There were such beautiful children in my class while I was still teaching. Harini, Tanvi, Shruti, Surya, Janav…When I read this novel set in a basti (a collection of huts) in India, I could envision their faces quite clearly. I could even envision the difficulty of living in their community: dirty, close to a huge rubbish heap, with street vendors selling spicy foods or chai teas, and kind neighbors.
When a child goes missing, a young school boy named Jai decides he will become a detective. After all, he has seen plenty of them on a television show called Police Patrol, and he has read about them in books. He knows what to do. And so, he enlists his friends Pari and Faiz to help him.
The novel is told through his childish eyes, full of innocence and hope, determined that he can make a difference. But, the children keep going missing, and no one but those who live in the basti seem to care. Not the ones in the hi-fi buildings where his mother works for a rich boss lady, nor the mayor who seems more concerned about his missing cat.
There is much to think about here, within these pages, about poverty. About innocent children. About Hindus and Muslims distrustful of one another, unable to get along.
But, it is the ending that I will never, ever forget. I have carried it around in my heart all day, and I do not have sufficient words to express the pain I feel. It is almost as if I have lost a member of my class, or worse, my own family.
SPOILER: Jai’s sister is the last person to go missing. Despite searching throughout the basti, in every hidden corridor and behind every darkened door, she is never found. None of the missing children are found, for they have been sold into human trafficking, or slayed for their organs. It is hard to believe that such atrocities can and do exist, and I applaud Deepa for giving us such a beautifully written novel which brings into the light an unspeakable evil.