The Unsung Spy Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan (Sutton Publishing) is one of the most inspirational World War II stories. London-based Indian journalist Shrabani Basu, 43, presents the story of a beautiful woman who believed in Sufism, played the veena, wrote children's stories, and served as a British spy in Nazi-occupied Paris. "The story of Noor was so amazing I thought that I had to follow it up," says Basu.
Basu's trail began almost three years ago from the tomb of Noor's father in Nizamuddin, Delhi, and ended in her cell in the notorious concentration camp in Dachau where some 30,000 prisoners were exterminated.
Noor's adventurous father Inayat Khan, a Sufi musician from Baroda, left for New York in 1910 with his two brothers as part of a group called The Royal Musicians of Hindostan. The group later moved to London and in 1912, settled in Paris, where the city's elite had many connoisseurs of oriental music. Despite opposition from his brothers, Inayat Khan married Ora Ray Baker, a woman of Scottish descent, whom he had met in the US. Soon after their marriage, The Royal Musicians of Hindostan was invited to Moscow, where Noor was born on January 1, 1914.
Following in her brother Vilayat Khan's footsteps she joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. She was included in the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), the crack troops specialising in sabotaging German supply lines and helping the resistance in occupied Europe.
"It was a particularly dangerous assignment as the average survival time for an SOE agent was not more than six weeks," says Basu. After several of her male colleagues were arrested, London asked Noor to come back but she refused to quit her post and continued the dangerous hide and seek with Gestapo agents in Paris until she was arrested in October 1943. A year later, she was shot dead at the Dachau camp.
Basu's compelling story has not only won her critical applause but has also jolted the British memory of the forgotten Indian spy princess. "A square in Sureness, near Paris, has been named after Noor and every year on Bastille Day, July 14, a military band plays outside her home, Fazal Manzil, remembering the Indian woman who gave up her life for France and freedom," says Basu
-By Vijay Rana