Saving The Planet,
One Drop At A Time
26th Jan 2013
Aalif writes an inspiring true story that shows just how simple it can be for one person with an idea to make a difference.
Aabid Surti is an odd character. A few years ago, the angular, bearded author was invited to meet the President of India to receive a national award for literature at a ceremony in the capital, New Delhi. He politely declined. Absorbed in writing the first draft of his new novel, he cited the reason that he did not have time. But what he has made time for every Sunday for seven years now, is going door-to-door in Mira Road, a non-descript suburb of Mumbai, with a plumber in tow, asking residents if they need their tap fixed for free!
As a distinguished Indian painter and author, Aabid has written around 80 books but no story so moved him as the truth about water scarcity on the planet. “I read an interview of the former UN chief Boutros Boutros Ghali,” he recalls, “who said that by 2025 more than 40 countries are expected to experience water crisis. I remembered my childhood in a ghetto fighting for each bucket of water. I knew that shortage of water is the end of civilized life.”
Around the same time, in 2007, he was sitting in a friend’s house and noticed a leaky tap. It bothered him. When he pointed it out, his friend, like others, dismissed it casually: it was too expensive and inconvenient to call a plumber for such a minor job – even plumbers resisted coming to only replace old gaskets.
A few days later, he came across a statistic in the newspaper: a tap that drips once every second wastes a thousand litres of water in a month. That triggered an idea. He would take a plumber from door to door and fix taps for free – one apartment complex every weekend.
As a creative artist, he had earned more goodwill than money and the first challenge was funding. “But,” he says, “if you have a noble thought, nature takes care of it.” Within a few days, he got a message that he was unexpectedly being awarded Rs.1,00,000 ($2,000) by the Hindi Sahitya Sansthan (UP) for his contribution to Hindi literature. And one Sunday morning in 2007, the International Year of Water, he set out with a plumber to fix the problem for his neighbors.
He began by simply replacing old O-ring rubber gaskets with new ones, buying new fixtures from the wholesale market. He named his one-man NGO ‘Drop Dead’ and created a tagline: save every drop… or drop dead.
Every Sunday, the Drop Dead team – which consisted of Aabid himself, Riyaaz the plumber and a female volunteer Tejal – picked the apartment blocks, got permission from the housing societies, and got to work. A day before, Tejal would hand out pamphlets explaining their mission and paste posters in elevators and apartment lobbies spreading awareness on the looming water crisis. And by Sunday afternoon, they would ensure the buildings were drip-dry.
By the end of the first year, they had visited 1533 homes and fixed around 400 taps. Slowly, the news began to spread.