For almost two years in the late 90s, writer Ajeet Cour would wake up every day at 5.30 am, to scour a dug-up mound near the Siri Fort in south Delhi.
The thin grey-haired woman, then in her early sixties, would go around the construction lot looking for archaeological artifacts, easily over 600 years old.
The lot was where DDA was building an officers' club. It was also an archaeological site, which the civic body was determined to bury under concrete, despite protests by heritage lovers.
But the civic body had not counted for the determination of a Punjabi author and her motley group of friends.
Determined to establish the archaeological importance of the site, the friends were not afraid to get their hands muddy and salvage heritage.
“Daily we would go there and pick up artifacts and pottery pieces from the dug-up soil," said Cour, who is the recipient of the Padmashree award, conferred by the Government of India.
Prof Kapil Kumar (IGNOU) and Rifaquat Ali Khan (from Jamia Milia Islamia) were the others who worked with her relentlessly.
It was not the first time Cour had shown how vigilant citizenry can 'save' a treasure. Earlier, her crusade for saving Delhi's heritage had involved removal of encroachments at Moth Ki Masjid, Khirkee Mosque, Darya Khan Ka Gumbad among others.
“Do you know that Siri Fort was the second of the seven cities built around 1300 AD,” syas Cour as she recounts with ease the entire history of the area.
“When Alauddin Khilji came here, he saw, Delhi has a Qutb Minar but there is no fort. Also, there was this constant fear of Mongol attack, so he built this.”
The struggle to reclaim the building finally gave fruit in 2006 and finally, after crossing all legal hurdles, the ASI brought up a museum in the the Officers' Club building. Now, 74-year-old Cour, who is also the founder of Foundation of SAARC Writers, has handed the treasure she recovered to the Archaeological survey of India (ASI).
ASI officials are only too happy to get the artifacts.
"It is only because of her (Cour's) efforts that we could save the treasure,” said ASI Delhi chief KK Muhammad.