An Open Letter to J.K. Rowling

Dear J.K. Rowling,

I probably discovered Harry Potter when I was all of 11. The same age that Harry was, when he received his letter. The one that took him from a mundane, meaningless existence into a world where he became the writer of his tale – a hero, a winner, and a character that generations of readers would admire and come to love as their own. Call it the innocence of childhood, but that summer, it wasn’t just Harry who embarked on a life-changing journey. With him, I did, too. I too, went to Platform 9 and 3/4, boarded the Hogwarts Express and went to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, an adventure that would eventually serve as my getaway whenever I wanted a break from life. A would where I learned about magic, and friendship, and many other life-lessons. Like Harry, I too experienced an entire roller-coaster ride of emotions. I remember doing a victory dance when Harry won his first Quidditch match. Crying my eyes out when Sirius Black died, mourning the loss of the only family Harry had even known. Feeling the same fuzzy warmth, during the times Harry spent with Ron and Hermione, connected with that thread of emotion that makes friends, family.

I could potentially go on and on and on. Yet this would all take me to the same conclusion.My childhood would have never been the same without Harry Potter. My muggle friends would often laugh, even tease me at what they mistook as some absurd level of fandom. But only I knew that this wasn’t a temporary fad association. Rather one that would continue all the way up to adulthood, only to make me realise how Harry Potter was so much than a character. It was an entire universe of life lessons and experiences packed into a series of stories. One I know I’ll take with me to my grave.

As a reader I reveled in the bliss of the twists and turns of tales. As a writer and a woman, I learned that when a great story and a woman full of dream, passion, and resilience come together, they truly do create magic. I’ve been told that when you started writing the series, you were broke, starving and homeless. And maybe that’s why I can’t help but marvel even more at how you were able to create an entire universe from scratch, guided by nothing, but hope and a pen. I’ve even been told that you were rejected by many, many publishers before one decided to take a chance on you, and my heart skips a beat even to imagine what the world would’ve lost, had you given up on your dream midway.

As a reader, writer and storyteller, I can only aspire, to somehow half-replicate your success. But I know, that in a world where your story stand tall as an example of what one can achieve, should they choose to relentlessly follow their passion. I’ll always have big shoes to fill.

Thank you, for giving us, the Boy Who lived.

With love,

A Lifelong Potter Fan

 

Book Review : Calling Sehmat

I’d like to call Calling Sehmat, an exception to my reading repertoire. Since it’s usually the book that gets me interested in the movie. This time, it was the opposite. Also, very rarely do I feel that any movie that’s inspired by a book can do full justice to the book. Here too, while Raazi, the film thats based on the book, touches upon most of the details in the tale, it is a masterpiece in its own right. One that takes a life of its own.

A true story of a woman in her 20s, chronicled by Harinder Sikka, the story is set against the backdrop of a post-partition India. In a time where relationships between the nation and its neighbour Pakistan were only souring with each passing, with the former’s support to the erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) being the bone of contention. In such a scenario, RAW (India’s Intelligence Agency) had established an entire network of spies who were assigned to go undercover┬áto various places including Pakistan, and seek out invaluable information that would safeguard their country. Sadly enough, none of these people went down as heroes in the pages of history, becoming faceless silhouettes instead, whose stories we never learn about until people like Sikka go searching for them.

One such character is Sehmat Khan(name concealed to protect identity), the daughter of Kashmir based businessman Hidaayat Khan who also doubles up as a RAW undercover agent, using his regular trips to Pakistan as a means to gain information about Pakistan’s military and political actions, which he ultimately passes on to RAW. When Hidaayat learns of his terminal cancer, with a stone hearted spirit, he appoints his young daughter Sehmat as his successor. Within a jiffy, Sehmat’s nikkah (marriage in Urdu) is arranged with Iqbal Sayed, the son of Hidaayat’s old friend and a top brass military officer in Pakistan. The underlying intention behind the alliance is to use Sehmat’s position in the family as the younger daughter-in-law to gain access to top-level military information, which can only be attained by an insider.

A majority of the book covers stresses on Sehmat’s espionage career, right from the time when she is introduced as a diligent student at a Delhi college, discovering her first taste of falling in love with a fellow classmate Aby, After which she is abruptly called home to Srinagar, where the details of her father’s impending disease, and his plans of Sehmat carrying forward his legacy are revealed to her. Despite the dangers and risk involved, the young Sehmat agrees, in a heartbeat. And overnight, from an innocent college student, she is wed to Iqbal, with whom she travels across the border to begin a new life – as a wife and spy. Throughout the book, the reader is subjected to highs and lows of what it really takes to carry out an undercover mission, where a single wrong step can mean anything from murder to heinous torture. Two specific heart-wrenching moments in the book are when Sehmat crushes Abdul, the old faithful servant of the Sayed household under the truck, and consequently her brother-in-law Mehboob, for the fear of her identity being revealed. In both these moments, the author does a phenomenal task of explaining how murdering both these people almost killed Sehmat herself, but it was the sanctity of the love for her country and the gravity of her mission that kept her sane and focused. Moments where humanity conflict with her patriotism. The reader cannot help but marvel at the various means Sehmat employs to expedite her mission of finding information. The story ends with Sehmat’s return to India on completion of her mission, pregnant and heavy-hearted. to lead a life of solitude, one where her past would stay with her for a lifetime, even haunting her occasionally.

In a nutshell, Calling Sehmat is a delightful, descriptive, even informative read. And a story well retold. While at times it might come across as a little too focused on the details, overall, it is a book that once you’ve finished reading, you cannot help but express admiration at the spirit of the protagonist, along with the writer’s prowess and conviction at ensuing that the tale is narrated in a manner that it strikes a chord with the reader, which it sure does. If you’re a curious, empathetic person with a liking for people and realistic fiction, read the book. And even better, watch the movie. It’ll be time well spent, I promise.

Star rating: 3.5/5

P.S.: You can purchase Calling Sehmat on Flipkart, or Amazon.