Does spy fiction as a genre sound alluring to you? To me, it does not. Yet as I read Calling Sehmat, I was pleasantly surprised at how the novel is thematically not limited to, and so much more than simply being a thriller or a novel of adventure. The raw emotions which the author Mr. Harinder Sikka has woven so intricately all through the narration are probably what kept me hooked to the book from beginning to end.
The novel narrates the story of Sehmat, an ordinary Indian girl who goes on to become a spy. With a sheer display of courage, intelligence and extraordinary commitment towards her motherland, she passes on vital intelligence information from Pakistan, where she lives under the garb of being a very dedicated wife to the younger son of a well-connected Pakistani General, to India. This information proves very useful to India in the Indo-Pak war of 1971. India wins the war. As Indians celebrate the victory, no one yet knows about this unsung heroine who has returned back to her motherland after accomplishing what she had set out for. Yet she herself does not have the capacity to celebrate, as the killings that she committed during her mission have taken a toll on her and she is depressed and continuously hallucinating.
The book begins by introducing Sehmat’s parents and building a background to the most pertinent question that I was asking myself even before I began to read this novel- “why would an ordinary girl, with no connection whatsoever with the military style of living, agree to leave behind everything that defines her existence, to go to enemy territory as a spy?”
The narration not only answers this question but many more as it chronologically transports us from Kashmir, where Sehmat’s parents first met, to Maler Kotla, where Sehmat finally settled down when she returned from Pakistan.
The novel just like it’s protagonist has received its share of acknowledgment long after it was due. While it was first published in 2008, it has been recently republished by Penguin books after the story received acclaim as a Bollywood film Raazi.
The novel seems to cut across genres and its USP lies in the fact that it describes the life journey of a spy in all its facets including the psychological ones. I would definitely recommend almost every kind of reader to give this story a chance to enthrall and mesmerize. Happy reading!