The Palace of Illusions

~ Karachi, Pakistan ~


“Parathas, one plate of Seekh kebab and one chicken tikka” “Anything else, sir” inquired the waiter “Ek Malai Boti bhi kar dena” replied Faraz.


Faraz looked at his son, Adeel. They had come to “Zahid Nihari”-Karachi’s no. 1 restaurant, to celebrate Adeel’s birthday. It’d been one of those rare moments, when the whole family got together, for a celebration. Normally, Faraz would spend most of his time travelling, attending to the rigorous demands of his job. He looked at his wife, Aisha. Time and again, she’d emerged as her savior, looking after his children’s and parents in his absence. He wanted to hold her hand and thank her for all those remarkably onesided compromises and adjustments she’d made, to ensure the suaveness of their marital relationship.


“What has he done to deserve someone like her” he questioned himself repeatedly. Faraz was anxious. At times, when your life is rollicking perfectly, you turn a deaf ear to the storm, lurking in the abyss, to vanquish the mirage of your happiness, thereby placing you one on one against your clandestine past.




~ New Delhi, India ~


Mihika woke up, to the sweet cadence of the Azaan. Ever since her childhood, she’d been exceedingly fascinated by Muslims-their names, festivals and their culture. She took a bath and braced herself, for yet another eventful day. She completed her morning Puja and rushed upstairs to prepare her daughters-Swati and Sweta, for school. After dropping her daughters on the bus stop, she’d rush back home in a helter skelter, to prepare breakfast. Her husband would drop her at her office and drive away, to his working place. Her job was incredibly demanding, leaving her utterly exhausted, at the end of the day.


Sometimes, she wondered,whether her job was worth the sacrifices, she’d been making, everyday, for the past seven years. The secrets beneath her heart kept terrifying her. The fear of losing our loved ones is perhaps, the most daunting of all trepidations, to overcome.


She recalled the verse, she’d read in the Bhagwad Gita, the previous morning – “O, Keshav, it is easier to control the wind than to try and control the fickle, unsettling, dominant, and stubborn mind; O strong armed Arjuna, no doubt the mind’s moves are hard to stay. You get a grip by practice & indifference.”


Practice and indifference-she repeated to herself.




~ Mosque of Maryam Zamani, Lahore, Pakistan ~


Faraz offered four units of the Asr prayer. He was here, with couple of his friends, to pay homage to Maryam Zamani, the mother, of the great Mughal emperor-Jahangir. As he walked past the markets in Lahore, his mind was lost, in an influx of old memoirs- “The old adage is, that Lahore is a mirror image of Delhi. Lahore’s tree-lined roads, sleek buildings and forts and tombs belonging to the Mughal era make it a replica of Delhi. Moreover, both the states were renowned for their exquisite culinary delicacies.”


There was something about Lahore, which cringed Faraz’s conscience. There was no one, whom Faraz could talk to. He craved for solitude. Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone, whereas solitude expresses the glory of being alone.




Faraz couldn’t gauge the location clearly. He was blindfolded and his head was aching woefully. He’d left his home, like any other day, for his office. Faraz tried hard to maintain his composure. The vision was blurred.


It took Mihika, a moment or two to realize, that her hands and legs were tied. She was returning back home, after seeing off her daughters to school. All she could recall was that she was forcefully dragged into a Maruti Omni. She couldn’t remember anything else.




~ ISI Headquarters, Khayaban-e-Suhrawardy, Islamabad ~


Major Gen. Ali Asghar Rizvi was overjoyed by the news; he’d received couple of hours ago. Finally, he’d something, which would set the cat among pigeons, across the border. He fumbled through his files, intently searching for a dossier.


Faraz’s hands and legs were tied. He was sweating profusely. Major Gen. Rizvi walked up to him and placed the dossier before him on the table. “I presume it’s time to speak some truth” he said, puffing his cigar, with an aura of insolence.


Faraz looked at the dossier-


Name: – Rajveer Singh Shekhawat

Father’s name: – Amar Singh Shekhawat

Mother’s name:- Kamla Devi

Nationality:- Indian

Educational Qualifications:- Recruit of National Defense Academy,Khadakwasla, Pune Part of Quebec Squadron (7th Battalion). Graduate of 97th course of NDA Commissioned as Lt. to Manipur regiment (27th Battalion) Selected to join Establishment 22 (Special Frontier Forces)

Comment: – Expert in Guerilla Warfare. Fluent in Arabic, French and German.


Faraz realized, that the game was over.




~ RAW Headquarters, Lodhi Road, New Delhi ~


Amit Mehra, Head of Operations-RAW,was intently focusing on the game. He rallied his bishop forward. In order to win, it was imperative to isolate the king.

Amit trapped the king between the rooks and queen, thereby ambushing him and rendering him helpless. He remarked “Sheh aur Maat”- Checkmate.


“Time to go,” he said.


Mihika was smiling. This was the ultimate showdown. The hide and seek game had been building up, for the past seven years. It was time, to draw the curtains. She was sitting in the RAW interrogation room.


“Would you introduce yourself, or shall we do the honors?” asked Amit. He handed her a green colored file. The word “CONFIDENTIAL” was written over it, in large, bold letters. Mihika opened the file.


She instantly realized-The illusion is over. It’s time to shatter the glasses and face reality.


Name: – Sara Ahmad Khan

Father’s name:- Rashid Ahmad Khan

Mother’s name:- Nargis Bano

Nationality:- Pakistani

Educational Qualifications:- Graduate in Inorganic Chemistry (Cluster Compounds in Triglyceride Amino Acids)-University of Birmingham. Graduation in Immigration Law-Cambridge University

Comment:- Trained by Mossad, Israel during Student Exchange Program




Both of them were thrown into the dungeons. This was just the beginning of what, would be an apocalyptic journey. All measures-fair, unfair, brutal, sadistic would be employed to coerce them to divulge invaluable piece of intelligence information. Some of the most gruesome techniques would be used, to decapitate them-mentally, as well as physically.


The implicit law of RAW and ISI is-“All the laws, are applicable outside the interrogation room.”


This, by all means was their final night, in peace and solitude. They decided, to face their inner demons, which’d been traumatizing them, since ages. They decided to write.




~ Central Jail, Islamabad ~


“I’ve lost count, of how many people I’ve killed. My favorite trick was the head wrench. You just needed to get hold of the enemy’s head. Once you caught hold of his head, all you had to do, was to snap it, forcefully. Our ruthless training sessions ensure that your conscience is not burdened by the moral repercussions of your action. We uphold and revere the sanctity of human life. We’d prefer sacrificing our life, rather than spilling, even a single drop of innocent human blood.


My life, surely has been, one hell of a roller coaster ride. I’ve been through, almost half the globe, but if there’s a place, that pulls the strings in my heart, it’s Delhi, especially the older part of it. The sizzling aroma of Puri-Aalu-Halwa served at Haji’s tea Point, situated in the suburbs of Jama Masjid, is indistinctly afresh in my mind.


Ever since my childhood, Lord Shiva has always fascinated me. I used to accompany my mother, to the Gauri-Shankar temple, on the eve of Mahashivratri. For a sincere devotee, the Lingam (Phallus) is not merely a stone. It is the symbol of union of the duality of Shiva (The Pure one) and Shakti (Cosmic energy).


Our knowledge is a receding mirage in an expanding desert of ignorance. The bends and twirls, life offers, makes me believe, that there is a supernatural entity, plotting the co-ordinates of our destiny. I could’ve never imagined that I’d meet Aisha.


She was like a trap set by nature – a sweet perfumed rose in whose petals Cupid lurks in ambush! She instilled elegance in every common thing and divinity in every lackadaisical gesture. How on earth, I wish, I could meet her, for one last time. Aisha- “My life has been an anthology of devious impersonations. Beneath the facade of all the counterfeits and pretensions, lies an undeniable truth-I’ve always loved you.


I wish I could explain. I wish, I could beg your forgiveness. My spirit shall bear the ignominy of my despicable actions, hovering above the earth in Damnation and remorse, until eternity.”


The price is worth it. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of Patriots and tyrants.


“Quartered in dust, silent to remain. When the bugle calls, they shall rise and march again.”




~ Tihar Jail, New Delhi ~


“Supreme excellence lies in breaking the enemy’s resistance without violence. A good spy engages the combination of a ruthless ruffian, as well as the charm of a perilous enticer, to accomplish his objectives. Once you’ve lived the inside out world of espionage, you never shed it. It’s a mentality, a double standard of existence. I strongly believe, espionage involves more killing, than any other job. Day in and day out, you make a jest of the trust and affection of people, and at the same time, you have the audacity, to call it a job. Good or bad-It is a job, and a very important one.


I grew up in Multan. Multan is famous for three things-its shrines, dervishes and Inzamam Ul Haq. I recall, spending countless hours in shrines, praying for our team’s victory, prior to the 92, World Cup finale. Wasim struck twice in successive deliveries, to deliver Pakistan, it’s most treasured title, till date. Cricket has always served as an adhesive for our nation, which binds the people, into a single cohesive unit.


I remember, the clamor and clatter in my home, when I’d kept a fast for the very first time, in my life. My mom kept asking me, whether I’d like to eat something special in Iftaar. To my credit, I was able to last the march, until sunset. Though, frankly speaking, I’d spent most of my time sleeping.


The quest of happiness is a pursuit of mirage; you only realize it’s a delusion at the end of the road. Rohit, Swati, Sweta, India, its people-I’d started to believe, that everything was for real, but destiny has an indelible memory. Swati had once remarked, prior toan India-Pakistan encounter “We cannot lose to Pakistan. They are our arch enemies”. I’d quickly replied “No beta, Pakistan is friend”.


Well, that’s how friends treat each other-eavesdropping on each other’s secrets, constantly trying to checkmate each other. This was always going to be the ultimate showdown. I’d be evoked as an amoral, coldhearted spy, whose sole objective was to gather intelligence information.I wish, I could embrace my daughters, for one last time. Beneath the ingenuity and chicanery of a secret agent, lies the apprehensions and insecurities of a typical mother.


I wish, I could say sorry. I wish, I could hum to the tunes of my national anthem-“Pak Sarzameen Shaad Baad” for one final time.


If I get a chance, would I be willing to make the same sacrifices again? “For you- a thousand times over.”




Two different People. Two different places. Two different stories, albeit one similarity-their last wish. They reiterated their last wish, by writing down the following couplets, which were composed by Ashfaqullah Khan, prior to his execution in Faizabad Jail.


“Kuch aarzoo nahi, Hai aarzoo to itni, Rakh de zara si koi khaak e watan kafan mein.”


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