Authors: Shrabani Basu
“An outstanding story. The book is the first authoritative biography of Noor Inayat Khan, very well researched and recreated. It’s crying to be made into a film.”
Professor M.R.D. Foot
“This is a story not to be missed.”
The Daily Mail
, Christopher Hudson
“One of the most inspirational stories of World War II” “Reading this book is like watching a butterfly trapped in a net.”
, Boyd Tonkin
“Shrabani Basu has pieced together Noor’s story more fully and reliably than ever before…Thanks to her book, a new generation can grasp what Noor did, and how she did it, with much greater clarity.”
Khuswant Singh, eminent historian and columnist
“The true life story of Noor Inayat Khan is the stuff legends are made of. It makes compelling reading.”
Phillip Knightley, author
“A disturbing book. Shrabani Basu approaches her well researched book with a cool-head and perceptive eye.”
, Paul Callan
“Her thrilling but sad story is told in this book.”
Times Literary Supplement
, Mark Seaman
“This is a story that deserves retelling almost sixty years after the award of a posthumous George Cross… a welcome addition to a field of study that will doubtless continue.”
, Dinesh Seth
“This moving book tells a powerful, sad story about a girl who found it impossible to remain just a girl.”
magazine, Raja Menon
“This is an absorbing true story…the story of a gentle Indian girl in brutal captivity has never been researched so completely.”
, Anita Joshua
“Shrabani Basu pieces together Noor’s life and brings to India a forgotten daughter.”
The Asian Age
, Nayare Ali
“The book makes for compelling reading. Its sensitive narrative makes it a gripping account.”
, Aditi Khanna
“Sixty years after her death at the hands of the Nazis…the book reveals the life of the war hero that Britain forgot.”
Worker’s Publication Centre, Chris Coleman
“Shrabani Basu’s story of Noor Inayat Khan’s life and heroic sacrifice has been painstakingly researched and told with great compassion and deep respect. It is a story of supreme courage worth reading again and again and repeating.”
To my sisters,
Nupur and Moushumi
A mermaid once went in a ship
Upon the stormy sea,
And as she sailed along, the
Waves arose and sprung in glee,
For on the ship she hung a lamp
Which gave a light so sweet,
That anyone who saw its glow
With joy was sure to meet.
Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan (age 14),
The Lamp of Joy
his book would not have been possible without the encouragement of many people who went out of their way to help me.
I would like to thank Noor’s family, her brothers, Vilayat Inayat Khan and Hidayat Inayat Khan, who despite ill health and pressing work commitments for their Sufi orders, took the time to talk to me and give me details of Noor’s life. Thanks to Hidayat for allowing me generous use of Noor’s stories, poems, documents and family photographs. Sadly, Vilayat did not live to see the publication of the book. Thanks also to Noor’s cousin, Mahmood Youskine, who filled me in with many interesting family details, and to David Harper, Noor’s nephew, for his insights. I would have been lost without the warm and efficient Hamida Verlinden, from the Sufi Headquarters at The Hague, who helpd me with Noor’s papers, and Martin Zahir Roehrs, Vilayat’s assistant in Suresnes, who made every meeting possible. Thanks also to Amin Carp from East West Publications at The Hague for his help.
To Professor M.R.D. Foot for meticulously reading each chapter and helping me at every stage, I owe my heartfelt gratitude. I could not have asked for a better guide. I would also like to thank him for writing the foreword to this book.
I am indebted to Jean Overton Fuller, too, for sharing her precious memories of Noor and providing her insights into her friend’s life. I am also grateful to her for allowing me to quote material from her book.
Thanks to Francis Suttill for sharing information with me about his father, Alain Antelme for all his inputs on his uncle and John Marais for sharing his memories of his mother and Noor. Thanks also to Irene Warner (née Salter) for her vivid recollections of Noor and to Emily Hilda Preston for her account of her WAAF days. Their help has been invaluable.
In Dachau, I would like to thank my wonderful guide, Maxine Ryder, and Dirk Riedel from the Dachau Museum for his inputs. In Delhi, thanks to Kamini Prakash from the Hope Project for showing me around Inayat Khan’s tomb. In Calcutta, thanks to Mohammed Husain Shah, direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, for telling me about the family history, and in Moscow, thanks to Jelaluddin Sergiei Moskalew for his helpful inputs on Inayat Khan and the birth of Noor.
Thanks also to Phillip Knightley, Michael Dwyer, Heather Williams, Sarah Helm and Chris Moorhouse and John Pitt of the Special Forces Club for all their help and advice.
I am grateful to my commissioning editor at Sutton Publishing, Jaqueline Mitchell, for her invaluable guidance, patience and encouragement, and my editors Anne Bennett, Jane Entrican and Hazel Cotton for their meticulous work.
Thanks to my daughter, Sanchita, for French translations and Klaas Van Der Hoeven for German translations. And finally, my family for their much needed moral support. To everybody, I owe this book.
Flight and Fight
Joining the Circuit
The Fall of Prosper
olders of the George Cross are out of the common run; Noor Inayat Khan was even farther out of it than most. She was an Indian princess on her father’s side; her mother was American. She was brought up in Paris, where she wrote and broadcast children’s stories; she had a gentle character and the manners of a lady, but lived in no luxury. She fled to England in 1940, when the Germans invaded France, and worked as a humble wireless operator on Bomber Command’s ground staff. She was plucked up into SOE, volunteered to go back to France in secret, survived for a few months in Paris but got betrayed, and was beaten up and murdered in Dachau.
What was an innocent like this doing with a pistol in her handbag? Why was she sent to France at all, in the teeth of reports that she was quite unfit to go? Why was the prearranged code that showed she was in German hands not believed when she sent it? These are some of the questions this book raises; to some of them it can provide answers.
There are books about her already, one by a close London friend of hers who detested SOE, one in French that does not pretend to be truthful. No other biographer had access, as this author did, to her recently released secret archive, and none till now was a compatriot. Shrabani Basu, London correspondent of a leading Indian news-paper, understands from inside what her heroine must have felt during the world war about the struggle for Indian independence. This is not a story to be missed.
he lone gardener was working in the June sun clearing the weeds around Fazal Manzil, the childhood home of Noor Inayat Khan. It was a particularly hot day in Paris, a precursor to the heatwave that would sweep Europe in the summer of 2003. From the steps of Fazal Manzil, where the Inayat Khan children had often sat and played, I looked out over the hill towards Paris. The view was blocked by apartment blocks that have mushroomed in Suresnes. It was not quite the sight the children would have seen all those years back.
At eighty-seven, Pir Vilayat was a frail but impressive figure in his white robes. Walking with the help of a stick he took me to the living room with its large bay window. From here one could see the garden and the city beyond. It was in this room that he and Noor had decided that they would go to Britain and join the war effort. A large portrait of their father, Hazrat Inayat Khan, hung on the wall.
‘Every day of my life I think of her. When I go for a walk I think of her, when I feel pain, I think of how much more her pain was, I think of her in chains, I think of her being beaten. When I am cold I think of her, I think of her lying in her cell with hardly any clothes. She is with me every day,’ said Vilayat. It was a moving tribute from a brother.