In 1980, fourteen-year-old Geetha Kumari is raped during comprehensive communal riots in Kerala State. She becomes pregnant and is forced to leave her newborn son. A Swedish couple adopts the child. The Indian boy is called Kalle Lundberg and grows up in the belt of pine forests in the north usually known as the last wilderness in Europe.
After giving birth, Geetha Kumari is driven away from her village to make an initial living as a prostitute in Trivandrum. Almost 30 years later, after a miraculous advancement, socially and educationally, she is professor of sociology at the University of Delhi and guest lecturer at Cambridge, UK. She is single and renowned in academic circles for her criticism of the Indian dowry system.
In spite of being professionally successful, Professor Kumari suffers from her teenage trauma. She is driven by a longing to see her son, who was adopted. There is no question of meeting the young man and establishing contact. She is determined not to make herself known. To her, it would be enough to see her son from a distance only once.
At the orphanage in Trivandrum, Geetha by bribery succeeds in acquiring documents with the name and address of the adoptive parents. She travels to Sweden to look for her son. Kalle Lundberg is hauling timber in his adoptive father’s foresting company and lives by himself in a cottage some ten miles from the closest town.
Geetha Kumari arrives in an environment where several conflicts are happening in parallel.
• A Swedish Narmada, an expansion of hydroelectricity and the evacuation of people more than fifty years ago, is still bleeding like an open wound to the older generation.
• Swedish forests have plenty of wild berries used both by the food and medical industries. The picking of berries is a low-status job avoided by Swedes and turned over to seasonal workers from the poorer European countries, the former Soviet states, and Thailand. The berry-pickers are lodged in tents on camping sites or in small tourist cottages in the late summer or early autumn each year. The strangers cause irritation. Many Swedes do not want any foreigners in the forests and accuse the berry-pickers of thefts and vandalism.
• Sweden has a few hundred thousand native people called the Sami. Some of them are nomads who breed reindeer. The reindeer flocks move long distances between the mountains and the forests every year; they cause damage to cultivated country and forest plantations. The Sami/land owner conflict is many hundred years old. NGOs with young, well-educated Sami members are fighting for minority rights.
A few characters central to the story are in the area when Geetha Kumari moves into a cottage at a camping site dominated by foreign berry-pickers.
• Marit Sköld, 24 years old, is a newly appointed editor for the local paper. She meets Kalle Lundberg at the beginning of the novel and takes a liking to him. The reader mostly follows the story through Marit’s point of view.
• Former Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bertil Wide, is in a fishing cottage with his mistress close to the river that runs through the area. As a Minister, he was severely criticised for an inhumane fugitive policy and has been subject to death threats.
• A Lebanese fugitive, Francois Chamoun, has won money on horse racing and built a tourist hotel in the wilderness. Israeli intelligence service Mossad considers Chamoun to be a dormant Hizbollah agent.
• All his life, old forester Gustav Eriksson has held a major grudge against the hydroelectric industry, which drove him from his homestead.
Swedish hydroelectric industry stores 3.6 billion cubic metres of water in unwatched dams and reservoirs. While Geetha Kumari is searching for the working site of Kalle Lundberg in the forest, an unknown hacker opens the hatches of a nearby hydroelectric plant. During an hour, the masses of water pouring forth create havoc and terror. Then, the hatches are closed. All of Sweden awaits an explanation.
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Bertil Wide disappears. The Swedish Security Service, which is cooperating with Mossad, suspects that Chamoun, supposedly an agent, is involved in the sabotage. The mistress of Wide is also under suspicion. After a few days, Wide’s body is found in the river. The cause of death is a massive heart attack.
A formerly unknown Sami organisation accepts the responsibility for the sabotage. The organisation demands that Sami skulls stored in universities and museums receive a Christian funeral. In the 1930s, Sweden was one of the foremost countries in race research; Swedish research results were adopted by Nazi Germany. The police make a raid and discover that the newly formed terrorist organisation is nothing more than a college joke.
The forensic investigation reveals that a mobile phone containing a SIM card from Calicut (Kozhikode) has been used to manipulate the server of the hydroelectric plant. The mobile phone is also shown to have been in close proximity to the hydroelectric dam. Swedish authorities issue an explanation that the sabotage has been carried out by foreign terrorists.
Reporter Marit Sköld manages to get a hold of the telephone number, which leads to a shipyard in the city of Calicut in Kerala State, India. She publishes this information. Swedish media follow suit. The hostile atmosphere allows for the Indian Embassy in Stockholm to be attacked by picketers. The police carry out mass arrests of foreigners. Geetha Kumari is one of them. During questioning, she refuses to answer. This adds to the suspicion that she is involved in the sabotage. Her passport shows that she was born in Kerala, the state where the telephone number leads. A lynching mob burn down her cottage at the camping site.
A letter from CBI in India crushes the hypotheses of the Swedish police. The perpetrator does not necessarily have to be an Indian. Anyone could have had access to the SIM card. CBI notifies the Swedish police that eight mobile phones were stolen at the same time eight years ago in Calicut, and that their SIM cards have never been blocked, since the question of ownership is subject to court negotiation. Stolen cards have also been used in Australia and the US. There is nothing to tie silent Geetha Kumari to the sabotage and she is released. Reporter Marit Sköld tries to get an interview with the Indian professor, who has been detained for two days. The young reporter hopes that Geetha Kumari will comment on the breach of human rights to which she has been exposed. Geetha does not want to make a statement but happens to let her tongue slip when the purpose of her visit is discussed. Marit makes the connection between her and her boyfriend Kalle Lundberg; in view of the enthusiasm and initiative of the young journalist, Geetha surrenders. Mother and son meet in the forest. Marit also makes arrangements for a meeting with the adoptive parents before Geetha returns to India.
With the aid of Kalle Lundberg, Marit Sköld solves the riddle of the sabotage. In a newspaper archive, she finds a list of names of participants at a meeting fifty years earlier, when the hydroelectric plant in question was about to be built. She notes that old forester Gustav Eriksson was present. Under the pretence of making a series of features about people in the wilderness, she makes a visit to Eriksson’s home and discovers a modern laptop computer in a bag. She leaves the place full of doubts, but Kalle Lundberg talks her into confronting Eriksson with her suspicions.
When the confrontation takes place, the old man is in hospital, dying of leukaemia. Eriksson confirms that he opened the hatches, but he asks Marit to wait to publish the information until he has died. She accepts. Eriksson tells her that his motives were highly personal. He had wanted to hear the sound of the rapids as it was in his youth before his illness would rob him of his last strength. The software required for unleashing the water the renowned technically talented elderly man had received from German environmental activists who had previously lived in his home.
The book ends with a brief scene in the foreign departure terminal at Stockholm Airport. Kalle Lundberg and Marit Sköld are on their way to Delhi to visit the biological mother of Kalle.
The fictional Indian woman, Geetha Kumari, I have conceived during seven months in Kerala, where I live every winter. I have interviewed female students, female fishmongers, moneylenders, university professors, prostitutes, police and a descendant of the maharajah of Travancore.
I have visited Amma’s Cradle in Trivandrum, where mothers abandon their unwanted children. The adoption papers of the novel are genuine; they belong to my wife. Her daughter was found in a cradle outside an orphanage in New Delhi 30 years ago and her name was Minakshi originally.
With the aid of Geetha Kumari, I wish to shed some light on the hostility towards foreigners constantly found below our well-polished Scandinavian surface. That is the purpose of the novel.