Positive Chronicles - Aabid the aquaman
by Punya Srivastava
Aabid Surti is almost 80; a ‘young’ septuagenarian environmentalist with a salt-n-pepper beard and a lanky frame. Every Sunday, he marches out of his Mira Road (a distant suburb of Mumbai) apartment along with his artillery, on a mission to save every precious little drop of water. Armed with piddly 50 paise washers and followed by a plumber, Surti is a one-man NGO out there to fix all the leaky taps of Mumbai. Every weekend, a housing society is pointed out, posters and pamphlets distributed on Saturday announcing the visit. Next day, Surti and his plumber, along with a woman volunteer, visit the houses and fix all the faults. “People tend to trust a woman more than a plumber and an aged, bearded man,” he laughs. Thus, every Sunday he sets out for one of the pre-decided housing societies to get all the leaking pipes and taps fixed free of cost. A modern avatar of Captain Planet, ain’t he? Started in the year 2007, this initiative has caught people’s imagination like a jungle fire. In a span of six years, the Drop Dead campaign has garnered thousands of followers. “In the year 2007, we visited 1666 houses, fixed 404 leaking taps and saved about 4.14 lakh liters of water,” he proudly shares.
But what initiated this one-man NGO is a seemingly insignificant fact for many. He shares how he once read in an article that one leaking tap is responsible for wasting 1000 litres of drinking water every month. This jolted him hard. Moreover, once at a friend’s place, Aabid heard a tap leaking and asked him to get it fixed. The reply was the trademark Pan-Indian ‘ho jayega’. This laidback attitude combined with the alarming rate of water depletion urged Aabid to step forward and do something. And thus was born the ‘Drop Dead’ campaign which has recently been named into a foundation. But why name it ‘Drop Dead’? “Because that is exactly the way humanity is going to end up if it doesn’t heed the urgent cry of nature. Save every drop… or drop dead,” he warns.
Apart from being the quintessential water warrior, Aabid is a cartoonist, playwright, writer, theater person as well as a painter. “I started making cartoons so as to afford my expensive passion – painting,” he supplies. His ‘Dabbuji’ became quite popular as the comic strip ran for 30 long years in the Hindi weekly, Dharmayug. He has around 80 books including 45 novels, 10 short story collections and seven plays to his credit.
To finance the initiative Aabid put to use his prize money of Rs. 1,00,000 conferred upon him by Hindi Sahitya Sanstha Award, Uttar Pradesh government. “It takes only around Rs. 2000 to Rs. 3000 per month to buy washers and to pay the plumber. I sailed through the initial years with that money but after some time, the funds started dwindling and I almost made up my mind to end the campaign. That was when I was gifted a cash prize of Rs. 50,000 in the year 2010, by the Maharashtra State Government, enabling me to continue the campaign,” he beams. This cemented his faith in the law of intention and law of attraction. “The whole universe conspired to sustain this campaign,” he adds.
He also gets good quality T-shirts printed with the ‘Drop Dead’ logo and puts them on sale at various cultural events and festivals, to raise funds. “I tell people that I get a t-shirt made for Rs. 150. You pay anything above that. Sometimes people pay Rs. 160 and sometimes even Rs. 1000!” he exclaims. < />
The campaign is supported by around a thousand school children. “Students of Cosmopolitan School, Mira Road, are my messengers. Every Saturday, they hand out pamphlets and carry posters to sensitise people towards the cause. We also take out an annual rally with students sloganeering about water conservation,” he shares. If we take a rough estimate, there are around 1000 students associated with the campaign. That makes 1000 pamphlets reaching 1000 families. Hence, in a month, on an average, around 4000 families or roughly 16,000 people are getting enlightened about water conservation.
The agency that remains unmoved, however, is the administration. “I went to the municipal corporation to get an aid for the campaign but they were least interested. I even offered them the Drop Dead logo so as to keep the campaign on wheels but nothing came out of it,” shares Aabid.
Has his initiative changed anything? “I can’t say about the world but people who come to meet me have definitely started to practice water conservation. Now instead of turning on the tap at full speed, they make do with just a trickle,” he shares. Still, his campaign is reaching out to many lives as he gets written about in various magazines and newspapers and has even been filmed by a German film crew for his commendable and innovative approach towards water conservation. “An article on it by my son Aalif went viral. Within six months people from various publications started approaching me,” he shares. Today, he heads the Drop Dead Foundation and has been invited to represent India at the 10th World Plumbing Conference to be held in New Delhi in November 2013.
He has recently been featured in Hindustan Unilever’s ‘Do Gooders’ campaign on people who inspire goodness, where he shared his three quick steps to save water. He was also awarded the Sparrow award for water conservation in March this year. Not enamoured of the limelight, he even proposes giving the Drop Dead logo to anyone who is interested in taking up this mission without copyright formality. “I just want people to save water. It need not be done in my name alone,” he says. “I want people to spare some time and thought for the environment. Everyone is busy running their lives. I don’t blame them because deep in their hearts they do want to do their bit, but money and resources are a constraint,” he adds. And that’s where Drop Dead comes into the picture. Aabid motivates people to take the logo and use it any which way to raise funds and get the deed done.
On being quizzed about the reaction he gets from people while he fixes their taps, Aabid breaks into a smile: “I get love and respect and sometimes an invite to share a meal with them.” He has always been welcomed with open arms, barring one incident when he was denied entry because of some internal politics among the society administration. Ask him about his future plans and he perks up instantly.
“I plan to write a novel on the state of rivers in our country and how to save them,” he shares. He is also working on a documentary on water conservation with his son Aalif to reach out to a wider audience. With an innovative mission and a fan following comprising of film star Shahrukh Khan and film maker Shekhar Kapoor among others, Aabid is indeed on the path of becoming the ultimate aquaman or water warrior.
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