Ekla Chalo Re
Democratic-World 19th May 2013
Aabid Surti, with his one man brigade called Drop Dead, is fixing every leaky tap which comes his way
In a very Shah Rukh Khan movie-like moment, writer, painter, cartoonist and environmentalist, Aabid Surti declares: “When you work for the benefit of others, saari kaayanat tumhe apni manzil se milane ki koshish me lag jaati hai.” (When you work for the benefit of others, the whole of creation unites to make you successful.) He also believes that both Ishwar and Allah work in tandem to assist such an effort.
The conviction with which he speaks his words can make a regular atheist believe in God. And when a man of his age—he is all of 77 years now—starts doing what he does, and that too so relentlessly, one does suspect there is indeed a higher power at play here.
Surti’s environmental journey began five years ago with a leaky tap at a friend’s house. When Surti asked his friend to get the tap fixed, his request was brushed aside. After all the tap was, “too small a matter to call a plumber for”. Surti, who had read in a Hindustan Times article that a tap leaks a drop of water per second, can waste upto a 1,000 litres per month if not mended, could not ignore the problem.
“I grew up on a pavement dwelling fighting for every drop of water. When you live such a life you realise the value of every drop,” he says. Silently, the house guest made up his mind; he had to change things. A question remained—how would he save every drop? The chance came soon enough when the Uttar Pradesh Government decided to honour his contribution to Hindi Literature by bestowing him with the Lifetime Achievement Award, and a cash prize of 1 lakh. “Meri toh maano lottery lag gayi,” (I had hit the jackpot) he says with a chuckle. With that money in hand Surti embarked upon an environmental journey at an age when most people contemplate retirement.
He hired a plumber, bought some washers and began visiting people’s homes with a request—let us fix your taps for free! However, well meaning the two might have been, at the onset they were treated with suspicion. Attitudes changed once Drop Dead— the name of the two-people brigade— recruited a woman volunteer.
“People tend to trust women more than men. Ever since she has joined us, attitudes have changed toward Drop Dead,” he laughs.
The beauty of Drop Dead lay in its simplicity. An elderly gentleman, a plumber and a benign lady volunteer comes knocking on your door and offers to fix your taps; he does not lecture you on the importance of water nor does the charge you a single penny. Probably the man in charge reminds you of your grandfather— why would say no to such a man and his offer?
Surti’s award saw him through three years, and just when he was to worry about the road ahead, the Maharashtra Government awarded him the Literature Award and gave him `50,000. “Like I said, the forces were with me.” By then the news of his work had spread—and he has gained some well-wishers. For example, an owner of a press offered to print pamphlets for free. “I asked him not to be foolish. Aap kyun mere saath shahid ho rahe hai?” (Why are you turning into a martyr along with me?) But the press proprietor was adamant. He did not know how to help his world—however, if someone else did, no one could stop him from helping such a man out.
Surti says it is this love that has been the best outcome of his endeavour, and he goes on to add that not even a mother’s love could match his supporters’ affections.
Slowly, corporations also came forth to take Surti’s work a step forward. One corporation offered to hire more plumbers so that Surti could spread his work over a wider geography.
Recently, Surti was also invited by the Dainik Bhaskar Group in Bhopal for a two-day water conservation camp, where he, along with the many volunteers, roamed the streets of Bhopal, fixing every leaky tap that came their way. His organisation, Drop Dead (for unless you save every drop of water, you might as well drop dead as you kill the planet, and generations, after you) has been active for almost six years now.
Each year it grows drop by drop.
The great Urdu poet Majrooh Sultanpuri had once said, “Main akela hi chala tha janibe manzil magar, log saath aate gaye aur karvan banta gaya.” (I had started my journey alone, but people joined in to form my caravan) That, in a nutshell, can sum up Surti’s story