There are many places in Delhi that attract one with their history or quaintness. Among them are old buildings, shop and tombs. One such is the grave that divided the road behind Bacchon-ka-Ghar in Daryaganj, which, surprisingly enough, was not disturbed by the British in the 19th century when they quartered their soldiers in the then newly-built locality.

Next to it is the shrine of Pir Sabri and people believe that the grave is of someone related to the saint, who has come to be known as the Pir of Bacchon-ka-Ghar. When the road was being constructed the municipal engineer thought of demolishing it but was dissuaded from doing so out of respect for local sentiment.

Another factor that weighted in favour of the grave was the story that when the railway line was being laid for the Delhi station, a tomb had to be leveled up. This is said to have led to curious happenings, like the railway line being uprooted every morning.

Whether it was the work of vandals or those opposed to the destruction of the grave is not known. But many started believing that it was the revenge of the Sayyid Baba himself, who was displeased at his abode being disturbed. So the Daryaganj grave was spared the axe.

The Sayyid tomb in Narela, to which DTC runs regular services, may also have an interesting history. Incidentally, it was in this locality that Shah Abul Ullah of Mashhad had come and settled down along with his parents during the reign of Akbar. Later, Abul Ullah joined Jehangir’s court and served in Bengal.

But, on an impulse, he forsook the life of a grandee and became a mendicant. Among his votaries was the Narela Sayyid. Abul Ullah’s shrine is situated near the Delhi-Agra national highway, where the annual urs is held, with people from far and near, including foreigners, coming to attend it.

Another disciple of Shah Abul Ullah is buried a short distance away in the Ghatia locality. There used to be an old imli (tamarind) tree above the grave. But few dared to climb it because such an action was resented (sic) by the saint and the climber invariably fell down.

Soon after Partition, a refugee boy, attracted by the juicy tamarinds, climbed up the tree. But agile though he was, he soon came tumbling down. Luckily he fell from a lower branch but even so lay dazed on the tomb until he was revived by a neighbour. An accident perhaps, as boys do fall off trees.

However, there were other incidents before this one, which stretch the limits of credulity. A boy, playing with a companion called Mushtaq, thought it would be fun if he reeled out the name of the Sayyid Baba as he was being swung to and fro. Mushtaq’s playfulness suddenly ceased and he threw the boy on the ground, dislocating his arm. A childish prank or another accident, perhaps?

But here is yet another one. There was a wedding in the locality in a baker’s house and when the bride was being taken away, the car stalled as it came near the grave. All efforts to restart it failed. Somebody suggested an offering at the grave and, surprisingly enough, the engine came back to life.

Probably it had got heated up and started working again after having cooled down. Then came something more serious. A little girl, who had come from Jhansi to visit her relations, eased herself near the grave. The same evening she fell ill and died the next day. A mysterious viral infection, may be.

Some 40 years ago, the people who had rented the “takia”, or ground where the grave is situated, decided to cut the imli tree. A few days later the person who had rented the place was shot dead. Two months after another son was held on a charge of murder. Was it therevenge of the Sayyid, nemesis taking its course, or a mere string of coincidents? Say what you may, there are few takers for the rational explanation.

But the grave in the middle of the road in Daryaganj has been singularly free of such incidents. People take it as an inevitable symbol of the past and shrug off talk of doing away with it to facilitate better traffic movement. Could be superstition but prudence surely seems to be the best couse for many. The revenge motive is only an afterthought.

However, the children of Bacchon-ka-Ghar continue to regard him as their patron saint. Orphans they may be, but their faith in the Sayyid Baba is intense as succeeding generations of inmates have left behind a rich legacy of devotion. Every Thursday some of them sneak out of the orphanage to light incense sticks at the grave and seek favours for their welfare.

The story goes that one of them grew up to become Munsif Magistrate in Mathura but his one regret was that his wife was childless. After endless visits to the Daryaganj grave she bore him twins ~ a son and daughter, both of whom lived to a grand old age but did not get married as the Sayyid had told them in a dream that they were his spiritual progeny and celibacy was the best course for them to show their gratitude to him.

Make what you like of it but the late Sajjadanashin of the shrine of Pir Sabri, Shah Shariff Husain, who died in Medina, said it was a made-up tale as both the children went away to Karachi after Partition, where they settled down after a fruitful marriage. Their descendants may still be around there as a living testament of faith working miracles. Dada Pir’s mazar in Suiwalan also atlracts a lot of wish-seekers.

Another saint one remembers with great nostalgia is Hazrat Kalimullah Jahanabadi, whose shrine is situated right opposite the Red Fort, with only the main road dividing the two. Kaleimullah sahib lived during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Once, during the time of the latter emperor, the Yamuna flooded Delhi and caused much havoc. The Saint prayed and the river receded, much to relief of the citizens of Delhi, who had been marooned.

In the 1960s and 70s, one was a constant visitor to the shrine, just to hear the qawwalis. The ones on Thursdays were largely attended and it was during one such performance that handsome lady-killer Khalil Bhai fell in love with a girl from Matia Mahal, who came with open hair, with only a dupatta covering them and her face. It was difficult for Khalil to talk to the one, who had stolen his heart because men and women sat separately at the mazar.

But he manged to find Afshan’s address and send a love letter to her through the wife of one of the qawwals, Choti Bi, after giving her a handsome tip and agreeing to share his bed with the Bi for one night. As fate would have it, Afshan fall seriously ill and doctors told her parents to prepare for the worst.

On hearing this Khalil Bhai began to sit at the shrine throughout the night for a fortnight, praying fervently for the girl’s recovery. Believe it or not, Afshan recovered and her lover was able to marry her. Choti Bi, however, had the satisfaction of mothering a love-child though she had been declared barren. Her bisexual husband was not bothered as he was more interested in young boys.

One’s personal experience was when the paper for which one worked closed indefinitely after a workers’ strike and there was no money to pay the hotel where one stayed. Prayers to Kalimullah Sahib (sic) resulted in the paper resuming publication despite predictions it was finally going to close down because of heavy losses. Was it faith?

A friend, who had fallen in love with a married woman and was harrassed by her husband and the police, swore that he was able to get his heart’s desire after supplication to the saint. The woman’s husband divorced her and Samiullah (name changed) was able to marry his “Manno”.

They have four grown-up children and are now octogenarians, but make it a point to visit the mazar at least twice a month. Call it fate or piety, but it seems faith can at times lead to miracles, otherwise why would people in our modern age of science and technology throng dargahs, temples and St Jude’s and Mother Mary’s shrines?

R V Smith