“Remember that you too have the blood of the tiger running through your veins.”
Noor-un-Nissa Inayat Khan, also known as Nora Baker, was a British spy and the first female wireless operator to be sent from the UK into occupied France to aid the French Resistance during World War II.
She once lamented:
“I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war.”
Sadly captured by the Gestapo after being betrayed, she was executed at Dachau concentration camp and posthumously awarded the George Cross for her services: the highest award that can be awarded to a civilian.
Now, in a brand new book which aims to bring Noor’s widely unknown (and much under-appreciated) life story to a new generation of readers, is author Sufiya Ahmed.
We were lucky enough to be able to put a few questions to the illustrious author and campaigner, and here is what we discovered!
MAKING HERSTORY WITH… SUFIYA AHMED
Q1. What inspired you to write My Story: Noor-Un-Nissa Inayat Khan – especially for a children’s market?
Noor’s story has held a fascination for me from the moment I heard about a brave British-Indian woman who was Winston Churchill’s spy in the Second World War.
Researching Noor, I discovered there were so many sides to the girl who was born in Russia, raised in France and trained for war in England. She was a princess belonging to an Indian royal family that was overthrown and exiled from their home. She was the daughter of a pacifist father who taught her about the principles of truth, loyalty and sacrifice, and she was a woman brave enough to position herself at the forefront of the war against the Nazis. Lastly, she was a brilliant children’s author.
I think it’s important for children to know that Noor existed. She is one of Britain’s heroes, and her life and death contributed to the liberty we all enjoy in Great Britain, in Europe and around the world.
Q2. Can you remember what your earliest ambition was as a child?
To be an author! I was a complete bookworm. I grew up on a council estate and the library was the only place my mother allowed me to be on my own – it was my safe space. I was also an only child until I was eight so I guess you could say that the books were my friends.
My favourite authors were Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl and I practised my writing by copying their opening chapters then going off on a tangent with my own version. They call that fan fiction now. The best present I ever received was a typewriter that my mother brought for me from Argos when I was a teen. She saved up from her housekeeping money because I’d convinced her that I needed to type up my stories. I sent off my first manuscript at the age of 14 to Puffin Books. Of course I never heard back because it was unsolicited!
Q3. What has been one of the greatest highlights of your life?
Oh gosh, I can’t pinpoint. I feel very blessed. Professionally it was when my dream to be published came true. It was with my first book Secrets of the Henna Girl which is a young adult novel.
Q4. Describe in four words, your journey to becoming an author.
Dream. Determination. Rejection. Hope.
Q5. If you could meet any Herstory Maker in history, who would you travel back in time to meet and why?
My role model has always been Prophet Mohammed’s (pbuh) first wife Khadija. I wrote about her in my essay in the Muslim women anthology It’s Not About the Burqa. She was an independent businesswoman and the first Muslim. I have always used her as an example to those who tried to tell me when I was growing up that I was too ambitions, too independent or my dreams were too big for a girl.
Q6. What’s the saying you live your life by?
‘Tie your Camel’ which is a Muslim saying. It basically means that you must make the effort to achieve your goals. Just leaving it to fate or luck doesn’t work.