The Painter who catches every drop

The Painter who catches every drop.


7th March 13

Save every drop or drop dead. That’s all Aabid Surti has to say to each one of us. The National Award winning septuagenarian author and artist, along with a partner, plugs drips in homes in a Mumbai suburb, free.

Aabid Surti is a National Award winning author, artist, cartoonist and playwright. But ask him what his proudest achievement is and he will tell you he has saved more than 1.5 million litres water from going down the drain, literally!

The 77-year-old celebrates Sunday like none else, picking a building in Mumbai’s far-flung suburb Mira Road and, with his plumber and a volunteer in tow, searching it for leaking taps to plug. Free of charge.

His reward? “A lot of water saved. And sometimes, an offer for lunch,” he says simply. Surti’s non-governmental organisation, Drop Dead, has just one employee – him.

Surti learnt the value of water young. “I was brought up on Mumbai pavements, where every drop of water counts. There are fights over water there, sometimes very violent ones. So I can’t tolerate the thought of even a drop being wasted.”

Thought turned into action when, while visiting a friend’s house, he heard the annoying drip of a tap and asked his friend why he hadn’t fixed it yet. The reply was one we have all heard before – “I will get it done”.

The action was again what most of us have done before – nothing.

Surti’s friend justified his inaction by saying no plumber was ready to come for such a small job. It was then that Surti decided to bring home the plumber.

“I read an article that if one drop of water is wasted every second, 1,000 litres goes down the drain every month. An image of 1,000 bottles of 1-litre Bisleri bottles flashed before my eyes,” Surti recalls. He couldn’t ignore that image.

The year was 2007, the international year of water. Surti used the Rs 100,000 prize money of the Hindi Sahitya Sansthan Award he received for his literature from the Uttar Pradesh government to kick off his mission.

Every Sunday, Surti spends about Rs 600 on visit homes and fix taps. To raise money to take this initiative to other places, he prints T-shirts with his NGO’s logos and sets up stalls at exhibitions and fairs. “I spend Rs 100 to get a T-shirt made. I ask the buyers to pay me anything above Rs 100.” Some pay Rs 110, some Rs 1,000!

All it takes to fix a leak is a washer, which costs a piddly 50 paise – 25 paise if bought in wholesale. The plumber’s charges and the commute are the real cost of the social service.

Annually, Surti visits an average of 1,600 homes and fixes around 400+ leaky taps, saving around 414,000 litres water.

He takes the permission of building secretaries before approaching the households. The response is always positive. “The only time I was refused was when I took the permission of the  building secretary but the president did not let me enter because of some ego issues between the two.”

Now, Surti wants the Drop Dead movement to go to other parts of the country, courtesy local volunteers. “I am looking for people who are interested in this. I am ready to give them my logo and everything else. I don’t even want my name on their material. All  I want them to do is help save water,” he says.

Also on his wish-list are an office to hire more staff and a two-wheeler for his plumber to respond to emergency leaks.

The Gujarat-born author’s mission has attracted the attention of not just local but also international media. A crew from Germany accompanied him to homes and shot footage of the taps being repaired. Later, this was aired across Europe in a documentary called ‘Wasserknappheit in Bombay: Kampf um den letzten Tropfen’ (Water shortage in Bombay: Struggle for the Last Drop).

Not one to preach, Surti has a short message for every Indian.

“You may not be able to save the Ganges or the Yamuna from where you are but you can save a few drops here and there, and those few drops count.”

Stop the drip or drop dead!

(Catch Every Drop is a campaign on sustainable water conservation by The Alternative, sponsored by Arghyam, with partners India Water Portal and Biome Environmental Solutions.)


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