An Exclusive Interview with Harinder Sikka, without whom the truth of Sehmat would have been hidden forever.
Being at a prestigious position of Group Director – Strategic Business at the Piramal Group, the work pressure would be enormous! How do you manage the time to write the book? Some writers describe themselves as planners, while others plunge right into the writing. Do you work form any kind of a plan?
I mostly write after 10 pm. Since I don’t party, nor drink, nor have interest in eating out, I get good time at night to pen down my thoughts. What comes to my heart gets expressed on a piece of paper. Over the period I edit it many times till I am satisfied with the flow.
The subaltern view of the book highlights patriotism, even after 70 years of existence as separate nations, the India – Pakistan equation is incessantly stressed – Your views.
India and Pakistan’s tensions are stressed because the two nations in general, and Pakistan in particular, want it to be so. It’s a game of mind, being played by those who do not appreciate the fact that everything that we give comes back to us. Neither do the Pakistani Generals appreciate that the nuclear energy they are sitting on is worthless. If and when the paradigm shifts, we shall all start from zero. Their egos however refuse to accept the truth. Its a pity that we put up a grand show of hostility every evening at the Wagah border, slamming gates at each other. What are we feeding to our citizens?
We are forever fed by a brand of Hyper- Nationalism where most films, media have etched the stereotypical image of ‘dushman’ in our minds – “Calling Sehmat “decimates the whole structure – Your views.
The book ‘Calling Sehmat’ describes patriotism and loyalty of a woman without hatred and animosity. She performed her karma but did not wish to be rewarded. In the process however, she had to even kill many and suffered herself. Its an emotion which a very large number amongst the future generations in general, and our politicians in particular, are bereft of. Selling Negativity connects faster to the voter, it seems.
While looking for film adaptation of your book ‘Calling Sehmat’, did you have any actor in mind, if Yes, who?
For Calling Sehmat, I had decided on Alia Bhatt as the actor and Meghna Gulzar as Director much before signing the contract. I had given a written document to this effect to Meghna. Since it was a ‘Not for Profit’ project for me, there was not way I could have suffered any loses. Therefore any producer wanting to deal with the subject was left with no choice but to agree on this requirement of mine.
What inspired you to write this story? Could you please share the history behind “Calling Sehmat?”
Calling Sehmat is a story of a Kashmiri Muslim woman who made supreme sacrifices for the sake of her ‘watan’, Hindustan. I was all along under the impression that i was a brave man, given the fact that I had taken many bold initiatives that a normal person wouldn’t even dare to undertake. But when I learnt about her story, the bubble burst, I felt humbled. It was not easy to build the story given that she was reluctant to speak out much. Having emerged from deep depression thanks to a saintly soul, she had moved herself into a spiritual cocoon from where she was not willing to emerge. It was difficult to pierce through this comfort zone of hers. By making a pillars out of bits and pieces of information from her, I visited Pakistan twice, in 2004 and 2007, with an aim to get an insight of her stay there. This helped me build a stronger base around these pillars. I was always aware and convinced of the value of my story. And there were many production houses who made every effort to get the book.
Every Kashmiri is not a traitor or a terrorist -The book is written with this thought. What made this transition possible? What are your thoughts in the present times?
Every Kashmiri is not a traitor or a terrorist is as much a fact as ‘one swallow does not the spring make’. According to Dr. Farooq Abdullah, there are thousands of Sehmats in the Valley who know for sure that the interaction of their children with Pakistan or Pakistanis can only mean a death knell for their children. They are simple and humble people, unfortunately also gullible, thus are being abused to the hilt by those with vested interests. I believe select politicians, traitors and terrorists are making money in exchange of body bags from both sides. 26/11 terrorists, Kasab and Wani are glaring examples. Such people have no religion or loyalty. They belong to no nation. They believe in one goal, to make money, at whatever the cost. It wasn’t a coincidence that Osama Bin Laden was found in Abotabad. Someone, somewhere was paying bag full for his accommodation to the Pakis.
Selling Negativity connects faster to the voter, it seems.
There are various incidents which involve risks and turning out the story of Sehmat, must have involved plenty of risks. How did you manage to convince yourself that you should go about it anyway? Did the people involved support you in your moves?
Life is full of risks. There is no guarantee for the next breath. I personally believe the theory that “you live once and if you live right, once is enough”. My company, Piramal Group supported me to the hilt and so did my parents and my family. There were hurdles galore. Its only when you travel the crests and troughs of life that you enjoy, deep within, the essence of the journey.
The journey of writing the book and taking it to the movie, how and what was your experience?
It took me eight years to write the book and publish it in 2008. It took me another FEW years to minutely correct and rewrite the same. Penguin came as a blessing and took the book to a new height. After I made Nanak Shah Fair, a multiple national award winning film – that was Sehmat’s blessing to me – I was more than convinced that ‘Calling Sehmat’ should hit the silver screen and destiny took over from there on.
How much time you have devoted to writing this book?
I spent many months to reshape the book. Calling Sehmat is a passion in motion to someone deep within me who was emotionally attached to this amazing character. I wanted to ensure that the lead character did not go away unsung.
It must have taken enormous effort in researching about Sehmat and her story. Where it all did began? Did the story leave you feeling heavy and haunted?
Researching on Sehmat itself became a passion for me. It began from a point where I heard the sentence “my mother wasn’t a traitor”. I witnessed from close quartersmany Sehmats helping our forces. Sehmat’s acts of valor and courage pierced the soul within, brought me down to ground zero. I actually feel better now, and humbled.
Giving a massive positive review about the movie, what are your thoughts on the cast? Was everything perfect, from characters to direction?
The film is a small portion of the entire book but two people were very vital for me – one was Sehmat, played by Alia Bhatt and the second was Abdul, played by Arif Zakaria. Arif had played the role of ‘Bhai Mardana’ in my film, Nanak Shah Fakir. Therefore I knew he would deliver his best and Alia’s confirmation had come from none less than Sehmat herself. Her innocence filled facial expressions, natural talent and steely determination is second to none. I see Sehmat in her. Almost single handedly, she took the film to the box office, she’s my hero!
Any message that was given to you from Sehmat regarding the book and the movie which you would like to share with the readers.
There are two messages which are of vital importance:
a) “If the Lord grants you karma, there cannot be a better reward”.
b) “If injustice is done to you by humans, consider yourself lucky. Nature will compensate manifold at its chosen time”.
Invaluable are these words.
Any message you want to share or give to your readers and well-wisher
I want people to read the book with an open mind & heart and appreciate that even a small journey undertaken in life, not necessarily travelling for decades, with a positive frame of mind and with loyalty, commitment and dedication, leaves in its wake a permanent mark that in turn gets etched forever in the memory of the unknown minds on earth and the Almighty above.
The interview first appeared in June 2018 issue of Storizen Magazine. You can read it here.