Interview: Aabid Surti, Saving The Planet, One Drop At A Time

{0 Comments}

103
Last weekend while the world celebrated World Water Day, one man in a tiny suburb of Mumbai was going door to door fixing leaking taps free of charge, saving water, one drop at a time. Just like any other weekend. This is his story.
"Haunting memories of fighting for every bucket of water in my childhood are my driving force to this day. We must save every drop, or drop dead"
Eighty years old Aabid Surti, migrated to a Dongri chawl as a child with his family. Life was tough, but what made it unbearable was the struggle for water. He still remembers how the common water tap in the chawl would dispense water for just ten minutes a day and how those ten minutes would transform the chawl into a battleground. Having spent his childhood growing up on the streets, struggling for every sip of water to drink drove him to to start Drop Dead Foundation, an NGO on a mission to save this invaluable resource that most of us take for granted. 'We must save every drop or drop dead if we don't' insists Surti.
"If you sincerely want to do something for society, God himself becomes your fund raiser."
Drop Dead Foundation team
Drop Dead Foundation team
Drop Dead Foundation, simply put is a one man NGO run by Surti. Every Sunday he picks one locality in Mira Road where he goes door to door along with his lean team of plumbers and repairs leaking taps. As simple as this sounds, he has managed to save over 5 lakh litres of water in one year, and over 25 lakh litres of water since he started, working in just one locality of Mumbai. Consider for a moment, what we can achieve if we employ this simple yet effective technique to every house in every area of the city.
Aabid, an acclaimed writer with over 80 published books in Gujarati and Hindi, believes that "if you sincerely want to do something for society, God himself becomes your fund raiser." He says he did not face any real challenges in beginning his work in 2007 and he continues to receive support from Rotarians and the Indian Plumbing Association. He does lament however that the government has not been very supportive in helping him grow this idea from Mira Road to other areas in Mumbai or offer support in anyway. As for finances, he has invested all the money he earns from awards towards this cause because "the money I get without labour should go towards betterment of society".
Drop Dead Foundation plumber ta work
Drop Dead Foundation plumber ta work
He explains, "We, I mean a plumber, a female volunteer and myself, have developed a process which we follow like clockwork. On Mondays, my volunteer visits the targeted building and meets the secretary of the housing society for permission. If the secretary agrees, then she puts up a poster on the housing society's notice board, with our tagline Save Every Drop or Drop Dead. On Saturdays, through the watchman of the building, we send pamphlets that explain what Drop Dead Foundation is about, to every home. So when we arrive on Sunday morning we get a warm welcome from the members of the apartment building. Then we go house to house correcting leaky taps."
Aabid adds that he finds it very easy to talk to societies and get necessary permissions to fix leaking taps and every home he goes to, he finds a fan, friend or a smiling host inviting him for chai. He gracefully refuses, keeping only the job at hand in focus but always remembers the warmth and smiles they shared with him. As a writer, he as also found many endearing characters on his home visits which have been incorporated in his stories.
"Everyone except the government wants to help me."
Aabid at workOver the years Aabid has observed that while there is a general lack of awareness about saving water, it is even more shocking in the affluent localities, because there is abundance. Negligence at large scale may soon turn water into a rare resource, if we do not curb it right away. And the best part is that is it so simple - just turn off a running tap or repair a leaking tap. Aabid believes that just like we have campaigns against smoking, we need massive  campaigns at the same scale to save water. Educating children right from young age to displaying 'Save Water' messages before movies, all can go a long way. He says anyone can take on the cause and start the same service in their area. "I'm an author, painter and cartoonist but I make the time every week for society, for all of us. So can you." he urges. The needs are modest he adds, "An office premise around 750 sq. ft. at Mira Rd to work and store posters, pamphlets, stickers, banners for rallies to create awareness etc. - which is actually my  residence, a computer to collect data, salary for an assistant cum computer operator to co-ordinate with other NGOs online working on water conservation, a peon for sundry work and a plumber and a volunteer on payroll with a two wheeler. If someone calls with a leakage issue, like the fire brigade, they can rush to the spot on bicycle and correct the leaking tap."
More power to Aabid and his team of superheroes, may your tribe increase.
You can reach him on 98201 84964 or email [email protected]
Know of other heroes in Mumbai we should know about? Write to us at [email protected]

Garima Sharma

Garima Sharma
Founding Editor at MumbaiMag, graffiti and street art lover, traveller, blogger and amateur photographer, slave to Thor, my Lab.