Several things about Said-ul-Ajaib village make it stand out in South Delhi. The most striking is that a majority of the Hindu Jat inhabitants of this village worship a ‘Pir’ (Sufi saint) and believe him to be their ‘saviour’. Next to the main temple complex in the village stands the shrine of the ‘pir’ after whom the village has been named. Every evening the devotees, comprising mostly women, line up here to light a lamp and reclaim the long line of faith established by their ancestors.
Considered the smallest village of South Delhi, Said-ul-Ajaib is located on the outskirts of the Capital on the Mehrauli-Badarpur Road, opposite Saket’s D block. The urban village also houses some ancient havelis and is home to students and young professionals who live here in rented accommodations as most of the owners have moved out for lack of amenities. Over the years, lower rents have attracted entrepreneurs and the village has become a preferred place among designers and artists who prefer to set up their workshops here instead of the more commercialised art hubs in the vicinity such as Hauz Khas or Lado Sarai. However, Said-ul-Ajaib’s rich past and thick greens are fast diminishing due to rampant encroachment and illegal construction, which are eating away its old trees, water bodies and open spaces.
People new to the area find it difficult to pronounce or spell the name of the village but only till they discover the legend behind it. It is believed that the village draws its name from Sufi saint ‘Saiyyd’ who was said to have the power to perform miracles (Ajaib means mysterious powers).
“The old residents of the village believe that all prayers and wishes come true when a devotee visit the saint’s shrine,” said Surender Yadav, a resident. Outsiders may find it difficult to locate the shrine but Yadav says it has a strong following and even people who have moved out to other localities come here to pray. Every Thursday, the village priest offers gur-chana at the shrine, which is distributed as ‘prasad’ among the devotees.
There are several havelis here that date back to the 1900s besides around six wells that villagers claim are older than the havelis. The narrow lanes of the village lead to the most prominent house, a haveli, which belonged to Mahipat Rai ‘Kaptan’ (chief), a senior police officer during the British rule. The beautiful heavy wooden door to the haveli has been preserved well. It is maintained by Kaptan’s family.
A few houses away, a group of elderly men can be seen enjoying a game of cards at the village chaupal. A few metres away is another haveli with ‘Jeevan’ (engraved on its entrance). Old residents claim this also belonged to a police officer who held an important position in the British empire. The haveli has an ancient staircase along with ramps on either side leading up the entrance. This structure has been rented out. “The ramps were built for the horses belonging to special guests,” said Yadav.
Manjeet Singh Bal, a resident, said the ruins of an old stone wall and a number of small houses inside this complex were built much before that time. Bal’s great grandfather Dharam Singh was the SP of Central Province (present day Madhya Pradesh). He also built a haveli in the 1920s adjoining the haveli ‘Jeevan’.
Bal, a lawyer, remembers growing up in the village and sneaking around the large courtyards and attics of the haveli. He and Yadav attended school together and recall spending their afternoons with other village kids at a large pond near their house. “The pond was deep enough for cattle. We used to jump from a high boundary straight into the pond. The race was to catch the turtles. The one who fished out most was declared the winner,” he said.
Bal pointed to a huge peepal tree, which used to be at the edge of the pond and which has now been cut to half its size. His mother, Bimla Devi, 71, still disapproves of his diving in the pond all those years ago. Devi, who was married off at 17, remembers that the village then had no power. She says there was always the threat of dacoits attacking the village as it was on the outskirts of the city and many rich families lived here.
The modern-day Said-ul-Ajaib is a lot different. Saddened that the pond is now dry, Devi says, “The water level of the pond was such that it would almost reach our house. Many cattle drowned there. There is nothing of it now, only concrete land.” Bal has been fighting a case against the misuse of the village land by builders who have constructed tall structures across the dried-up pond.
“About eight to 10 years ago, the water level receded and people started dumping construction waste and garbage into it, which is when it dried up completely. I have filed a plea and also requested the civic agency to revive the pond as a rainwater harvesting unit. It has been a long battle,” Bal said.
He has also been crusading against the unmindful and unauthorised felling of trees for builder flats. “Two buildings have home up in the past few years over a village land, which used to be a thick mango grove. The tree cover was so dense that the sunlight could not percolate in. Strangely it has all been cleared away to make way for four-storey buildings. It saddens me to see my village being rapidly reduced to concrete. But I will continue to fight to save and restore it to its past glory,” he said.