There’s a colloquial term in Hindustani called Jugaad जुगाड़. Essentially, this means a “hack.” A clever & frugal innovation born of an environment in which nothing is certain and resources are scarce. Jugaad is the way that the snack-boy on the train meticulously stitches up a crack in his bin with scraps of tough plastic. There is Jugaad in the ancient Royal Enfield motorcycles which roar up and down the village roads, attentively maintained by Indians with no training in mechanics but a deep will to make stuff work. I even see Jugaad in the traffic, the organized chaos in which one can make no errors because there is no right of way; a chaos that necessitates understanding and care in how you drive.
When things are old and rigged up, you have to be humble, patient, and adaptable. When your bus has been stopped for over an hour while the driver searches the tire yard for a suitable tire among the mounds of old junk, you’ve gotta release your sense of self-importance & urgency and simply wait. Or even better- go help find a goddamn tire that has at least some tread on it because your life is on the line too.
Jugaad infuses every part of the infrastructure in India, and flowing from the infrastructure it infuses the consciousness of the people.
I began to think of this Jugaad consciousness as a sort of catch-all philosophy on how to approach the barrage of the “unexpected” that it is being in India. Call it Jugaad-Firangi जुगाड़-फ़िरंगी, for an American trying to learn the way to operate in India.
As an American, the humility required for Jugaad-Firangi consciousness does not come easy- especially coming from a big American city like Chicago. In urban America, many are in the midst of a series of tasks which must follow sequentially with minimal delay. The final goal of such doggedness is the satisfaction of being able to slump in front of the TV at the end of the day with some tasty dinner and have every item on that damn To-Do List crossed off such that the beasts of guilt and insecurity will sleep soundly for a few hours.
In India, of course, people work mind-bogglingly hard- its just that their expectations are different.
Jugaad-Firangi, among other things, is the conscious act of having no expectations of how things are going to go- and thus no anger or distress when the schedule goes to shit. When this state of mind is adopted it frees oneself in unexpected ways, and it’s visible in the whole shape of a community.
You can see this in the way that people stop what they’re doing to help each other or simply have a conversation. Or even past that, to stand idly with each other long after the conversation has run its course. One thing that jarred me in India is how people would just stand next to me. Nothing to talk about, nothing to accomplish… if you need something I’m standing here, otherwise we’re just chilling. If you need help, let me know. Don’t worry about some silly thing like the “rules,” I’ll help you if I can.
Jugaad-Firangi is my tool for addressing uncertainty in a chill way on this crazy subcontinent. And there’s all sorts of uncertainties from the mild, to the hilarious, to the deeply sad.
“Will I have power this evening?”
“Will this tuk-tuk manage to navigate through the herd of apathetic cows blocking the main road?”
“Will this woman sell enough tea today to feed that 7 year old kid in the back of her shop?”
While I was on the plane to New Delhi, in the midst of placing a ocean or two between myself and the only people who love me, I met a Sikh man. He was traveling home to Amritsar, India after years being away. He had come to Vancouver in his twenties and worked for a long time as a gas station attendant until he saved the money to purchase a gas station franchise. Among other things I asked him what was the worst mistake a foreigner could make in India. His response:
“To become angry.”