Jugaad. Often translated as innovation. A source of pride and symbol of India’s resilience. But this is putting a positive spin on it. Actually, even this spin is jugaad in practice.
Jugaad is innovation not to change the world, but innovation in order to survive. It is a manifestation of the ‘chalta hai‘ or ‘adjust karlo‘ attitude. The same attitude that doesn’t demand more, of ourselves or from our political ‘masters’. Because that’s too difficult. So we decide to accept less and call it a virtue. This makes us accept the waiting time in hospitals, banks, courts, or the delays at train stations. The lack of access to clean air, water or open spaces. The lack of support for those less fortunate.
We are at our most innovative in deluding ourselves. In believing in Ache Din. We take delight in this self-delusion, this willful ignorance. Because we can pretend it is actually bliss and declare ignorance in our and others’ plight.
We end up not living up to our potential, that is ugly enough for a nation as rich, diverse, and ancient as ours. The real ugliness is that we sense this disconnect, this farce, this lie behind our pride. So we add a thick layer of excessive pride and nationalistic jingoism on top, and we take out our frustrations on other fellow citizens, in ways big and small.
We feel pleasure in jumping red lights or cutting queues because this represents a tiny victory against a system that keeps us down. We think nothing of cheating others in business because we are just paying the injustice forward. Road rage, murders and riots are, of course, more violent forms of this frustration. We condemn these acts and individuals, although sadly, not always. Even this condemnation is self-serving. Because we are content to criticise and feel virtuous. But at the same time, we look for reasons to fight and divide ourselves because it provides us with a sense of identity. An identity we are forever seeking because the idea of India, while appealing, doesn’t seem to fit either our jugaadu pride or the reality of our lives. And so we look for saviours – a superman, or valiant knight to come save us from our woes, but even more importantly, to save us from our disconnect.
Jugaad is great. The ability to make do with what you have is a most useful skill to have. The kind of skill that cannot be taught. It is great if you are stranded on a deserted island, or if you need to MacGyver your way out of a crisis situation. But maybe it’s time for us to ask why we’re always in a crisis. Why are we always putting out fires? And why do we ascribe more value to the person who puts out the fire, even if it is them who started it, rather than the person who is trying to ensure that the fire never starts in the first place?
The person who truly innovates to create something is told their services are not required and they should just get back in line and wait like everyone else. We dissuade questioning, we dissuade innovation, we dissuade failure. Why? Why are we afraid to fail? Because we know, that for all our jugaad, we will not be allowed to rise if we fall. And so we keep muddling on. This is our India. The great country of innovators in the fields of medicine, mathematics, philosophy and statecraft reduced to a land of jugaad. Where ‘anything goes’ is a considered a strength. A rite of passage. But a passage to where? Where are we headed? I guess we’ll just figure it out when we get there. Because jugaad is our code and we’re proud of it.