When Deepa Anappara was a journalist, she would hear stories about children vanishing, children who would disappear and would never be looked for.
'I worked as a reporter in several big Indian cities, Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi' she says. 'I was mostly covering education and human rights, so I would hear these stories and the police, because the children were largely from very poor communities, were not interested.'
She would also speak to children herself, enjoying hearing them talk about films or TV shows before starting to ask why it was they weren’t in school. 'They were always so bright, quite sarcastic quite often, but I didn’t get to use a lot of what I heard. If you are writing about the effects of a particular policy, then there’s no space to fit in what these children are really like, how funny they are, how they have their own dreams and ambitions.'
Djinn Patrol On The Purple Line, Anappara’s debut novel, is her giving a voice to some of India’s poorest children. That voice mainly comes from 9-year-old Jai, a bundle of swagger and mischief and a lover of reality TV cop shows.
'He thinks he’s a detective,' says Anappara. But it’s not just a game. Jai, with his friends Pari and Faiz, start investigating when a classmate of theirs disappears. They roam through the city, across slums, bazaars and railway lines, all the while learning more about the world and their place in it.
Jai is a charming and funny narrator. 'And in some ways he’s quite innocent,' says Anappara. 'It was important to me to write from a child’s perspective. I wanted to figure out what it would be like to be in this pretty terrible situation where other children are disappearing. India is a hub for trafficking, they could end up in brothels, or forced to work in factories. It’s a dark subject, but looking at it from the perspective of a child means hanging on to some humour.'
There are also the djinns, who the children start to believe may be stealing souls. 'Perhaps not everyone reading will be familiar with them,' she says. 'There are genies in fairy tales, but they are the much friendlier version, whereas in India and the Middle East the djinn is a spirit that can be good or bad, part of a belief system that involves the supernatural: people are afraid of djinns, they worship djinns.'
Anappara was born and grew up in India, but now lives in the UK. She completed the prestigious Creative Writing MA from the University of East Anglia and is now working towards a PhD. She deliberately chose to set Djinn Patrol On The Purple Line in a fictional and unnamed city 'that could be anywhere in India. I didn’t want it to be too close to any real-life disappearances, to intrude on anyone’s grief.'
She descries herself as an idealist. 'I’m writing about communities that are rarely noticed, both internationally and within India. I can’t help but be political in my writing: I do want to make some comment about society and the injustices that take place.'
Djinn Patrol On The Purple Line does make that comment, but in a way that also allows for exuberance, joy and hope.