down memory lane History & Culture

On Mirza Najaf Khan’s sprawling tomb

Mirza Najaf Khan tomb in New Delhi, on February 28, 2020

Mirza Najaf Khan tomb in New Delhi, on February 28, 2020   | Photo Credit: V.V. Krishnan

Located in the outskirts of Delhi, this tomb has a rich and engrossing history of the cunning courtier of the Mughals, who was armed with an elaborate spy system

Looking at Mirza Najaf Khan’s massive tomb opposite the Safdarjung airport, one is transported to the times of Nadir Shah, the Persian with piercing eyes, who lay waste Delhi during the reign of Mohammad Shah. Najaf Khan was Nadir’s victim, not in India but in Persia itself, for he belonged to the Safvi dynasty of Iran, which was persecuted by the usurper.

Najaf and his sister were both jailed, but their plight moved Mohammad Shah, who sent his emissary Mirza Mohsin, to affect the release of the two on compassionate grounds.

Perhaps Nadir’s compassion was leavened by the fact that he had already drained the Mughal treasury and carried away its priceless jewels, along with the wealth of Delhi and other Indian cities.

By exchanging turbans with Mohammad Shah, he had come in possession of the ‘Kohinoor’ and by right of conquest he had walked away with the ‘Peacock Throne’. So, setting Najaf and his sister free at the request of his former adversary, was a compensation of sorts.

Najaf, only 13 then, accompanied Mohsin — who had married the former’s sister — , to India and grew up into a brave young man. His exploits in Bengal were such that even the English generals of the East India Company sought his services. Najaf served them well and was rewarded with an annual pension of ₹2 lakhs by no less a person than the first British Governor of the Bengal Presidency, Robert Clive. But this amount was to be paid from the pension granted to Shah Alam; so naturally Najaf attached himself to the emperor, and when the latter moved to Delhi after the Treaty of Allahabad, he became the Wazir at the Mughal court.

Nawab Najaf Khan was an orthodox man who never drank or indulged in passions of the flesh. He was a stern soldier and a clever courtier with a spy system that kept him informed of the goings-on inside the homes of every nobleman of worth. If so-and-so begum refused to kiss her elderly husband on her wedding night, Najaf Khan was duly informed, so that he could make use of this knowledge if the need arose.

But power corrupts, and Najaf slowly became as debauched as any other nobleman of his time, fleeting away his time in the zenana amidst wine, women, and song. He died in 1782, a wreck of a man and was buried in the mausoleum he had planned for himself. The monument now is approached through a dome-less and pillar-less expanse of a compound leading to a barren platform, and vaulted chambers containing his graves as well as his daughter, Fatima’s.

It is a monument that transports one to the Middle East of Ozymandias, though the name of its builder is kept alive on thousands of tongues along the Najafgarh drain that assumes such importance during the monsoon.

And in distant Powys, Wales, Robert Clive’s descendant, the present Lord Clive, still chuckles when he hears Najaf Khan’s name while strolling among the white peacocks, (according to an NRI friend settled close by), the progeny of the ones his ancestor took away from India, along with the hoarded wealth of the Mughals and their satraps.

The writer is a veteran chronicler of Delhi

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 4:36:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/on-mirza-najaf-khans-sprawling-tomb/article30962193.ece

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