Aabid Surti: Life of a crusader

Author, screenwriter, playwright, artist, cartoonist…Aabid Surti is a multifaceted personality with creativity flowing in his veins. His creations made him popular amongst masses, including children. Smita Dwivedi explores the journey of this legend, who has a life full of imagination.

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For those of you, who are new to the literally world, would be happy to discover Aabid Surti, an octogenarian national award-winning author having a long list of accomplishments to his credit.

Born on 5th May 1935 in Gujarat, Aabid Surti joined the J.J. School of Arts and trained in Fine Arts after his schooling. In 1958, he organised his first solo exhibition of watercolour landscapes in Nainital. Since then, he has had more than 15 solo exhibitions in prestigious art galleries of India and abroad. The uniqueness of Aabid Surti’s style of painting is that he doesn’t have one. “I don’t sell my signature, I sell my canvasses,” he said.

First love…always for books!

As an author, Aabid’s output has been prolific, his oeuvre spanning fiction as well as non-fiction, travelogue as well as children’s literature. He became an author by accident. When his first love broke due to family pressure, the teenaged Aabid had no one to confide in, so he began putting his story on paper. The story was published in Gujarati in 1965 as ‘Tootela Farishta’ (Fallen Angels) and proved to be an unexpected success. “I was so heartbroken and saddened, when I lost my first love at a very young age. I still feel the pain. What started as a refuge, ended up becoming prolific. Till today, I have written more than 80 books including 45 novels, 10 short story collections and 7 plays,” he shared.

Sharing more about author’s journey, he added, “Most of my books have been translated into almost every Indian language. And I want to appreciate Ratna Sagar for doing great work of translations. I have written fiction, non-fiction, travelogues, and children’s literature. So, it was a one long journey.”

Controversies…always add to fame!

One of his novels, titled The Black Book created a nationwide controversy. It’s quoted to be “darker than night and brighter than light.” The book speaks of a man who can see both sides to his soul, the black and the white, the right and the wrong. Considered to be one of his most important works, the book embodies an image of the Devil’s Gospel. This book earned him the nickname “Salman Rushdie of India,” and was voted book of the year in Kannada.

Later, his biographical novel Musalman (Muslim), which was the actual account of the author’s childhood in the poverty-ridden Dongri area of Mumbai, which was home to many underworld gang lords, including Haji Mastan, Karim Lala and Dawood Ibrahim. A collection of his short stories, titled Teesri Aankh, won the President’s Award in 1993.

With personal maturity, Aabid Surti’s writings have also become more socially conscious; reflecting the tumultuous times the country and the Muslim community within it is passing through. His novel Kathavachak (The Storyteller) is an unusual love story set against the backdrop of the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya and the deadly riots that followed.

‘Dabbuji’ ….created ‘Father Of Indian Comics’

As a cartoonist, he created the lovable simpleton ‘Dabbuji’. The highly original and popular cartoon strip has been one of the longest-running comic strips in India, running without a break for over 30 years. Reprints of the original series continue to entertain millions in various languages. Dabbuji’s fan following includes Ex-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, singer Asha Bhosle and Osho. Aabid has also created another popular comic book character, ‘Bahadur’, which achieved cult status in the 1970s. In 1993, the Indian government conferred a National Award upon him.

For his pioneering work in graphic novels and comics, he was recognized as the ‘Father Of Indian Comics’ and given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the fourth Comic Con India held in 2015.

Aabid Surti
Aabid Surti

His introduction to the cartoon world was also coincidental, “Since childhood, I had been passionate about comics. As a seven-year-old child, the first comic I chanced upon was Disney’s Mickey Mouse, discarded in train by a departing British soldier. A young boy just threw it on the platform from the train window, which I grabbed. I was so fascinated by its illustrations, colors and the humour that it led to copying every torn page and every available image of Mickey and aspired to be like Walt Disney someday. “

The first cartoon characters he created were in 1952–53 for a Gujarati magazine Ramakdu. It consisted of a comic feature of four pages in colour with three prominent characters – a boy, a girl and a monkey, entitled Rang Lakhudi. He later went on to create the legendary Bahadur, often recognised as the first original Indian superhero. Bahadur achieved a cult following around the country and continues to resonate even today. His work in the world of action comics continued with Inspector Azaad, Inspector Vikram and Shuja. His other famous comic strips include Doctor Chinchoo Ke Chamatkar, published in Hindi magazine Parag from 1963 to 1965. Alongside comics and graphic novels, he continued to do children’s books and even novels for children. He has written around 15 books, including one novel Nawab Rangile. Another novel for children Bahattar Saal ka Bachcha has gone into ten editions and remains a perennial fan favorite.

Drop Dead….for water conservation!

Abid Surti founded Drop Dead, a water conservation initiative in Mumbai in 2007. Every Sunday, along with a plumber and an assistant, he visits houses in and around Mira Road and fixes dripping taps. He simply replaces old O-ring rubber gaskets with new ones. The idea struck him in 2007 when he noticed the dripping tap in his friend’s house. “A tap that drips water once every second wastes about 1,000 litres of water every month so imagine how much we all waste,” he points out. Surti and his assistants raise awareness through posters and pamphlets. He pays for all expenses from his pocket. Presently, he lives in a quiet suburb of Mumbai and continues to explore painting, writing and meditation.

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