Mahima Mukherjee reviews Shrabani Basu’s The Spy Princess (Published by Roli Books, 2008) concluding how it renders one speechless with awe and admiration.
Shrabani Basu is a journalist and Sunday Times best-selling author. She graduated in History from St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and completed her Masters from Delhi University. In 1983 she began her career as a trainee journalist with the Times of India in Bombay.
She is a frequent commentator on Indian history and Empire on British television and radio, and has appeared in several documentaries on BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. In 2010, Basu set up the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust to ensure that Noor’s story of sacrifice was preserved for the next generations. Her work to preserve the memory of the World War II heroine has been commended in the House of Lords. In 2020 she was invited by English Heritage to unveil the Blue Plaque for Noor Inayat Khan in London.
When we think about women’s contributions during the Second World War, we do not usually think of them in the role of a spy who could be labelled as a “very dangerous prisoner” by German Gestapo officers. The tendency to imagine spies as men can either stem from an inherent sexist bias, or the lack of information about female spies in the history that we read. The latter makes it all the more important to bring such historical narratives to the front, because without acknowledging the role of women, any history is biased and incomplete.
Shrabani Basu’s biography of Noor Inaayat Khan, titled Spy Princess, narrates the story of the first female undercover radio operator of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) to be dropped behind enemy lines in Nazi occupied Paris.