The bit from ‘Calling Sehmat’ that’s not there in ‘Raazi’: The Kashmiri spy’s first love

Meghna Gulzar’s ‘Raazi’, starring Alia Bhatt, is based on Harinder Sikka’s espionage thriller.

Meghna Gulzar’s movie Raazi is based on Harinder Sikka’s 2008 novel Calling Sehmat, in which a Kashmiri woman marries the son of a Pakistani brigadier in order to carry out espionage for the Indian government. The novel is set before the 1971 Indo-Pak war, and recounts Sehmat’s efforts in executing vital operations that help India win the war. Sehmat inherits the role from her father, businessman Hidayat Khan. Gulzar’s movie, which was released on May 11, stars Alia Bhatt in the lead role. In these edited excerpts, Sikka reveals Sehmat’s back story, which includes an aborted romance with her college mate Abhinav.

Abhinav, Sehmat’s first love

Watching Sehmat was like witnessing poetry in motion. Her peaches and cream complexion, combined with the sharp features common to those from the Valley, was breathtaking. Her movements were effortless which gave an impression that she was gliding instead of walking. To the men who looked at her, she seemed like she had descended from the heavens and did not belong to this world.

Many speculated that she had a boyfriend back home since she did not encourage the men. Only her close friends knew that Sehmat did not have any male friends. Looking at her parents, she knew that true love was sacred and it existed. She was also convinced that it would cross her path some day. In her mind she was very clear about the kind of man she would fall in love with. She would see him in her dreams, approaching her and filling her life with meaning, love and strength. She knew he would sweep her off her feet and take her away from the ordinary world to paradise.

Little did she know what destiny had in mind. It was during the annual college celebrations that fate introduced her to Abhinav.

Aby, as he was fondly called by his close friends, belonged to a wealthy and influential Delhi family. Tall and athletic, he looked like a hero from a romantic novel. Women tried to attract his attention but failed. While some admired his drop-dead good looks, there were others who were more attracted to his hefty bank balance. Even though the entire campus swooned over him, he kept to himself and often sat on the last bench of the classroom.

No one, however, knew that instead of taking notes, Aby often penned down his heartfelt feelings in the form of poetry that had only one theme—the beautiful, unattainable Sehmat. He was in complete awe of her ethereal beauty and often described her as a Kashmiri princess who had lost her identity in an alien city. He loved his princess deeply but could never muster enough courage to approach her. Instead, he poured out his feelings in his poems, which, by his third year in college, had become an impressive collection.

Duty over love

Their love blossomed with each passing day. It was rare for either to be seen alone, except in the classroom. Even while attending lectures, Sehmat fought hard to focus on her studies.

They met regularly even as the annual exam fever gripped the college. Aby promised to carefully study her notes but found it difficult to focus. Somewhere deep within, he was worried about the approaching summer vacation that would take his sweetheart away from him.

Perhaps he had a sense of foreboding of the impending storm in their lives.

On the day of their last exam, Sehmat had barely stepped out of the hall when an unknown person approached her. He introduced himself and gave her a sealed envelope. Thinking it to be one of Aby’s pranks, she looked at the envelope carefully and found the sender’s name at the bottom. She was taken by surprise and hurriedly opened it and read the short note. Mir had requested her to fly back to Srinagar. The envelope also contained an air ticket for a flight that was scheduled to depart the next day.

Sehmat instinctively realized that all was not well at home. Shortly thereafter, she was sitting in the principal’s room, talking to her mother over the phone. Aby sat by her side, maintaining a studied composure. Tej tried her best to allay her daughter’s fears and pretend that all was okay, but failed. Aby too couldn’t do much to bring cheer to her face.

Once at home, Sehmat slowly became aware of what was happening. She came to know about her father’s ailment and spent a day crying as she thought about the possibility of him passing away. Her mother was patient with her, talking and explaining things till late in the night. Sehmat told her about Aby, and the two found solace in their tears. Tej told Sehmat about the possibility of her becoming a part of the intelligence-gathering network across the border. Even though she had dreaded talking about it, she explained how it would happen.

‘Aby is but a small sacrifice,’ she said. ‘Your father has toiled hard and taken grave risks for the sake of our country. He would like you to take over from here and help in controlling the other end, especially in light of the growing battle cries from the overconfident Pakistani Generals. Besides, we have known the Sayeeds for decades. Iqbal is a very fine, well-mannered and educated boy. You’ll be very happy and safe,’ she said. Sehmat was to be married to the son of a Pakistani Brigadier, Sheikh Sayeed, in a bold move to understand the operation being carried out against India.

Sehmat found the shock of losing both her father and Aby unbearable. She wept and sought explanations from the Almighty in the privacy of her room. If it were a test, she would rather fail than be away from her family and Aby, she argued with him.

Swinging between anger and despair, she sought answers that no one could provide. The dark night reflected her state of mind: a sense of doom reverberating all around the stillness. It was an omen of things to come, Sehmat thought. Her thoughts flew to Aby, who was waiting for her. Her anger was directed towards her fate. She couldn’t let her father down but she also wanted to be with Aby. And there was no middle ground.

Excerpted with permission from Calling Sehmat, Harinder Sikka, Penguin Random House India.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.