Remona Aly
Tuesday 08 September 2020 Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2

Secret Agents and Blue Plaques

Noor Inayat Khan and Blue Plaques of Honour
Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2, Zoe Ball Breakfast Show 

At the end of last month, an English heritage blue plaque was unveiled for one of my heroines. Noor Inayat Khan was a British secret agent and the first female radio operator to be sent into occupied France during the Second World War. After being captured by the Nazis, she gave up her life rather than give up a shred of vital intelligence. 

Noor Inayat Khan is a figure I didn’t grow up knowing about, but she’s someone I can’t stop thinking of. Like me, she was a young British Indian Muslim woman, but that’s where the similarities end – because she was also a princess, a gifted musician, and possessed the kind of lionhearted courage that leaves me looking like a catatonic mouse.  

Seeing news of her blue plaque go up 76 years after her death, made me think how reward and recognition often come way past their due. That we might plant seeds now, that only others will see grow.

I can’t always see the wood for the trees myself, especially when it comes to my work, I want to see instant results instead of being more long-sighted. But I think every noble act we do carries a weight we may never witness, and every word we say can travel far beyond us. Noor Inayat Khan’s dying word was ‘Liberté’, and without doubt it is due to someone else’s sacrifices yesterday, that I can enjoy freedom today. 

Some more words from the past give me guidance now. They’re from the Persian Muslim poet, Shams Tabrizi, who said, over 800 years ago, “Patience is not sitting and waiting, it is foreseeing. It is looking at the thorn and seeing the rose, looking at the night and seeing the day. Lovers are patient and know that the moon needs time to become full.”

I see that poetry play out in a working mum who gets up each morning so her child can have a future. I even see it in every person wearing a face mask, so that all of us can have a future too. 

We don’t all get blue plaques, but I reckon every bit of service has its glory, great or small, and it comes in its own time, when it’s meant to be unveiled. That’s a heritage that I for one, am already proud of.