Story of ‘Spy Princess’ hits bookstores in paperback version

March 26th, 2008 - 10:20 am ICT by admin  

New Delhi, March 26 (IANS) Indian history abounds in lores of brave women who sacrificed themselves to protect the honour of the country, clan, family and personal dignity. But rarely has a woman of Indian origin defended a foreign country and allowed herself to be tortured and shot to death by enemy forces - not out of compulsion, but out of choice. London-based journalist Shrabani Basu’s non-fiction “The Spy Princess” chronicles the extraordinary tale of India’s lone allied spy in Europe during the World War II, Noor Inayat Khan, a Sufi girl who was shot dead by the Gestapo at the infamous prison of Dachau.

A descendant of Tipu Sultan, Noor was awarded the George Cross, the highest British civilian honour, posthumously. Nafisa Ali released the paperback edition of the book Tuesday evening at the Oxford Bookstore in the capital.

“On Sep 13, 1944, Noor Inayat Khan, the first female wireless operator to be flown into occupied France, was shot at Dachau. Noor was born in Moscow and was raised in the Sufi style of Islam. From this unlikely background, she became the only secret agent in Europe in World War II.

“Brought up in France and Britain, Noor joined the Red Cross when the war broke out. She felt that she had to do more to oppose the horrors of fascism. In Britain, she trained as a wireless operator before being recruited by the SOE (Special Operations Executive),” goes the gist on the book jacket.

She was known as agent Nora Baker and then became Madeleine for the French Resistance - one of the few tough agents the Germans could not crack. And till her death, the Nazis knew her by no other name apart from Madeleine.

Shyam Benegal is making “The Spy Princess” into a movie.

“More than anyone else, I want children to read the book so that they can learn about the virtues of courage and sacrifice,” the author, who has worked for more than 20 years as the London correspondent of the Ananda Bazar Patrika group, told IANS.

“I have received a book from Year 6 primary school students in UK. It is a project titled ‘Liberty’ about the life of Noor Inayat based on the book. It is full of imaginary conversations.

“I want it to happen in India too, but I have too little time to promote it personally. I want to see postage stamps of Noor Inayat and comic strip series on her life - like the Amar Chitra Katha,” Basu said.

She will be touring the East and the West coasts of US with the book where Omega Publishing is releasing it next month.

However, Basu refuses to divulge details about the movie. “The cast has not been decided and I will have to go through the final screenplay. I leave characters and the cast to your imagination,” laughs the author.

The book is the result of three years of relentless research.

“Actually two years of compiling documents and a year of writing,” Basu says.

The inspiration was an innocuous newspaper clipping announcing 50 years of Noor Inayat’s death.

“There were five lines. ‘Noor Inayat, wireless operator, George Cross winner of Indian Muslim origin…’ It set me thinking and I started researching about her. It is difficult to believe that she went through all this,” recalls the author.

Eyewitness accounts, interrogation, records of war crime tribunals, Noor’s telegrams - and three letters that described what happened to Noor helped Basu thread the story.

Basu was helped by Noor’s family, which provided her with details of her childhood. “I interacted a lot with them,” she said.

“She was so beautiful that everyone, including her code maker, was in love with her,” says Basu.

Noor Inayat had two failed relationships.

“But I am sure that there was a mystery man in her life because before she left for France she had said she would marry upon her return. But she did not come back. I searched high and low for the man but could not find. My guess is he died or else he would have been in touch with her family,” Basu said.

The author is working on her new non-fiction, a volume on Queen Victoria and “someone”.

“It is more exhaustive than ‘Spy Princess’. Doing a non-fiction is so much more fun. It is rooted in life,” Basu said.

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