Jai lives with his sister and parents in a basti (squatters’ colony) on Mumbai’s outskirts. This dense labyrinth of alleys has 200 homes where families of all faiths dwell together communally, s haring one water pipe and a toilet block. Overlooking the settlement are the “hi-fi” gated towers where parents work as maids and security guards.
When one of Jai’s classmates goes missing, the police come, collect a bribe then do nothing. Jai enlists best friends Pari and Faiz to do some “detectiving”, using techniques he has picked up from TV series’ Police Patrol and Live Crime. The three budding sleuths make a list of suspects and search nearby Bhoot Bazaar for clues. Then another child disappears.
Faiz is convinced a djinn (spirit) is to blame: “There are good and bad djinns same as there are good and bad people.” Desperate families turn to religious leaders for support because they fear the corrupt authorities will demolish their illegal homes. Equally their employers are unsympathetic: “Papa says we should have self-respect even if others don’t respect us.”
Writing about marginalised people is a sensitive ethical task which this writer approaches with journalistic professionalism. A reporter for many years, Anappara shares these stories to avoid a “stereotypical narrative about poverty and India that equates people with their problems”. Her depiction of this overlooked community is one of love and compassion.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is an intriguing adventure with exquisite pacing and characterisation. Longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction, it is addictive, funny and moving. Writing from a child’s perspective, the author perfectly captures their virtue, curiosity and wit. Hindi nouns and expressions infuse the sharp dialogue (along with delicious street snacks).
By exploring the phenomenon of child abduction through the wider lens of poverty, the book spells out the correlation between corruption, inequality and injustice. Child labour is commonplace: Jai and his classmates often miss school to work. Parents leave their children unattended for the same reason. Despite the differences between here and India, the risks are the same and must not be ignored.