Water activist Aabid Surti: Save water or drop dead
Water activist Aabid Surti, whose Mira Road home gets water for 15 minutes every day, feels Mumbaikars need to save water because 'jal hai toh kal hai'
In times when religion is used as a weapon of war, there is an octogenarian in Mira Road who instead utilises it to motivate environmental action. “If you ask people to save water or plant a sapling, they will decline. But if you tell them the orders come from Lord Shiv or Prophet Muhammad, they will gladly do it,” says Aabid Surti, who runs a non-profit organisation, Drop Dead Foundation.
Born on May 5, 1935 in Gujarat, Surti is an accomplished author and artist today. In 1993, he even won the President's Award for his short-story collection, Teesri Aankh. But all his achievements, he says, stem from his poverty-stricken childhood. "My family moved to Dongri when I was barely five years old. I still remember how a family of 15 to 20 lived in a single room. I didn't have a bed, I would sleep on the pavement," he recalls. There is a memory from his childhood that still stings him.
"My mother would queue up at 4 am to fill a bucket of water. With a smaller vessel in tow, I would accompany her, just to get that extra litre of water. Years passed and our situation changed, I even pursued a diploma in arts from Sir JJ Institute of Fine Art in 1960. But the sound of a dripping tap, amid conversations with friends and colleagues, always took me back to my nightmarish past, when getting water was a luxury," Surti shares.
One day, while at a friend's house, Surti heard a leaky faucet. He quickly asked his friend to get it fixed. Six months later, when Surti visited the friend again, nothing had changed. "I was shocked and lectured him. While first he got irritated, he later told me how a plumber wouldn't come just to fix one leak. I immediately told him I would hire a plumber and get the job done. Then I went to another friend's home to fix yet another faucet. This went on till I stopped leakages in every friends' home," Surti says, adding how these acquaintances transformed into being intimate friends after this exercise.
The plumber's fee would be cleared by Surti himself. "I used to pay around Rs 150 for every job.” But for the initiative to continue, he needed more money. Just when he pondered upon this, he received a whopping Rs 1,00,000 as cash prize from the Hindi Sahitya Sansthan, Uttar Pradesh for his contribution to Hindi literature. "This was when I officially started Drop Dead Foundation in 2007. By the end of the first year, we had visited 1,533 homes and fixed around 400 taps. It's been 13 years now, with a plumber and a volunteer in tow, I go to every Mira Road household to fix their tap and create awareness to save water."
Surti says that a tap that drips once every second wastes close to 1,000 litres of water a month. "Things slowly began to change, but an awakening was needed in the area. I started getting invites for talks, but I put forth one condition every time. I said I wouldn't address an audience less than 500 people. Because the more people I talk to, the bigger difference I would make," he adds. Surti then realised that after every talk, only three to four people would approach him to join his cause. "Something needed to be done. So I hired youngsters, mostly wasting their lives in doing drugs, to help me instead."
Surti asked them to paste posters carrying Prophet Muhammad's quote outside every mosque in the area. "Prophet once said, 'agar aap nahr ke kinaare baithe hain, phir bhi aapko paani zaaya karneka koi haq nahi hain' (even if you are sitting by a river, you have no right to waste water). A few weeks later, I bumped into a Maulana, and he told me about 80 per cent of the water otherwise used to wash hands and feet at mosques was being saved each day. This happened because people have faith in the Prophet."
At 83 now, Surti says he will continue to make a difference. "My initiative is not a copyright. Anyone who thinks water needs to be used judiciously can go fix leakages." Surti, who lives alone in a quaint home in Mira Road, gets water for only 15 minutes every day. "I feel all of us should get water only for 10 minutes. Just four buckets are enough for one person to get through the day," he says, adding, "Jal hain toh kal hain. Save water or drop dead."
Water wasted in a month when a tap drips
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