lunes, 21 de mayo de 2018

War and Peace | The Indian Express

War and Peace | The Indian Express

War and Peace

Author Harinder Sikka, a former Lieutenant Commander of the Navy, on his book Calling Sehmat and meeting Sehmat Khan, the unsung Indian spy whose story is the subject of Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | Updated: May 21, 2018 10:21:50 am
Author Harinder Sikka. (Photo by Amit Mehra)

Sehmat Khan died in her sleep last month in an unknown location in Rajasthan. Her quiet death came days before her life, unsung as it was for most part of it, was placed on a broad canvas by director Meghna Gulzar in her espionage thriller, Raazi. The film, starring Alia Bhatt, has met rave reviews for the textured portrayal of a 20-year-old Indian spy who is married to the son of a senior Pakistani officer to provide critical classified information about Pakistan’s Navy movement. According to the film, her intelabout PNS Ghazi, which was placed just off Vishakhapatnam during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, helped save the bombing of INS Vikrant — India’s first aircraft carrier.
Gulzar’s film is based on Harinder Sikka’s debut book Calling Sehmat (Penguin, Rs 299, earlier by Konark Publishers), to be launched next month. “Keeping her identity safe was significant. Sehmat isn’t her real name. Farooq Abdullah read the book and said that I needed to change the names or else there could be problems. I figured that those guys (Pakistani Army) were capable of finding her,” says the 60-year-old, also former Lieutenant Commander of the Indian Navy and strategy man of the Piramal group. Sikka understood the grave consequences that real names could have, so he changed them. What’s well-known, however, is that Sehmat taught General Yahya Khan’s grandchildren.
While many members of the Pakistani audience who managed to watch the film have appreciated it, Pakistani government has stuck to the ban on the film. “The news coming from Pakistan is that they (the government) are quite upset with me. A Kashmiri Muslim girl, whose patriotism and loyalty for India is equal to that of anyone in our Forces, is exemplary. It’s a tribute to many Kashmiri mothers and a message for the rest of the country. There are many Sehmats in Kashmir,” says Sikka.
Sikka was born and raised in Delhi’s Sabzi Mandi area, amid a ton of refugee families, including his own, who’d come to India post the Partition. He joined the Navy in the ‘70s and continued to serve till 1993. He joined the corporate life in 1994. But in 1999, during the Kargil war, Singh travelled with the Army as an embedded journalist. While reporting there, an array of intelligence issues disillusioned him about the Forces.
“One night, I was drinking with an officer and I kept telling him how the intelligence agencies were failing us. The Navy officer told me not everyone was like that. His mother wasn’t like that,” says Sikka, who then heard the story which would change his life. Sehmat was this officer’s mother. “When I went to Kargil, I thought I was a brave man. But when I heard about a man there, who had sent his only child into this quicksand, I thought of this girl and that this required as much bravery,” says Sikka.
It wasn’t until many years later that a chance encounter with the same officer in Delhi led to Sikka wanting to figure out the story. It took two visits to Pakistan and years of research to figure out the facts and build a narrative. In 2010, Sikka tracked Sehmat in Malerkotla in Punjab’s Sangrur, Abdul’s hometown. A loyal worker in the Brigadier’s house where she was married, Abdul was also the man she killed in Pakistan by crushing him under a truck. “She came back pregnant and in depression,” says Sikka. Sehmat’s story and the information she gave matched everything else Sikka came across. “The Forces won’t utter a word. But I was in the Navy, so I also knew about INS Vikrant. Indian Navy could not have know about PNS Ghazi. That somebody who provided that information was Sehmat,” says Sikka, who was on the frontline during most of his career.
After some time, when Sehmat agreed to talk, Sikka’s meetings would happen over tea, and Sehmat would be dressed in a white salwar-kameez and a chiffon dupatta. She always wore dark glasses, even while sitting inside. Sikka says that the story is interesting also because if Sehmat was caught and not brought back, she would have been known as an embarrassment for the nation. “The job of a spy is such,” says Sikka, adding he never saw much of a relationship between Sehmat and her son. However, post her death last month, her family has agreed to release the book with Sehmat’s photograph on a Navy ship. Sikka, was also called upon by former PM Manmohan Singh to present the book. “When the PM wanted to speak to her, she refused,” he adds.
Sehmat also gifted Sikka with the idea for making his National Award-winning film Nanak Shah Faqir (2015), that was mired in much controversy after the SGPC wanted it banned, as according to them, no human, if not baptised, can portray the Sikh guru or his family members. Sikka then modified the film into an animated version, which had AR Rahman compose the music for Rs 1 and Oscar-winning sound engineer Resool Pokutty on board.
“Sehmat was enamoured by the secular teachings of Nanak and told me to create a film that would talk of a syncretic world,” says Sikka about the film, which eventually got a go-ahead from the Supreme Court. “When I went to give the National award prize money envelope to Sehmat, she told me to give it away for charity,” says Sikka. Sehmat Khan never saw Raazi. She did, however, own a copy of Calling Sehmat. “She didn’t need to see the film. She’d lived it,” says Sikka.
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