Friday, 21 January 2011
That part was to be expected.
That she would be instantly forgotten by the British government for services rendered, was not. Her last word was 'Liberté!' before the guards brought her down.
Her name was Noor Inayat Khan. Her gentle features are evident in the image of her playing the harp. She studied at the Sorbonne and published her first book, The Jataka Tales, in 1939. As the long shadow of Hitler gathered a storm of war, Noor could not bear to stand by and watch, helpless. Despite being part of the mystical Sufi tradition, and personally aquainted with Mahatma Gandhi, non-violence was no longer a viable option. In London, Churchill's secret army were recruiting people skilled in languages, and Noor, fluent in French, elegant and sophisticated, underwent the rigorous training of learning to kill with precision and expecting to be killed by betrayal. She was known to the Germans as Nora Baker, her Parisian code name was Madeleine, and until the end, she revealed nothing. Her body bore it all, and her voice held still until that final word escaped her lips. The only word that mattered.
When the statue of Noor Inayat Khan is finally revealed in Gordon's Square, London, 2012, it will be the first statue to honour an Indian woman in Britain - and the first statue of a Muslim. Odette Hallowes and Violette Szabo have had Hollywood revere their lives, blue plaques have been flung up in their honour. Noor, who sacrificed her life for England, has become a footnote in history... because she was a Muslim woman? Or because she intended to return to India after the war to support Indian independence from the British Raj?!
If Noor could wait so long to be recognised, then perhaps my own impatience to be 'recognised' is a little short-sighted. But maybe Noor would prefer her fellow women to be impatient, to act now, to hold true. The consultant wrote me a letter, not exactly apologising for my distress, rather summarising an Action Plan for the future. Since it includes applying for future treatments, albeit at longer intervals, and recognising my need to be involved and included in decisions made regarding my treatment, I feel better. It is a start. A dialogue is always a start.
I think Princess Noor would have approved.