Fraught with staggering contradictions and thriving on monstrous disparities, the island city is a world unto itself. Often listed among the most cosmopolitan cities around the globe, Mumbai sees an influx of people with such diverse cultures, values and traditions that finding two people who share similar traits is more of an aberration rather than being the norm.
As astutely noted by Suketu Mehta in Maximum City:
Every Bombayite, inhabits his own Bombay.
A million distinct, distinctive stories unfold here every day while their protagonists jostle for space on a suburban local.
But there are occasions when seemingly these diverse worlds overlap. This is exactly what we found ourselves staring at, when we met three Mumbaikars who are living their lives based on identical principles, shared values and a common ambition to make the world and Mumbai a better place.
Writer, painter and cartoonist Aabid Surti runs a one-man NGO—the Drop Dead Foundation—which is saving gallons upon gallons of water by repairing plumbing problems such as leaks, for free, in Mumbai households. "Eighty years young", as he likes to describe himself, he is determined not to let age deter him from taking on new projects.
Aabid, incidentally, has written 80 books and seven plays, hosted 16 exhibitions of his paintings, and created much adored comic characters like Dabbuji, Bahadur and many more. In 1993, this versatile artist also received a National Award for his short story collection, Teesri Aankh.
I was brought up on the pavement. There was a fight for every drop of water. And that legacy stayed with me. Aabid Surti
Ask him why he chose to embark on this journey with Drop Dead and Aabid tells you:
"It was the childhood trauma. I was brought up on the pavement. There was a fight for every drop of water. Every bucket we had to fight for. And that legacy stayed with me. Once, when I went to a friend's place, I saw one of the taps leaking, and it hurt me."
Since the time when that leaking faucet bothered him so much, Aabid has not stopped. In the first year of the Foundation's existence, in 2007, he visited 1666 houses on Mira Road, fixed 414 leaking taps free of charge and saved about 4.14 lakh litres of water.
Learn more about him: This 80-Year-Old Goes from One Building to Another Saving Every Drop of Water He Can
Purushottam Das Gupta
While many people, including the government, eagerly waited for the rains, this rickshaw driver from Thane assumed his part of the responsibility and is sowing the seed for a greener India: "Hara Bhara Bharat" as he calls it.
Purushottam Das Gupta just couldn't sit back and watch while the trees on the sides of the roads were cut down and the new ones planted in their place were not well protected.
If the people who go on morning walks water the trees along the way, we can go a long distance in securing a better future for our children. Purushottam Das Gupta
So he decided to water the trees lining the roads himself, as he went around the city in his rickshaw—he made sure to carry a 15-litre water can in his vehicle. Later, in an effort to scale up his initiative, he started to carry a register in the rickshaw and set about getting others (especially other rickshaw drivers) to commit to watering the trees as well.
He has more than 50 members listed in the register now, and has started a WhatsApp group where he shares a calendar of tree plantation activities. He urges the members to celebrate their special days by planting trees. He says, "If the people who go on morning walks carry as much water as they can with them to water the trees along the way, we can go a long distance in securing a better future for us as well as our children."
The 24-year-old man singing and strumming famous Bollywood numbers on his guitar is a familiar sight in Mumbai local trains running between Dadar and Ambernath these days. This young man, Saurabh Nimbkar, is using music for a mission—to collect funds for the treatment of cancer patients.
Four times a week, on his way back from work, he belts out popular Bollywood numbers for an appreciative audience that usually drops some money generously in his donation box.
Saurabh's mission stems from some difficult times he saw in 2013 when his mother was diagnosed with blood cancer. She was admitted in the cancer ward of the King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital in Mumbai. Throughout the treatment, Saurabh would carry his guitar to the hospital and play for the patients. His music would add cheer to the gloomy atmosphere in the ward.
When I sang for the patients, the atmosphere became lighter. Even the doctors didn't stop me because they saw that it was having a good effect... Saurabh Nimbkar
"Everybody there was worried about something or the other, be it food, accommodation, availability of medicines and many other things. That's why it was nice to see that when I sang for the patients, some of this tension was relieved. The atmosphere became lighter. Even the doctors didn't stop me because they saw that it was having a good effect on the patients and their families," he recalls.
After overcoming the grief of his mother's demise, he decided to do something to help people struggling with cancer. He started collecting funds for the treatment of cancer patients—with the help of a guitar and a donation box. Employed with a pharmaceutical company, Saurabh's office is located in Ambernath; he travels from there to Dadar, and from there he takes a train back to his place in Dombivli. It is on these routes that he plays his guitar to collect funds. Saurabh manages to collect about ₹1000 during every trip. Some criticize him for collecting funds in this manner, while others appreciate his efforts. And while he receives mixed reactions from his audience in the trains, he is never demotivated and stays true to his ambition.
Learn more about him: A 23-Year-Old Plays the Guitar on Mumbai Locals. For a Beautiful Reason
To know about many such amazing Mumbaikars who are changing our lives every day, click here.