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The number to Kerala

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PRIYADERSHINI S.

Swedish journalist Calle Hard is spending his fourth ‘winter' in Kochi and has written three novels in Swedish with Kerala as the backdrop. Over to Priyadershini S.

I t's a Swede's take on Kerala. On its people and places, issues and swamis. Not as academic essays but as thrilling novels the works have received good reviews by readers in Sweden. The novels are being translated into English.

All three novels by Swedish journalist turned writer Calle Hard have Kerala as the backdrop. In Fort Kochi for the fourth time, “my fourth winter”, Calle's Kerala connect is indeed stranger than fiction. His wife Marianne's adopted daughter, Matilda (Menaksi) is from India, which is what brought them here. Marianne fell in love with Kerala and has written two travel guides: ‘Lost in Kerala' and ‘Kerala, The Pearl Of Southern India'.

The love of India

“When I married Marianne I got the whole of India with her,” recalls Calle, happy that the association opened for him a floodgate of material for his three works.

His first work, ‘The Number to Calicut' (Numret Till Calicut) is where Calle reverses the story of his Menaksi, who came to India in search of her roots. His heroine, Geetha Kumari, a victim of teenage rape offers her son for adoption and later as a Professor of Psychology at Delhi University goes to Sweden in search of her biological son. His second work, ‘The Decent Mass Murderer is inspired by the Endosulfan tragedies in Kerala. The villain in the work is a Swedish businessman who has to close down his pesticide plant at government orders and moves it to Kerala to continue his business. Calle says that it was his meeting with Endosulfan victims in Kasargod and after long interviews with tea pluckers in Munnar, who were unaware of the pesticides they were interacting with, that he came up with this story, which connects issues across Sweden and Kerala. The present novel in progress, with a working title, ‘A Rumour of Death' is about Ayurveda. “A drunkard Swedish correspondent is creating an artificial market for Ayurveda in Sweden,” says Calle explaining the gist. As most of his characters emerge from people whom he has met, Calle says amidst guffaws that the governor of his district back in Sweden has stopped wishing him during walks, thinking that he is one of the uncomplimentary characters of his novel!

But it's true of Calle's works. His journalistic news gathering has introduced him to very many ordinary and well-known people who shape up as characters in his books and hence his stories are realistic and touching. In between his fiction writing Calle applied and received a grant from the Swedish Foreign Aid for Democratic Process to research on dowry deaths. “This was after I met a woman in Thiruvananthapuram who was badly burnt after she was set on fire by her husband's people for bringing inadequate dowry.” Shocked by the incident Calle undertook the research that led him to meet many interesting characters. He met Kamala Das, of whom he says that ‘if you have her as your friend you don't need an enemy'. His meeting with her was obviously a difficult one for he laughs it off saying that the only thing missing was a revolver! “She is very close to Scandinavian feminists. I am very used to her ideas on gender equality and such.”

Calle met HH Marthanda Varma too; who he says was very religious and very gentlemanly. His meeting with Mata Amritanandamayi was less important to him than meeting with her father, Suguanandan. “It was nice to hear what he had to say on being the father of a God,” recounts Calle humorously, declaring that he respects all faiths. Campaigning an entire day with young politician Sindhu Joy, visiting Marad, Plachimada and meeting with activist Ajitha, the Rejina case are all well researched by Calle. But away from the issues and controversies, Calle too has spent time chatting up with locals at the tea shops and auto rickshaw drivers, gulf returnees, prostitutes, dowry victims and culprits, second hand book stall owner (Joy David), just the ordinary everyday people. His meeting with a real estate baron was informative. “I wanted to know what kinds of people are buying his flats,” he says. To him the new temples in Kerala are the car showrooms and the priests are anybody's guess. “It is only if you love somebody or something that you criticise it,” he says clearing the air about his critique of certain issues and ways.

And so his love for Kerala deepens as Calle skips another harsh Swedish winter for warm, balmy days here.

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