WATER WARRIOR AABID SURTI
Water warrior Aabid Surti sets writing and cartooning aside every Sunday to fix Mira Road’s drippy taps.
Writer, painter and cartoonist Aabid Surti’s most famous comic book hero Bahadur isn’t all that different from his creator. Although he is the son of a dacoit killed in combat, he fights societal evils as head of the Naagrik Suraksha Dal, helping police down dreaded dacoits.
Surti too, like the protagonist he made famous in the late ’70s through Indrajal Comics, has weekend run-ins with a menace equally deadly – water wastage in Mumbai, the capital of a state facing its worst drought in 40 years.
Every Sunday, the 77-year-old writer of novels, plays and travelogues – for which he has picked up a National Award in 1993, and is most famous for creating India’s longest running cartoon strip about the endearing common man, Dabbuji – visits homes in his suburb of Mira Road to check if residents need their leaking taps fixed. And so, while politicos think up emergency initiatives to fight drought, Surti helps you make a change right at home. A tap that drips once every second wastes close to 1,000 litres of water a month.
It was a statistic UN chief Boutros Boutros Ghali shared in an interview in 2007 that left Surti uneasy. By 2025, more than 40 countries would be grappling with a water crisis. Soon after, during a visit to a friend’s home, Surti spotted a leaking faucet. It’s tough to convince a plumber to come over to replace a worn-out gasket, shrugged the friend. Surti, whose childhood was spent in a chawl in Dongri, with his mother lining up each morning at the community tap for a precious bucket of water, decided he’d set out the next Sunday to plug leaking taps in his vicinity.
Drop Dead Foundation, his one-man NGO, needed little more than a plumber and O-ring rubber gaskets bought in bulk from a wholesale market. Although the raw material costs little (50 paise a ring), labour and travel don’t come cheap. But funds have trickled in magically.At the time he launched his campaign, Surti received an unexpected cash prize of Rs 1,00,000 from the Hindi Sahitya Sansthan, Uttar Pradesh, for his contribution to Hindi literature. “God is my fundraiser,” says Surti, perhaps referring to a sudden and generous Rs 10,000 donation from a close friend, and a lifetime achievement award this year from the Maharashtra government which was accompanied by a cash prize of Rs 50,000. “Each time I run out of money, I think of wrapping up. But God pokes someone, and a donation comes in,” says Surti, who spends approximately Rs 565 on every fixing trip, while covering all flats in one residential building. And yet, paucity of funds has restricted his efforts to Mira Road.
Permission from the building secretary and plastering posters that carry information about their scheduled visit and initiative is all it takes before the three-member team arrives at a housing society to fix taps free of charge. Surti has picked up fans along the way, including actor Shah Rukh Khan and director Shekhar Kapur. And he isn’t done. His next target – overflowing tanks missing a stopcock. He expects to trace these through a network of local newspaper boys. “I receive more love for my work than I probably did from my mother. This is my ibaadat (form of worship).”