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This is a fascinating story so behold.
Sultan Fateh Ali Tipu, also known as the Tiger of Mysore, was the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in India. His full name was Sultan Fateh Ali Khan Shahab or Tipu Saheb Tipu Sultan. He was not just a ruler but also a scholar, a soldier, and a poet. He was a devout Muslim but the majority of his subjects were Hindus. At the request of the French, he built a church, the first in Mysore. The French also trained his army. He helped his father Haider Ali defeat the British in the Second Mysore War. However, he was defeated in the Third and the Fourth Anglo-Mysore Wars by the combined forces of the British East India Company and the Nizam of Hyderabad, another Muslim ruler. Tipu Sultan died fighting in the defense of his capital Srirangapattana, on 4 May 1799.
In Tipu Sultan’s lineage, a child by the name of Inayat Khan was born in the year 1882 in a noble Indian family. Inayat Khan’s mother was a descendent from the immediate family of Tipu Sultan. He was introduced to the Suhrawardiyya, Qadiriyya and Naqshbandi orders of Sufism but his primary initiation was into the Nizamiyya sub-branch of the Chishti Order. He was also indebted to the philosophical Vedanta/Shankara spirituality of Hinduism.
With his mentor’s encouragement Inayat Khan, later to be known as Hazrat Inayat Khan, left India in 1910 to come to the West, traveling first as a touring musician and then as a teacher of Sufism, visiting three continents. Eventually he married Ora Ray Baker from Albuquerque, New Mexico. She was later known as Pirani Ameena Begum. Ora Baker was the half-sister of American yogi and scholar, Pierre Bernard, her guardian at the time she met Hazrat Inayat Khan.
Inayat Khan had four children with Pirani Ameena Begum-two sons and two daughters-with the eldest being Noor-un-Nisa. Noor-un-Nisa, later known as Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, was born in the Kremlin in 1913 where her father was received as guest of the Czar Nicholas II. The Czar, his country troubled by internal unrest and looming war, was seeking spiritual solutions to the problems facing his regime. Therefore, the influential Gregory Rasputin invited Inayat Khan to visit Russia in order to share with the Emperor’s family and court his Sufistic doctrines of peace and love.
In 1914, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, the Khan family left Russia for London and lived in Bloomsbury, while Noor attended kindergarten at Notting Hill. In 1920, they settled in France, moving into a house in Suresnes near Paris, a gift from a supporter of the Sufi movement.
She was classified as “highly dangerous” and shackled in chains most of the time. As the prison director testified after the war, Noor Inayat Khan remained uncooperative and continued to refuse to give any information on her work or her fellow operatives.
After the death of her father in 1927, Noor had to take additional responsibility for her grief-stricken mother and her younger siblings. The young girl, variously described as calm, timid, astute, and pensive, studied child psychology at the Sorbonne and music at Paris conservatory under the famous Nadia Boulanger, composing for harp and piano. She started a career of writing poetry and children’s stories and became a regular contributor to children’s magazines and French radio. In 1939 her book, Twenty Jataka Tales, inspired by the Jātaka tales of Buddhist tradition, was published in London.
After the outbreak of World War II, when France was overrun by the Wehrmacht in 1940, the family fled from Paris to Bordeaux and from there by sea to London, landing in Falmouth, Cornwall in June 1940. Although Noor Inayat Khan was deeply influenced by the pacifist teachings of her father, she and her brother Vilayat Inayat Khan decided to help defeat Nazi tyranny. (Vilayat Inayat Khan later became head of the Sufi Order International.) So on November 19, 1940 she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), and as an Aircraftwoman 2nd Class, she was sent to be trained as a wireless operator. Later she was recruited to join F (France) Section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and in early February 1943 she was posted to the Air Ministry, Directorate of Air Intelligence. During her training she adopted the name Nora Baker.
Her fluency in French and her competency in wireless operation, coupled with a shortage of experienced agents, made her a desirable candidate for service in Nazi-occupied France. On the night between 16/17 June 1943, cryptonymed ‘Madeleine’ and under the cover identity of Jeanne-Marie Regnier, Noor Inayat Khan was dropped behind enemy lines in occupied France. Together with two other women SOE agents, Noor joined the Physician network led by Francis Suttill, code named Prosper.
Over the next month and a half, all the other Physician network radio operators were arrested by the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). In spite of the danger, Noor rejected an offer to return to Britain and continued transmitting as the last essential link between London and Paris. Moving from place to place, she managed to escape capture while maintaining wireless communications with London. Finally, Noor Inayat Khan was betrayed to the Germans allegedly by a French Air Force pilot who worked as a double agent for the Nazis.
On or around 13 October 1943 Inayat Khan was arrested and interrogated at the SD Headquarters in Paris. Though SOE trainers had expressed doubts about Inayat Khan’s gentle and innocent character, on her arrest she fought like a tigress. Thereafter, the SD officers were afraid of her and she was treated as an extremely dangerous prisoner. Hans Kieffer, the former head of Gestapo in Paris, testified after the war that she didn’t give the Gestapo a single piece of information despite continuous grilling.
On 25 November 1943, Inayat Khan escaped from the SD Headquarters, along with two other SOE Agents but was captured in the immediate vicinity. There was an air raid alert as they escaped across the roof and regulations required a count of prisoners at such times. Their escape was discovered before they could get away. Consequently, Inayat Khan was taken to Germany on 27 November 1943 for ‘safe custody’ and imprisoned at Pforzheim in solitary confinement, without any contact with the outside world and in complete secrecy.
She was classified as “highly dangerous” and shackled in chains most of the time. As the prison director testified after the war, Noor Inayat Khan remained uncooperative and continued to refuse to give any information on her work or her fellow operatives. On 11 September 1944 Noor Inayat Khan and three other SOE agents from Karlsruhe prison, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman and Madeleine Damerment, were moved to the Dachau Concentration Camp.
It was a crisp Munich morning on September 13, 1944 when the four shackled women were led to the execution grounds. All were made to kneel. Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert, the SS trooper in charge of executions, gave the orders to shoot. By eyewitness account, one by one the troopers shot Madeleine Damerment, Eliane Plewman, and Yolande Beekman.
Come the turn of the fourth prisoner, Wilhelm stopped the executioners. He stepped forward and hit the fourth prisoner with his gun butt. When she fell to the ground, he kicked her till she was reduced to a bloody mess. She was raised to her knees forcibly. Wilhelm then shot her point blank in the back of her head thus bringing to an abrupt end the short life of Princess, spy, heroine, martyr Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, a great great granddaughter of Tipu Sultan, the last Muslim sovereign of South India. One died fighting British imperialism. The other died for Britain fighting Nazi imperialism. Her last word was “Liberté”. She was 30 years old.
Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded a British Mention in Dispatches and a French Croix de Guerre with Gold Star. Noor Inayat Khan was the third of three World War II FANY members to be awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry not on the battle field.
So what do we do dear readers? Be happy that she lived or sad that she died?
Or salute her cherished memory and move on with a mournful heart?
About the Author:
Anwaar Hussain is an ex F-16 fighter pilot from Pakistan Air Force. A Masters in Defense and Strategic Studies from Quaid-e-Azam University of Islamabad. He now resides in Canada. He started writing as a hobby some years back and has, since then, published a series of articles in The Pakistan Tribune, The Baltimore Chronicle, Defense Journal and a host of other prestigious publications and web portals. Other than international affairs, Anwaar Hussain has written extensively on religious and political issues that plague Pakistan.The reason for taking up the pen, in his own words, is, “For years I had been watching lies being peddled as truths in the name of God, king or country. I always felt that truth needed no crutches for it has neither a religion nor a nationality. It owes its loyalty only to its own unadulterated self. May the truth be our companion.” He can be contacted at email@example.com