Saving The Planet, One Drop At A Time

An inspiring true story that shows just how simple it can be for one person with an idea to make a difference.

Aabid Surti

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.

In March 2008, director Shekhar Kapur, who was working on his own water conservation film, heard about Aabid’s efforts and wrote on his website: ‘Aabid Surti, thank you so much for who you are. I wish there were more people like you in this world. Keep in touch with us and keep inspiring us. Shekhar.’

Local newspapers began to write about Drop Dead, which prompted a further flood of grateful emails and spontaneous messages. One of the most heartfelt messages was from superstar actor-producer Shah Rukh Khan, a longtime fan of Aabid’s work as a comic book creator. After reading the newspaper report titled ‘City of Angels’, he wrote to Aabid: “…It sounds like one of the little big things my dad would have done. Strange that I have enjoyed [your comic] Bahadur in my childhood and enjoyed reading your tap story so many years down the line… when I am father myself. God bless you and yes, I believe in angels after reading the newspaper.

In 2010, Aabid Surti was nominated for the CNN-IBN CJ ‘Be The Change’ Award. In the same year, a television crew from Berlin flew down to follow him on his Sunday rounds which continued come monsoon or shine.

It’s hard to say how much water he has saved with his mission, given that the faucets he fixed could have continued leaking for months, and maybe years, had he not rung the doorbell one Sunday morning. But conservatively, it could be estimated that he has single-handedly saved at least 5.5m litres of water till date.

In the summer of 2013, the state where Aabid lives is expecting its worst drought in 40 years. Months in advance, the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan has warned citizens to begin conserving water. While ministers lobby for drought-relief packages worth millions of dollars, Aabid sees his own approach as simple and inexpensive.

As he rings another door-bell on yet another Sunday in Mira Road, seven years into his one-man mission, he says: “Anyone can launch a water conservation project in his or her area. That’s the beauty of this concept. It doesn’t require much funding or even an office. And most importantly, it puts the power back in our own hands.”

I would call him a modern-day angel; I am lucky I get to call him dad.

*

UPDATE (MAY 2013): Much has changed for dad since this post. He was given the Sparrow Award for conservation and funding to continue his work. He also received funding from the Rotary Association and a few other organizations, and offers to spread the news further. This blog post itself went viral and got dad featured on DailyGood as one of the Everyday Heroes. Global Voices Online further translated this post into Italian, French, Spanish, Malagasy & Greek!

In April 2013, he was once again invited to meet the President of India, for his Drop Dead project.

This time he went. 

*

62 thoughts on “Saving The Planet, One Drop At A Time

      • Thank you Evelyn. I hope this story can be spread out wide enough to inspire senior citizens in different cities and towns around the world to take up the cause as their own 🙂

      • IN OLDEN DAYS,AT TALEGAON,DIST. PUNE,PEOPLE RAISED ONE PAISA EACH,AND FORMED GREAT ‘ PAISA FUND ‘ GLASS FACTORY ! IT DID SHINE,MAY BE DUE TO HUMAN NATURE SOME THING WENT ASTRIDE,AND THAT GLASS FACTORY GOT CRACKED AND VANISHED,. SO SAD !!!
        BUT Sir, hats off to your WALID SAAB,A FARISHTA ,HIS INSPIRATION WILL NEVER EVER GET EVAPORATED.COME MILLIONS OF YEARS OF DROUGHTS ON THIS MOTHER EARTH ! MAa TERE YEH FARISHTOKO SALAAM !
        EVERY DROP SAVED WILL ENSURE THAT,NO ONE WILL FIGHT FOR THE SAME DROP,WHICH ONE DAY,MAY COST IN GOLDEN-,PLATINUM OR RARE MERCURY RATE—MARKET PRICE ! ISI PATHTHARKE LAKIR KO MEETANEKELIYE,,AAO,,YEH FARISHTEKA AADHAR .HI NAHIN LE LE, LEKIN INKE ‘ NOBLE MISSION ‘KA PRASAR BHI KAREIN !!!
        AABID SAHEB,AAP MAHAN KHUDA HO !

  1. u r indeed lucky& blessed.Future wars will be over Water.Incidently some wise man said “Whisky is meant foe drinking and Water is meant for fighting”Please keep it up AABID BHAI,our best wishes r wirh u

  2. Such a wonderful, inspiring story..It makes me want to be an active participant in the preservation of this beautiful planet. I hope your blogpost reaches many people and inspires them too.

  3. aabid sir thanku for haveing saved so much of precious WATER..god bless..and give u the strength to keep going..an aalif ur indeed very lucky..tc^_^

  4. This has to be one of the most inspiring stories I have read Sir and so beautifully written 🙂
    Very very inspiring for all us youngsters..a small step can lead to the big change we keep on talking about in the society..
    Thanks for sharing this with us Sir 🙂 God bless ur dad 🙂 Immense respect for him 🙂

  5. Aalif, grateful to let us know that your father is actually one of those who DO something instead of only talking about. He shines as a leading example. May the good forces of the Universe always support him 🙂

  6. My hair stood on end!!! This is what Mr Gandhi I am sure meant when he said we have to be the change we want to see in the world. Your dad is Mashallah amazing ! May Allah SWT bless him with health and happiness always Ameen.

  7. Thanks and congratulations. There is an old saying, “want not and waste not!” I have known Abid for more than four decades, and wish him anther sixty to do similar noble things. Please give him my loving regards.
    Lakshmidhar Malaviya
    Kyoto, Japan

  8. i am lucky to have known him earler only as creator of Dabooji & Bahadur.Drop Dead mission is truly inspirng thus a Documentary film was made by me as tribute to him rightly tittled as Qatra Qatra Sufi.

  9. What an inspiring life Aabid Surti ji is living!! If only, each one of us are responsible enough, Aabid ji need not have to go door-to-door to educate people.
    Aali, you must be very proud!
    Thanks for sharing such a nice gesture!! Love your blog.

  10. Thank you for writing this, Aalif. How wonderful to read about at least one simple solution for a complicated problem; and your father’s tenacity is inspiring. My regards to him.

  11. Thank you Aalif for writing this…. an inspirational story of my childhood hero, who entertained us with Dhaboo ji and Bahadur for several years…i wish him good health.

  12. I don’t know who you are but I suppose Aabid Surti is your father. He may be an odd, like you say but a BRILLIANT HUMAN BEING!
    I live in Paris and I feel that his wonderful act should be done even in the occidental part of the world.
    Keep up the good work and the best of health to your father.

    • Thank you for your comment! I think dad has found that the secret to good health is to use your energy in serving others… he is healthier than all of us & constantly traveling to spread the word & serve others… He is a brilliant human being!

  13. I am speechless! Thank you sharing this inspiring work and yes, indeed you are lucky to have such a role model for father!

  14. That was so inspiring! At the very least, I guess we can ensure that our own taps don’t leak, and that we don’t waste water! Your father is a true inspiration!

  15. I am impressed with your father’s work. In fact, I can solve the problem of water crisis.

    1) A washbasin design that wastes no water, meets best hygiene standards, at the same cost of regular washbasin, and it will kill motion sensing taps technology.
    http://yourwellwisherprogram.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/global-water-crisis-part-1/
    2) Corrosion of water pipes can be delayed.
    http://yourwellwisherprogram.wordpress.com/2013/03/09/global-water-crisis-part-2-solution-no-more-leaky-pipes/
    3) Water saving can be a reflex action.
    http://yourwellwisherprogram.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/global-water-crisis-part-3-solution-four-marble-theory-for-saving-water/

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  19. My father was and is and will always be my hero! I am very proud of him because he is a good man, generous and right, he worked hard to raise us and give us a better life than his ! But you can be even more proud of yours because he is a superhero! It takes courage and willingness to do what he did, he can not save the world but he is giving much of himself to save his community from drought ! If everyone could do that, the world would be better !!
    Do you know this sentence: “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” some are happy and proud to walk on the moon, others, like your father, knows the true value of life ! Congratulations to him and may god bless him !!
    You know he has the same age as my father, so i would like to say, may Allah protect them and leave them to us as long as possible !! Inchallah

    With all my respect

    Fatima Regada

      • Thank you to you to shared your stories, your father is a good man and his story warmed my heart, maybe other people will be also touched and they’ll make something like that in their country and it also gives me hope that one day my children ‘ll grow up in a better world.
        with all my sincerity

        Fatima

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  21. Truly fantastic! Your dad has shown how one person really can do their bit and make all the difference. The earth needs more people like him!

  22. Hi
    Eternal Bhoomi, is a quarterly magazine which is committed to offering holistic and cutting edge perspectives on sustainability by renowned writers and thinkers from around the world as well as practical ideas and examples of earth conscious living.

    The Bhoomi magazine is brought out by Bhoomi Network, a not-for-profit organization committed to education and action for sustainable living.

    At present some of our contributors include The Dalai Lama, Vandana Shiva, Satish Kumar of Resurgence, Jonathon Porritt, Helena Norberg Hodge to name a few. Our website http://www.bhoomimagazine.org will give you an idea of Bhoomi’s work till now.

    Feedback from teachers around the country that they appreciate articles from the Bhoomi Magazine and use them for discussions in their classes does motivate us to keep bringing it out. As a magazine without commercial ads, we survive in a gift culture where several authors, artists and photographers give us gifts of their work.

    We would like to use this blog entry for our next issue, which deal with the gift culture and gift economy. This amazing story can touch the hearts of our readers, as it has ours.

    Please do let us know if you are open to it and credits that need be given.
    Looking forward to an early response.

    Thank you,

    Adil


    Adil Basha
    http://www.bhoomimagazine.org
    http://www.bhoomicollege.org

    • Hi Adil, I would be happy if you would use it. Credit for the article & photo (if you are using the pic from the blog) should be given to Aalif Surti with a hyperlink to the post. Thanks.

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  25. Wonderful, simply human and inspiring for all of us who are fighting for no reason. If we all follow in Aabid Surti footsteps, we can save our mother Earth.

  26. Fantastically inspiring! I have shared this on my FB page and on my twitter feed. I am so stoked by this post and the spirit of your father that I feel like doing something that brings about some change in my environment.

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