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Author Harinder Sikka to reveal more about Sehmat Khan - the character Alia Bhatt played in Raazi - in his book's sequel
Meghna Gulzar's recent spy-thriller Raazi intrigued the audience with the real-life story of an unsung hero – Sehmat Khan, a young Kashmiri Muslim girl who was personification of sacrifice for the motherland.

Sehmat had taken on a spy mission during the 1971 Indo-Pak war by getting married to the son of a Pakistani Army officer. However, her identity has been deliberately kept under wraps till date due to security concerns.

Raazi was not only successful at the box office but also won critical acclaim. In fact, it was Alia Bhatt's scintillating portrayal of Sehmat Khan in the film which made the film a resounding success and won many hearts.

Raazi is based on author Harinder Sikka's book titled "Calling Sehmat". Sikka, a retired Indian Naval officer was in touch with the real-life Sehmat Khan from the year 2000 until her demise in April this year, a period of almost two decades.

Sikka stumbled upon Sehmat's existence during the Kargil war and gave her a fictional name, Sehmat, to share her more than unusual life full of sacrifices, pain, penance, detachment, loneliness and spirituality with the readers, keeping the real person in the shadow of anonymity for obvious reasons.  

Sikka came to know about Sehmat's story through her son, Samar Khan, an Army officer, in 1999, when the Kargil War was going on. Sikka had gone to Kargil to write media articles on the Army's alleged intelligence failure. It was during this visit that Samar narrated the story of his mother who married a Pakistani officer and even got pregnant with his child, all in the line of duty for the sake of providing classified information to India during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Her most important intelligence input was revealing about Pakistan's plan to sink INS Viraat, Indian Navy's pride in the sea.

It took lot of efforts from Sikka to meet Sehmat after locating her home at Malerkotla in Punjab's Sangrur district in the year 2000. Sikka, who is now penning the sequel to his book titled 'Remembering Sehmat', said, "There was a tricolour fluttering on her rooftop where she 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."

Although chiefly happy with Meghna Gulzar's adaptation of his book one regret that Sikka has is that the homecoming scenes of Sehmat, vividly described in his book were not included in Raazi.

He says, "Sehmat was given a VIP welcome by officials at the 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 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."

Heavy in the heart, burdened with the lives she had taken during her mission, Sehmat chose to punish herself on her return from Pakistan. She settled down in Malerkotla, the hometown of Abdul, the loyal servant of her husband's family in Pakistan whom she had murdered. Sehmat even refused to marry Abhinav, her first love, who wanted to marry her and give his name to 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.

His next book 'Remembering Sehmat' will shed more light on Sehmat's modus operandi in Pakistan that she used to extract information for India and also on the later part of her life which she spent in India upon her return from Pakistan.

"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 further adds.

Sehmat, who was in her mid seventies, before passing away in April this year, knew that Raazi was being made but yet she refused to accept any monetary remuneration or any credits for her story like most people nowadays do. According to her last wish, she was laid to rest next to her mother.

"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.

After reading Sikka's book in 2008, former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had expressed his desire to meet and honour Sehamat, but she politely refused. "She would say, 'Agar khuda aapko karam se nawaaze to usse bada tohfa koi nahi ho sakta,'" he adds.

Sehmat spent the last few years of her life serving the poor people of Malerkotla like a mother. For ordinary mortals like you and me 'patriotism' is just a dictionary word of English language which means extreme love for one's motherland. But for people like Sehmat and her family, patriotism isn't just another word but putting the motherland beyond everything else.    

They say that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, well, Sehmat's story tells a completely different narrative altogether. What hurts the most today is that social media sites have become shady places where certificates of patriotism are disseminated and exchanged without the slightest consideration based upon populist majoritarianism. Sehmat's story gains even more relevance in today's age when the true meaning of patriotism has been lost somewhere.

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