RAAZI, Meghna Gulzar’s film starring Alia Bhatt opened a small window for the people to get a peep into the life of an unlikely superhero — Sehmat Khan, a young Kashmiri Muslim girl who takes on a spy mission in Pakistan, gets married to the son of a senior Pakistani army officer, kills people, gets pregnant, but saves India’s mighty aircraft carrier INS Vikrant and thousands of lives. But beyond this small window, is the life of Sehmat, still under wraps, the story of her sacrifices, penance, pain, detachment, loneliness and spirituality.
Harinder Sikka, a retired officer of the Indian Navy, on whose book, Calling Sehmat, the film Raazi has been made, remembers that it wasn’t difficult for him to locate Sehmat’s home in Punjab’s Muslim-dominated town of Malerkotla in Sangrur in 2000. “There was a tricolour fluttering on her rooftop wherever she lived. All the 18 years I spent conversing with her, Sehmat lived and dreamed of the tricolour. She prayed for the safety of her watan. Her father, Hidayat Khan, used to raise a tricolour at his home in Kashmir and she did the same,” says Sikka, who is now penning the sequel, titled Remembering Sehmat.
Sikka wishes that Sehmat’s homecoming scenes in the film could have been depicted by Gulzar as they were mentioned in his book. “Sehmat was given a VIP welcome by the officials at Delhi airport. Due to security reasons, no one except some officials and her family were present there. She was showered with rose petals. But, moving away from the red carpet, she had knelt in front of the fluttering tricolour and placed her head on the tarmac. Tears flowing freely, she had said, ‘Oh my motherland, thank you for having me back. I missed you’. I wish the tricolour was shown for she dedicated her life for the country. I wish this sequence was shown as it was ,” says Sikka.
“I have emotions that are meaningless, courage that is worthless, I have a journey ahead that is aimless, I dream yet to reach my destination, I yet pray to fly free,” read a few lines from the poem that Sehmat had penned when she was in Pakistan. Her emotions are what Sehmat chose to kill and sacrifice, to punish herself after returning from Pakistan. Carrying the burden of lives that she had ended on her mission, she started living in Malerkotla, the hometown of Abdul, the loyal servant of her husband’s family in Pakistan whom she had murdered. She even refused to be with her first love Abhinav, who wanted to marry her and accept her child.
“Above all, she gave up her own son. She went into a depression after giving birth to Captain Iqbal Khan’s son and refused to raise him. Abhinav became the child’s foster father and raised Sehmat’s son. Abhinav never married and did not even change Samar’s religion and gave him the surname ‘Khan’, that of his biological parents. Sehmat’s father left for her many properties, but she donated these as she had travelled ahead of materialistic gains,” says Sikka.
Remembering Sehmat will bring out more of what Sehmat did in Pakistan to extract information for India, how she made her place in the family of Pakistani General Sheikh Sayeed and her life after that, in India, her relationships and more.
“Upon her return, she was attached and yet detached from her relationships. She maintained a distance from everyone because she had moved into a spiritual space. She punished herself for Abdul’s murder and for destroying the entire family of General Sayeed. She gave up her son because she was carrying the guilt of being a murderer, of killing other’s children. My first book is just 25 per cent of what I found after conversing with her from 2000-18. Then, Raazi is just 25 per cent of my first book. A two-hour film or just one book can’t explain what Sehmat was,” he says.
Samar, her son, quit the Indian Army prematurely and began working for an NGO, focusing on the development of underprivileged children, around Malerkotla.
Before passing away in April this year, in her seventies, Sehmat knew of Raazi being made but had refused all honours. She was laid to rest next to her mother, as per her last wish. “Due to security reasons, we cannot reveal her real name, that of her family and others who were a part of her life. But my quest to get her a place of a martyr will continue. It was a challenge to introduce her to the world and yet keep her anonymous. I kept my promise of keeping her anonymous till she was alive. But, now, we have to present her as a role model for what she did for India,” says Sikka.
Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh wanted to meet and honour her after reading Sikka’s book in 2008, but Sehmat refused. “She would say, ‘Agar khuda aapko karam se nawaaze to usse bada tohfa koi nahi ho sakta,’” says Sikka.
For the people of Malerkotla too, Sehmat had become a mother. She would help the poor without a complaint of how unfair life has been to her. She would say, “If somebody did injustice to you, consider yourself very fortunate. When humanity does injustice, the Almighty compensates manifold but in its own selected time.” Sikka recalls seeing symbols of Allah, Ganesha, Jesus, Krishna and Guru Nanak in Sehmat’s home.
“The world we live in is nothing more than a perch of birds on a tree,” were Sehmat’s last words to Sikka. “It shows that, for her, earth was a momentary stopover and she was an angel, meant to fly away,” says Sikka.