Harinder Sikka's novel Gobind is a moving saga of passion and perseverance

It is not for no reason that Sikka is known as the Jeffrey Archer of India

Who is a hero? Christopher Reeve (who played Superman) says “a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles”. Writer Joseph Campbell says that a hero is “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself”. Actor Tom Hanks says “a hero is somebody who voluntarily walks into the unknown”. For many of us, these definitions would be rather removed from reality, because we live in an age of individualism, when the idea of living for a cause larger than yourself seems relegated to the terrain of Marvel films, history textbooks, and George R.R. Martin novels.

It is not for no reason that Harinder Sikka is known as the Jeffrey Archer of India. Much like Archer, he knows how to tell a story without letting the pace lag.

That’s why Harinder S. Sikka’s latest book, Gobind, based on real events, seems out of place, like a colour montage in a black-and-white film. Gobind is the son of an impoverished Sikh couple in Bihar. He is content being average, taking life as it comes, until his father impresses upon him the sacrifices they are making to secure his future. Gobind then decides to honour what his father has told him and to excel in whatever he does in life. True to his decision, he scores perfect marks in school, and when his school principal asks him what he wants to do in future, he says he wants to become a soldier. The principal is surprised. Why not go for something more prestigious? Like becoming an IAS officer? He answers that the bureaucracy is too powerful for him not to lose his purity.

The words might seem archaic to a modern reader, but this “purity” is the rudder that steers the whole of Gobind’s life, from the time he is assigned to the submarine division of the Navy to saving the crew of the INS Sindhkosh, “the most important, secret and prestigious project of the Indian Navy”. But soon, he comes to a cross-road when he falls in love with a Russian woman, and is forced to take a decision that might undermine his life’s work.

It is not for no reason that Harinder Sikka, who wrote Calling Semat that was adapted into the hit film Raazi, is known as the Jeffrey Archer of India. Much like Archer, Sikka knows how to tell a story without letting the pace lag. But if you are not careful, this can be a double-edged sword. Parts of Sikka’s book, for example, seem a little rushed. While the arc of Gobind’s first love is described in suitable detail, one wishes his romance with the Russian Taraa had been fleshed out more. If only Sikka had strolled, instead of sprinted, to the finish line, Taraa and Gobind might have had more time to get acquainted with each other, and we as readers might have had a ring-side view of a more authentic relationship.

But ultimately, Gobind is not as much about romance as it is about heroism. In an age when literary realism has taken centre-stage and authors take great pains to highlight the flaws in their protagonists, Gobind, with his integrity, courage, and strength of character, seems to be an anachronism. It is not that he does not have his frailties; it is just that he does not let them define him. If I had not known that his story was based on real life, I would have told you that you are making him up. Sometimes truth really is nobler than fiction.


By Harinder S. Sikka

Published by Ebury Press (an imprint of Penguin Random House)

Price Rs250; pages 247