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A Multilayered Tale

Mala Pandurang

By Shauna Singh Baldwin
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2004, pp. 570, Rs. 450.00


The Tiger Claw is a fictionalized account of the remarkable fortitude of Noor Inayat Khan, a bonafide spy deployed into Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War. Shauna Singh Baldwin’s narrative is a well-researched reconstruction of the life of Noor Khan, the daughter of Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Sufi mystic and musician, of the durbar of the Maharajah of Baroda in the early part of the 20th century. When a few anti-Raj songs draw the attention of the British, Inayat Khan is compelled to leave London, where he had set up a music school. He moves to Paris in 1914. Here he lectured on the path to Sufi enlightenment to disciplines across religions at their residence Afzal Mansion or House of Peace. After the death of her beloved Abbajaan, Noor’s less tolerant, patriarchal, uncle Tajuddin arrives in Paris to manage the school of Sufism and their lives.   Noor falls in love with Armand Rivkin, a Jewish pianist and they share a secret relationship for nine years fearing the wrath of her family. Following the German invasion of France, the family escapes to England as British Protected Subjects in 1940. Armand however does not get away. Worried by terrible tales of anti-Semitic activities, Noor is determined to trace Armand’s whereabouts in France. She joins Churchill’s Special Operations Executive and is trained to spy on the enemy from occupied territory, with the code name ‘Madeline’. Noor is clandestinely airlifted into France as a wireless operator in May 1943 and sets up a radio operation in Paris, until she is betrayed, captured and executed by the SS in Dachau concentration camp—as a ‘terrorist’ in the eyes of the Nazis.   The Tiger Claw is a structurally complex, multilayered novel. The narrative alternates between the third person account of Noor’s activities, to Noor’s own account in the form of a personal journal written to her unborn child, from the confines of a German prison at Pforzheim. “I sit enchained,” she writes, “prisoner of the present, looking back farther and farther, letting collage develop to story. Events are connected like prayer beads on a string—Suban-allah … Suban-allah … Suban-allah” (p. 65). There is also the search by her brother Kabir, a RAF pilot, who is looking for his sister through the devastated, bombed cities of France and Germany, and refugee centres of prisoners released from concentration camps.   The Tiger Claw has all the elements ...

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