Raazi: Real ‘Sehmat’ Died Last Month & We’ll See Her Photo in June

Raazi: Real ‘Sehmat’ Died Last Month & We’ll See Her Photo in June

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“Yes, I’m excited about Raazi, but no excitement can match what I have experienced already. I have seen Sehmat.”
Harinder Sikka, author, Calling Sehmat

Harinder Sikka, author of ‘Calling Sehmat’, is a content man. Alia Bhatt-starrer Raazi, which is based on his book, has already won a resounding applause from the film fraternity and the critics alike. Penguin will release a new imprint of his 2008 book next month. Along with it, Sikka has promised to reveal the identity of ‘Sehmat’ — the Indian spy who passed on critical information about Pakistan Navy’s movement during the 1971 war. She married into an influential Pakistani military family to get access to privileged information.

Alia Bhatt in <i>Raazi.</i>
Alia Bhatt in Raazi.
(Photo courtesy: YouTube)

Talking about Sehmat, Sikka almost gets into a spiritual trance. He found out about the woman in 1999, when he chanced upon her son during the Kargil war. What followed that encounter is the story of a bond that has culminated into a potential Bollywood blockbuster. Here is a glimpse of Sehmat’s life in Sikka’s words:

Finding Sehmat

“When Kargil war took place, I went to the Kargil Battle theatre as an embedded journalist. I was cursing the people, ‘How have you allowed the enemy to sit on our heads and without us knowing. And now we are losing lives because of Intelligence (failure)’. It is then that somebody stood up and said, ‘Not everybody is a traitor, my mother wasn’t.’”

Meeting Sehmat

(Sikka traced Sehmat to Malerkotla, Punjab, in 2000)

“I knocked at her door, she opened it, and I said I’m so-and-so. I used my rank (Lieutenant Commander) as well. Very politely, but very firmly, she said, ‘I don’t want to discuss’ and went inside. Before going in she said sorry and then she shut the door. I sat outside with a bottle of water in my hand. At about 4:45 pm, she opened the door again and saw me sitting outside. She said, ‘Please come in.’ And that is when she spoke in bits and pieces.

“I asked her, ‘Why are you here?

“She said, ‘Because Abdul lived here.’

“‘Who was Abdul?’

“She said, ‘He was their (her Pakistan family) most favourite servant’.

“‘What happened to him?’

“‘He died.’ ‘How did he die?’

“‘I crushed him under a truck.’

“Now, that lady – god willing, you will see her poster in the near future – her hands are incapable of killing even a mosquito!”

Calling Sehmat: A Puzzle of Silence

“There were hurdles. That is why it took me eight years to do this book ‘Calling Sehmat’. If you want to ask any detail from RAW, nothing will come out. So, I had to visit Pakistan twice. I was a guest of a serving supreme court judge. I was travelling in his car. I visited many historical places and gurudwaras. And I visited places that I wasn’t supposed to.”

The book cover of <i>Calling Sehmat</i>.&nbsp;
The book cover of Calling Sehmat
(Photo Courtesy: Penguin Random House)

“Sehmat’s story matched the Indian intelligence’s story. I was in the navy so I knew what had happened on Vikrant. How did Indian Navy know that PNS Ghazi was sitting off Vishakhapatnam? Who transferred that information? Somebody was passing them information. That somebody is Sehmat.”

Writing Sehmat: An Elusive Protagonist

“She was not okay with anything except 'Nanak Shah Fakir', a book I wrote under her influence. I sent her the original manuscript. When I’ll showcase everything, I’ll show her signature on the manuscript. The first book (Calling Sehmat’s first edition) came when she gave me a go ahead. Her family did not. She said, ‘Okay,’ and I printed the book. Then I wanted to showcase to the world how she looked. There was a flat, blatant NO from Sehmat herself. And she said she’d be buried in peace, unknown.”

Being Sehmat: A Spy’s Life

“We teach our children, ‘You must get an 'A'.’ Our system is such that we need something in return. A spy breaks that system. You are trained, but you are left to fend for yourself. That’s the job. The nation can’t be embarrassed if you are caught. You are disowned. She (Sehmat) had given up everything. When she came back, she was hugely depressed. Just read these words of poetry she wrote during her stay in Pakistan: ‘I am captured by the whims and fancies of others/And my soul wishes to fly free!’ What fantastic words!

“She was not happy with what she was doing. The world must know that a spy is not happy when he or she is killing. Her son was kind of disconnected most of the time. He spent his time in the services and thereafter he quit early. I have not seen much of a mother-son relationship between them.”

“Sehmat was pregnant when she came back to India. Her son’s father was the Pakistan Army officer she had married.”

Blessed by Sehmat: ‘Raazi’ to be Patriotic

“I learnt about Guru Nanak from Sehmat. When 'Nanak Shah Fakir' came, I had no experience of making it and the film won three national awards! Went to Cannes Film Festival in the very first go. AR Rahman, Resul Pookutty, Guru Jas – a Grammy award winner from US – they all joined. So who was doing all that? It was this lady, it’s my firm belief.”

A still from the film <i>Nanak Shah Fakir.</i>
A still from the film Nanak Shah Fakir.

“Here’s this Kashmiri woman who fought for her country. When I spoke to Dr Farooq Abdullah about her he said, ‘You want one Sehmat? You will find thousands in Srinagar.’”

Revealing Sehmat

“After she passed away last month, I kept pestering her son, ‘Look, you are her son. People must know what your mother did.’ I’ve been able to break some ground. I have some (material), but he has a phenomenal collection. If this (exhibition) happens, the world will know that Sehmat, the spy, was a lady who looked so beautiful! We are planning something big in June.”

Camera Person: Abhishek Ranjan

Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan

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