Book: Calling Sehmat: A Novel
Writer: Harinder S Sikka
Price: Rs 299
The year is 1971, and the relationship between India and Pakistan is strenuous. A Kashmiri girl, born to a Hindu mother and a Muslim father marries the son of a high-ranking Pakistan official. She soon works her way through in an alien environment to find out and transmit classified information that ultimately prevents the bombing of INS Vikrant. Sehmat, the girl in question, is told by her ailing father to take up that task. What follows is the rigorous, hasty training, and eventual transformation, of a young college girl into a ruthless spy who would not waver from doing whatever it takes for the sake of her country.
Harinder Sikka chronicles precisely this gripping tale in his espionage drama, Calling Sehmat. The setting is undeniably thrilling and Sikka’s novel unfolds more like a chamber drama. However, it lacks the sense of urgency and immediacy that comes with it. The original story, so startlingly brave, never quite blends in with the narrative style adopted by Sikka. There is a perceptible sense of detachment in the way Sikka narrates the tale. Presumably a narrative ploy, this could have worked in creating a sense of intrigue but it only ends up distancing the readers from Sehmat in a story that is essentially hers and hers alone. Sikka, to his credit, refrains from spoonfeeding the readers but this approach leaves several gaping holes in the narrative and sub plots are not developed well.
One does get a sense of the ingenious and fatal ploys Sehmat deploys to gather information, the extreme lengths she goes to in order to attain her objective for that, and the disillusionment she is ultimately enveloped by. However, the complexity and the nuance that such a narrative deserves is conspicuously missing. Calling Sehmat is a story that deserves to be written and read, over and over again, but the writing needed to be more taut, not a whimper.