Jugaad, a Hindi and Punjabi word that we have both seen and heard here in India and one of the things I have learned to greatly admire about the culture. The closest word I can think of that we use is “jerry-rig”. It means to be innovative and work around the problem. It is often used when creating something out of very meagre resources. I must admit that it has taken me time to appreciate jugaad. At the beginning, I think I was more critical than appreciative and it has been one of the blessings of living here so long — I have grown to appreciate the people’s ability to “just make it work.” Jugaad can be seen as a survival tactic — like connecting those electrical wires like there is no reasoning behind any of it — but it can also be seen as innovation — making do with what you have.
Jugaad is seen daily as you travel in the city. It can be a guard’s plastic chair with a broken leg propped up on a bucket so it is still functional, to an auto rickshaw that has wires tying it together. I want to just share a few things that have taught me about jugaad and the incredible human spirit here in India.
Construction: NOTHING goes to waste when construction is happening. The rebar that was in the old building is taken out and carefully reused. We have a couple of different construction projects happening on our street right now and it is fascinating to watch all the jugaad occurring. Below is one picture taken out my window catching the assembling of bamboo poles to make the scaffolding for the side of the building. Notice the flip flops on the feet.
Non-profit Groups (NGOs): This is where I have seen the most innovative jugaad and have really been impressed by it. I have visited at least 20 different NGOs these past couple of years and I am continually impressed with how they “make do.” A few examples below:
Rag Pickers: The rag picking community in India ensures nothing goes to waste. I have walked through the homes of these rag pickers and let’s just say their entire structure is jugaad! This group of rag pickers each has an assignment — one is plastics, another paper, etc. As they dump out bags of trash, they sort accordingly. I believe my trash is gone through 3 or 4 times before it reaches the rag pickers. First, the maid will take whatever she wants. I have heard stories of some people seeing their maids take out potato peelings to supplement their food source. Second, the guards. I notice our milk jugs, etc. out by the guards dishes so I know they are using them for something useful. Third, the trash collector. He picks things up in his bicycle wagon and goes through it before he turns it over to the rag pickers.
The Market Place: Even in the market, jugaad is alive and well. At the fruit and vegetable stand I shop, they pack certain types of fruit like kiwis and mangoes into bags that have been folded and pasted out of paper that is meant for recycling. Tyler has had very interesting sandwich wrappers at times from all the jugaad.
AWA: The organization in which I have been involved, has an incredible woman named Charlotte who does a lot of magic to make jugaad happen for many NGOs. We have a thrift store that funds the projects we support for non-profits. Anything not worth selling there, goes to “Charlotte’s Web”, as it has been fondly named, and she sorts by NGO needs. Shredded paper goes to one NGO that makes bags out of it. Socks with no match go to another NGO that works with individuals with one leg. Eye covers that you get on the airplane so you can sleep better go to another NGO that sews them into coin purses and sells them for a few pennies. This incredible woman, my friend now, inspires me as she has lived here many years and is in her late 70s, still working to bring good to her part of the world.
I love the innovative spirit, the will to survive, and the creativity that can be seen.