Once again, I shall glean some lessons from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. She says that her Italian friend told her that every place and every individual has a word. A word that so intrinsically describes its very essence, a word that essentially strips a place down to its core existence, a word without which a place cannot even begin to be remotely described. Italy’s word is sex. Liz Gilbert’s word is attraversiamo. I think (from an outsider’s point of view), India’s word has got to be jugaad.

Here’s a definition of jugaad I koped from http://wanderingsatlan.blogspot.com/:

“There is an India expression and, like others, quite impossible to adequately translate: jugaad. People are encouraged to use some jugaard when faced with a blank wall, or a difficult problem. Jugaard is creative improvisation, a tool to somehow find a solution, ingenuity, a refusal to accept defeat, initiative, quick thinking, cunning, resolve, and all of the above.” Pavan K Varma

According to a caucasian couple (expats) residing in Delhi (http://ourdelhistruggle.com/2009/10/07/jugaad/), a jugaad actually looks like this:

This is a literal jugaad.

It is a homemade vehicle made by cobbling together a wooden cart with the kind of diesel water pump farmers use for irrigation. Fitted with makeshift steering and braking mechanisms, these jugaad vehicles are used for everything. Farmers share or rent these pumps, and this arrangement lets the pump actually transport itself to wherever it’s needed next. No two jugaad vehicles are the same, because each one is an improvised solution using unlikely parts. These vehicles are the purest representation of this spirit of ingenuity, and everyone we spoke to swelled with pride at India’s capacity for jugaad.

After having gone through so much hardship and suffering, I guess the philosophy of jugaad has evolved to course through the veins of every Indian, providing an ever-ready pool of resilience in the face of adversity, should it so choose to arise as it typically does over here. This is what evolutionary psychology is all about, right? Jugaad is how everyone gets by. Jugaad ensures that people are able to cope with unexpected “surprises”, such as when the power and water supply gets cut for half a day (no problem, bathe in the river and do your business, literally, anywhere). Jugaad ensures that life goes on despite unbearable conditions (just take a look at the village school pictures on facebook) and that the ultimate goal will still be accomplished.

I like how the same aforementioned couple wrote about the positive side of jugaad, because I see these examples played out in front of my eyes everyday:

Jugaad is the philosophical outlook necessary to make it work, regardless of what “it” is. It’s about solving problems with what you have, not with what you wish you had. For the office workers who would wait on Delhi corners for rides to Gurgaon in private cars driven by drivers looking to make a few bucks, jugaad is obviously the human Tetris that fits ten people into a car built for five. It’s also the stoic patience that’s essential for total strangers to sit on each others’ laps and breath in each others’ sweat for a ninety-minute sauna down MG Road. Jugaad is the ability of families to endure thirty-two hours on the train from Mumbai to Amritsar, when the three-hour stretch Jenny and I rode it from Bharatpur to Delhi left us exhausted and claustrophobic.

But I’ve come to realise that not much is being mentioned about the negative side of jugaad, especially by us foreigners. Why have we embraced this double-edged jugaad sword, only to turn a blind eye to the problematic side that’s slowly but surely cutting us in any degree?

See, jugaad ensures that everyone and everything gets by through any means. Ahhh… therein lies the problem. Gets by. Everyone here is satisfied as long as the job gets done (no matter how shabbily), or as long as a minimum standard (who sets this anyway?) is achieved. There is little impetus for improvement or change, because “we just need to fix the problem at hand” and then move on. I guess it works fine when one is living in terribly austere conditions and really living a hand-to-mouth type of existence. But now that times are a-changing, perhaps a little hunger (no pun intended) for improvement might be useful. It’s time to move beyond just merely making-do.

It appears to me that most rules or regulations ever passed or designed in India never seem to be designed for the people, or with their convenience in mind. I am often left scratching my head deciphering the logic behind some regulations or procedures carried out over here (I took one and a half hours just to ENTER Akshardam temple in Delhi, and you can’t bring in plastic bags into cinemas but you can bring in boxes). Even though some rules are outdated or plain illogical, the high-up-theres are blindly sticking to tradition, because that’s the way it has always been done. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? That’s some form of jugaad for you. Of course, everyone knows that jugaad can also represent bribery. But that doesn’t quite impact me the same way as the other forms of jugaad I experience on a day-to-day basis, so I shan’t whine about that.

Then again, it just dawned on me that the jugaad mentality by normal plebeians (the amazingly creative fixes to everyday problems) could be a knee-jerk reaction to the jugaad mentality by authorities (stiffness and complacency). The incredible flexibility with which Indians navigate around daily hiccups and bumps in the road is a direct response to the absolute inflexibility of Indian authorities or the powers that be. It’s as if Indians are perfectly trained to overcome difficulties which they actually create for themselves. The law makers make up ridiculous rules, and the common people find ways to circumvent them. The latter has been conditioned not to obey regulations because if they do, they would not even be able to achieve the simplest of things. Perhaps it has been ingrained in them since time immemorial that finding gaps in the system is a much desired virtue.

It’ll be great if both parties could take a leaf (or two) out of each others’ books, and perhaps exchange some helpful pointers. Then perhaps, this double edged jugaad sword will be worn down and made less painful for everyone.