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A story of Malerkotla, a spy lady Sehmat who sacrificed for nation

Every city has a remarking history in its womb and film Raazi is trying hard to depict the story of Maler Kotla based lady to the finest possible way. The roads of Maler Kotla in Punjab which lead into the life of Sehmat Khan, as her son Samar drives through them to reach her house. The landscape then sweeps across to a lovestory in Srinagar and shifts more dramatically to Pakistan, before returning to a spiritual slowdown at Maler Kotla — as the life of Sehmat unravels from being a college student to stepping into her father’s shoes as a spy for her country.
These are nagging suspicions that the book leaves the reader with. But the narrative does not push the pace, from the opening at Maler Kotla where Samar arrives on hearing that his mother has passed away. Sehmat’s life and the sacrifice by her parents who allow their only child to become a spy for the country is placed before the reader gently, as you peel different layers to understand the backdrop from where she comes.

Calling Sehmat traces the thin line walked by a Kashmiri lady spy in Pakistan, against the backdrop of the Indo-Pak war of 1971. But lending a touch of intrigue is author Harinder S. Sikka’s observation that the narrative is “fiction based on fact”. The enormity of that cryptic description sinks in as Sehmat transforms, strategises, takes risks and even kills for her watan.

Was there really a Sehmat, taking risks and sacrificing her life and family for her country, far removed from the public conscience of other fellow-Indians? Are there several such Sehmats and their families taking similar risks for the country? Or is it a metaphorical narration that salutes the faceless soldier?
Picking up from where her father left off, Sehmat gets neck-deep into her new assignment as she gets married to a Pakistani army officer. Then the narrative goes to a different level, as Sehmat gets into her role of the daughter-in-law of the Pakistani family, interacting with Army top-brass there. Gaining access to confidential documents, she begins to spin her web of intelligence and relay back information to the powers that be in India.
As ground realities between the two countries change, Sehmat is forced to push the pace of her activity. And for a protagonist who is constantly painted in the book in superlatives, Sehmat’s literal dropping of her veil from being a doting wife of a Pakistani Army officer to being an in-control spy is a poignant portrayal, especially when seen through the eyes of her husband who loves her, though let down by her actions that betray his family and country. The ruthless actions she is forced to undertake for her nation’s safety and her own, however, do return to haunt her.
The book has an elaborate description of the Navy’s role in the 1971 war, a fascinating insight that the author (a former Navy officer) has managed to weave into the narrative with support from the Indian Navy. Later again, the narrative goes into a spiritual plane to explain how Sehmat grapples with the consequences of her actions that included betraying and killing people in or close to the family.
And though both chapters are important, their elaboration tends to digress a little from the main narrative, especially since the storyline is then at its crucial point. The exceptional descriptions of the protagonist and her family also seem a little too perfect to be human. And the abrupt manner of Sehmat’s death may leave the reader wanting a little more detail on her life till it ended. But then again, is there a reason why the end was kept open-ended, is a thought that can be put to rest only by the author.
Calling Sehmat is an engaging spy story that flits between fact and fiction. As indicated by the author (who is with pharmaceutical company Piramal Healthcare), the book is a product of eight years of research into the complex backdrop against which it is set. But whether or not the book goes on to become a Bollywood film, the war-related spy and emotional drama does provoke thought on the sacrifices of the country’s unsung heroes.

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