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Book review: Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Basti log

A trio of kids set out to solve the mystery of disappearing kids.

 This book has a slew of most impressive names blurbing about it, using words of high praise. And usually, that would be enough to make me somewhat suspicious.

Not in this case, though. Anappara`s debut fiction more than deserves all the praise it has garnered and will garner.

The author takes the unsuspecting reader by the shoulders and gently drops them in the middle of a slum tenement. And at the end of the tale, the reader emerges filled with renewed compassion, appreciation and a deeper understanding of lives lived against many odds.

In Djinn Patrol… Anappara introduces us to a  charming set  of kids, denizens of the basti that has sprung up as bastis do, distant enough from a set of `hi-fi` high-rises so as not to lower the tone of that posh area but near enough for a steady supply of maids, cooks, chauffeurs to those tony condominiums.

Jai and Pari start their `detectiving` work after a kid goes missing from the basti, and are somewhat reluctantly joined by Faiz. Jai is an avid watcher of `Police Patrol` on television and has heard about Byomkesh Bakshi and even Detective Karamchand. Except,  Pari is no vacuous Kitty to Jai`s  Karamchand; at times she takes the ball deftly from Jai and heads towards the goalpost even before he  realises what is happening. Faiz, on his part, is convinced the disappearances are the work of bad djinns and hence, an unsolvable mystery.

Slowly and steadily, more kids start to disappear, young girls, little boys, all vanishing without a trace. At first, it`s Hindu kids who go missing,  and the old  divide immediately rears its ugly head, not quite subsiding even when the next to  disappear are a Muslim brother and sister.

The Djinn Patrol, hopeless amateurs at `detectiving,` quickly make a list of not- too -credible suspects but by then, the reader is piecing things together on their own, mapping the basti, with its lanes infused with the smells of marigold garlands, sliced papaya, fried puris; its  toilet options of the pay- and- use complex and the giant rubbish heap to one corner of the tenement; the large Buffalo Baba who sits like a silent sage bang in the middle of the lane; the homeless who sleep on the streets of Bhoot Bazaar; the corrupt uncaring cops; the cruelly tone-deaf `hi-fi madams` the women work for, and over it all, a thick,  unrelenting smog.

The abductions, the religious divide, the class divide, the insecurity of the disenfranchised, are all portrayed pragmatically, as witnessed   by Jai, Pari and Faiz, but are no less damaging for all that.

The reader spends a while with each of the kids who disappear just before they disappear, thus engaging involuntarily with them.  The denouement, when it comes, comes from left field but still leaves the reader aghast. Quite often,  the inevitable lurks in plain sight, unseen by everyone.


Djinn patrol on the Purple Line/By: Deepa Anappara/Publisher: Penguin/Hamish Hamilton/Pages: 343/Price: Rs 499.



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Sheila Kumar • July 19, 2020

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