Say goodbye to Kurt Wallander. The Swedish detective has not had an easy life his wifes left him, hes had issues with his ailing father and rebellious daughter, he is diabetic, eats junk food and does no exercise. And to top it, 21 years after his birth, his creator says he has had enough of him.
The creator, 63, sits in his hotel room, looking almost as rumpled as the unmade bed that occupies most of the space, and gives the twin question is he tired of him or will he miss him a seconds thought.
I am not tired of him, and I wont miss him. It is for the reader not to forget him or miss him, says Henning Mankell, referring to the last Wallander novel, The Troubled Man, to be published in English this March.
Its not very often that a best-selling Swedish crime fiction writer comes visiting. But Mankell, whose books have sold 30 million copies in 43 languages across the world, is in Delhi, on his way to the Jaipur literary festival. India has always been on the waitlist. It took some time, and now I am here.
For long years, the best-known Swedish import for most Indians was Abba a four-member pop group that dominated the air waves in the Seventies. But much before Stieg Larsson introduced a concept called Swedish crime fiction, there was Henning Mankell.
Thrillers from Sweden which speak of crime against a cold and dismal background have been meeting with stupendous success across the world. Holding up a mirror of crime to look at contradictions in society is a very efficient way of artistically telling a story. In that sense I have inspired some people, he says.
But Mankell is now moving on. Crime fiction, he points out, anyway comprised only 25 per cent of his writings. The author, who also writes and directs plays, has just written the libretto for Sleepless Earth, African writer Mia Coutos novel about the civil war in Mozambique.
Africa came to me when I was very young, says the writer, who alternates between Sweden and Mozambique. In order to understand the world, I needed to see it from outside Europe. The cradle of the species of human being is Africa, so I said lets go to the starting point.
He is the artistic director of the Teatro Avenida theatre in Maputo. In a way a director and writer have the same kind of work to create a world. The writer does it with letters; the director with actors, he says, adding that he has been able to combine the two interests. I can sit in a room and write. Then at a certain point I can rise from the chair, open the door and enter another room thats full of actors. And in that room I make theatre, until one day I go back to the first room.
If he has to choose one though, it will always be writing. I am a storyteller. If I had lived 300 years ago, I would have been one of those people in the markets telling stories.
He started young. At 6, he wrote a review of Robinson Crusoe; at 15 he published his first article on a school play in a newspaper; at 19, he wrote his first play; and at 23 had written his first novel.
His father, a judge, always knew that he would write, though he died before his debut novel The Stone Blaster was published in 1972. Mankell had been brought up by his father and grandmother after his mother left him when he was a baby. My mother did what many men do, she left, Mankell had once said. The family lived above a courtroom, where quite possibly his interest in crime was first kindled.
But Wallander was born much later if I go back to my dairies, I can find out that it was on a day in May, 1989. Mankell had returned to Sweden after a long stay in Africa, and found to his dismay that hatred for foreigners was on the rise.
I decided I would write about that. And since xenophobia is an attitude of crime, I decided to use a crime plot. And then I realised I needed a police officer. He opened a telephone directory and zeroed in on the fairly normal Swedish name of Wallander.
Through Kurt Wallander, Mankell told a great many stories about Sweden. Among the ardent readers of the series in fact of everything that Mankell wrote was his father-in-law, filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.
He read everything and we spent many evenings together talking. People thought we talked about books, we talked about theatre. Yes, we did. But most of the time we spoke about music, he recalls. He said that in another life he would have liked to be a composer.
Music is one of Mankells abiding passions too. He calls himself the Ravi Shankar generation and has heard different strains of Indian music. I cant imagine a world without music and Bach. Music merges with his passion for the written word. You cannot write an unmusical book, he says.
Thats not surprising coming from someone whose forefathers were church organists. The idea was that I would become a musician too. But I realised when I was very young that I would never be good enough. So I searched for another instrument and that became writing.
He likes Sting and Bono, and had once said that he wished he could write as well as Charlie Parker played the saxophone. But I really hate bad music, the commercial music, he says. One day, he would like to make a programme on the music he hates. But I dont know if anyone will let me do that.
Would that include Abba? No, no, he says. They did some very good songs. I can understand why they became so popular. But I wouldnt say that I would use a Sunday afternoon listening to Abba. But I wont turn off the radio if I hear them.
Making the most of time is a subject never out of Mankells mind for long. There are many things that I would like to do, other stories that I would like to tell, he says, referring to why Wallander had to retire. Even if I lived to be a 100 there would always be too many stories never told.
He dramatically opens a drawer to illustrate his point. I cant, for instance, look into this drawer and say, ah, someone forgot two weeks. I can take these two weeks and use them. The only way to gather more time is to decide what not to do.
The idea, he stresses, is to make the most of your life. Its no secret that I earn a lot of money, and its no secret either that I give a lot away, says Mankell, who has donated half his income to charitable causes.
The topic of money brings us to Larsson, whose legacy of millions of dollars is the subject of a lawsuit between his father and brother and long-time partner. I didnt know him, though I met him. He was a very decent man. I liked what he was doing fighting against extreme right-wing movements, he says. I think the first of Larssons Millennium books was very good. The others, I dont think so.
Mankell, whose views are always frank, is known to clam up when it comes to his own family. But he talks about his wife, Eva, a theatre director, who spent time in India researching the Mahabharata, which she staged for children. I would say her performance was stronger to me than Peter Brookss, he says.
His four sons are doing other things. The most important thing is that they are decent human beings, he says. The youngest is a film producer. But he realises he shouldnt compete with me in the wrong way. So hell stand behind the camera, he says with a smile.
As for Mankell, there is work to be done and not just with books. I have always been an independent socialist, and I will continue to be that till I die, says the activist who was caught in the 80s civil war in Mozambique, and was on the flotilla to Gaza which was attacked by Israeli forces last year.
He also has books to read. And though he finishes one book a day he rues that there is so much left to be read. Thats a traumatic situation, all the books that I cant read.
And he will continue to write. The most important privilege I have is that I am doing what I dreamt about when I was young writing, he says. I try to write books that I would like to read myself.
Once in a while, as he did with Wallander, hell push a dot to stop a process. But there will always be new work, and honing old passions. So whenever death comes, it comes and disturbs you. Thats for sure, he says.