Creator of popular Indian cartoon character ‘Dhabbuji’ and social worker, Abid Surti, turns 88

The satirical cartoon ‘Dhabbu ji’ was published continuously for 30 years in the prestigious ‘Dharmyug’ magazine.

By Sushma Shandilya

Abid Surti’ is a personality endowed with unique talents and many rare qualities. A man with immense possibilities, he is a versatile initiator, wanderer by nature, litterateur of Hindi-Gujarati language, child litterateur, writer-satirist, initiator of famous cartoon character ‘Dhabbu ji’, novelist-storyteller, painter-cartoonist and social worker.

His eighty published books include fifty novels, ten story-collections, seven plays, ten children’s books, travelogue, ghazal compilation, memoirs and comics. He has been writing in various magazines and newspapers in Gujarati and Hindi for the last forty-five years. His novels have been translated into Kannada, Marathi, Malayalam, Urdu, Punjabi and English. He wrote dialogues for stories, screenplays for Doordarshan and other channels and wrote 7 plays for theatre. He is a member of ‘Film Writers Association’, ‘Mumbai Press Club’, ‘Association of Writers and Illustrators’ of Delhi and ‘Board of Film Certification’ of Mumbai. Abid Surti was invited to the show ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ in 2015.

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Abid Surti was born on May 5, 1935, in Rajula, Gujarat in an aristocratic family. After doing M.Sc. he did his Diploma in Fine Arts from ‘JJ School of Arts’. His first solo painting exhibition was displayed in Nainital and sixteen solo exhibitions have been displayed in the country and abroad. There are different dimensions of his phenomenal paintings like ‘Glass Painting, Mirror Collage, Stand Glass, Acrylic Cartoon, Body Painting, Painted House’ etc. The diverse arts  reflected in his creations and paintings are a powerful medium to break the monotonous pattern of life.

Abid Surti is a conscious storyteller who has created fantasies of human minds in fictional stories and has written reality in factual stories. He is fully aware of precious lives being plagued by wrong traditions and in his own style, by constantly questioning them in his stories, he strikes to destroy the prevailing rotten stereotypes and beliefs.

Abid Surti (Image: Supplied)

His creations stimulate the mind but provide intellectual entertainment also. He is undoubtedly a creator with a wonderful combination of interesting ideas. The inquisitive child in his heart constantly questions him and he becomes a true, original artist who is inspired to improve lives through his various arts. The effect of sharpness created by the collision of imagination with reality is sharper than the effect of simple truth. Therefore, instead of facing the facts of life directly, taking support of fiction is the secret of sharpness in his satires.

Editor ‘Dharamveer Bharti’ was to start a weekly Hindi magazine ‘Dharmyug’, for which he wanted to publish the works of any famous cartoonist as a comedy strip. To make up for the delay of few weeks in the publication of ‘Dharmyug’, he asked Abid Surti to create something entertaining. Abid Surti’s father, a lawyer, used to wear a ‘monk-like robe’ and that image was imprinted in his mind. He created a small statured character and based on his father’s costume, dressed him in a ‘black cloak’ and named it ‘Dhabbu ji’. In order to meet the unexpected demand, Abid Surti transformed his creation, ‘Batuk Bhai’ in a new form and named him ‘Dhabbu Ji’. In the beginning ‘Dhabbuji’ was used as a filler for few weeks but the immense popularity of ‘Dhabbuji’ made him a regular feature of the magazine. 

Published on the back page of ‘Dharmyug’, the cartoon corner ‘Dhabbuji’ used to depict humorous and satirical incidents taken from the lives of ordinary people. According to Abid Surti, without any discrimination of caste or high or low, ‘Dhabbuji’ used to show the right path to the misguided and inspired the lost ones to live through his simple humor and sarcasm. ‘Dhabbu ji’ was placed on the last page but the popularity of that character used to make the readers read their favourite ‘Dhabbu ji’ first and then only they read the magazine from the beginning.

‘Dhabbu Ji’ ruled the hearts of the readers and along with India, ‘Dhabbu ji’s’ had many fans in foreign countries as well. The satirical cartoon ‘Dhabbu ji’ created a record by being published continuously for 30 years in the prestigious ‘Dharmyug’ magazine. Seeing the popularity of ‘Dhabbu Ji’ among children and adults alike, the publishers of Diamond Comics published those strips in the comic form. Abid Surti created one more cartoon character ‘Bahadur’ which was published in Indrajal Comics in 1978, which was also extremely popular and is now synonymous with his great works. His other cartoon characters ‘Inspector Azad’ and ‘Chinchu Ke Chamatkar’ comics were also very popular.

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Abid Surti was awarded ‘National Award’ for his story-collection ‘Teesri Aankh’. Dharamveer Bharti wrote a preface to Abid Surti’s famous work ‘Kali Kitab’ – ‘The old holy books of the world were written in such a period of history when there was a need to set certain values and standards to organise human society. This important ‘Kali Kitab’ of Abid Surti has been written in such a period of history, when the established values and norms have started to fall into disrepute and there is a need for a renewed rebellious thinking so that the illusion of dignity, which destroys the society and the individual’s conscience disintegrating from the basis of its reorganisation can be found.

Abid Surti had faced acute water scarcity during his childhood in Gujarat so knew the value of saving water. In 2007, he noticed a continuous leaking tap in the bathroom of a friend’s house and told the friend who paid no heed. Abid Surti read an article that if a drop of water is wasted every second, about 1,000 litres of water is wasted in a month. Following great poet Rahim’s quote, ‘Rahiman Pani Rakhiye, Bin Pani Sab Soon’, he was determined to save water dripping from taps and spread awareness about water conservation. But for starting a project to bring revolution, he needed money. Meanwhile, he received an award of ‘1 lakh’ rupees from Hindi-Sahitya Sansthan, Uttar Pradesh. Shekhar Kapur was making a film on ‘Water Conservation’ and in March 2008 he freely praised Abid Surti on his website, due to which the media also started discussing his campaign, started for public interest. A channel awarded him with ‘Be the Change’ award. Abid Surti stays away from publicity and believes that ‘Anyone can fight the war of water conservation in their area’.

Abid Surti, also an activist and environmentalist, founded the NGO ‘Drop Dead’ Foundation for water conservation with the tagline ‘Save Every Drop or Drop Dead’. His team consists of a plumber and a volunteer who go door-to-door to spread awareness on how to stop wastage of water. In the beginning he faced difficulty to make people aware as they did not understand the importance of saving water. People started joining his campaign on realising the importance of water conservation. Abid Surti works 6 days a week for himself and every Sunday, visits homes in Mumbai’s Mira Road area with a plumber, providing a free service, by replacing rubber gasket rings and fixing the leaking taps so that no water gets wasted. He has saved an estimated 55 lakh litres of water from being wasted.

Despite being 87 years old, he is very active and makes people aware by explaining the importance of water conservation to save every drop of water. Everyone should take inspiration from his important campaign. In 2010 in Mumbai, on the occasion of Abid Surti’s 75th birthday, a literary magazine ‘Shabd Yog’ released its June 2010 issue in his honour and organised a seminar focused on him. Contributing to Abid Surti’s save-water campaign, ‘Yogdaan’ organisation’s secretary R.K. Paliwal presented a cheque of ten thousand rupees and presented Bermuda and colourful T-shirt because he always likes to dress in them. Abid Surti has continuously enriched Hindi and Gujarati literature as a storyteller, has mastered the cartoon genre as a painter-satirist, has written film scripts and ghazals, is a rare, unique artist and a highly sensitive social worker. 

Today on 5th May, Abid Surti is celebrating his 88th birthday. Wishing him a joyous, peaceful, happy, healthy birthday with many more candles to blow in the coming years.

Contributing Author: Sushma ‘Shandilya’ is a well-known Hindi poet and writer based in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. Her short stories, articles and plays have been published in leading Indian publications. Sushma ‘Shandilya’ writes on various contemporary issues including themes around women empowerment. She is also a yoga teacher.

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