City Monument – General Shah Nawaz Khan’s Grave, Old Delhi
Hero resting here.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Among those who care for graves of historical people, it is common knowledge that the shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Sarmad Shahid lies between the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort in Old Delhi. Some might even know that the grave of freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad lies between these two monuments as well. But very few will be aware that the area is also home to the grave of General Shah Nawaz Khan. Born in 1914 in Rawalpindi, he served in the Indian National Army (INA) under the leadership of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose during WW2, and was famously convicted for treason in 1945 by the British in the Red Fort, along with two other top INA figures—Prem Sahgal and Gurbaksh Dhillon. In Shyam Benegal’s 2004 biopic on Netaji, actor Sonu Sood portrayed General Khan.
But his burial place is hidden from sight. The marble grave lies within a small garden, its boundary wall circled by unwieldy trees. Even to an alert eye, it is almost impossible to spot the venue while walking on the crowded lane outside. This afternoon, the garden is filled with the incessant chirping of birds. The sound is so deafening that one feels the presence of hundreds — though not one is to be seen. A more concentrated gaze reveals that these are tiny ullus (owls). An earthen pitcher filled with water is placed beside the grave, possibly for these birds.
The enclosure has another grave. The smaller one belongs to Begum Karim Jaan, the General’s wife. While the General’s grave has grass growing out of it, hers is perfectly dry. According to the inscriptions on the stones, she died 13 years after his passing in 1983.
Though the place is empty, there are signs of a recent visit. A tea cup is lying upturned beside the graves. A cushion is flung along a hedge. A wooden bench is standing vertically against a wall.
Suddenly a cat appears. She tiptoes about the General, and then turns towards the Begum. The cat stands still for a while, seemingly immersed in her own thoughts, and then goes away. The couple is left alone.
The main door to the grave enclosure remains closed, but you can enter through a back gate via Meena Bazar. After sundown, a pavement clothes-seller called Allahabadi sleeps just outside the grave-garden, as a night watchman would.
Begum and her General