Jugaad Yatra: Exploring the Indian Art of Problem Solving by Dean Nelson
Published by: Aleph Book Company
Non Fiction, 175p
Rating: 3.50/5 stars
India’s Mangalyaan mission to Mars and the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car, are two of the country’s most celebrated achievements in recent times. They have something in common with the inverter which keeps the lights on during power cuts, the desert cooler which eases the searing summer heat, and the hybrid bikes, half Enfield Bullet motorbike, half bullock cart which slow traffic throughout Northern India. They share traits with inspiring village inventions, which offer cheap stoves, cool water, wind powered pumps, safer wells and even sanitary towels to those who can least afford them. And they also share characteristics with some of the worst aspects of life in urban India – unsafe vehicles, dangerous buildings, poor sanitation and shoddy standards of work and manufacturing. They are all examples of good and bad jugaad, the colloquial Hindi word for a frugal innovation, a quick fix, improvised solution with cheap materials readily to hand and ‘out of box’ solutions which bypass received wisdom, rules and regulations.
The concept of Jugaad divides many in India. Should the country embrace jugaad as the elixir of innovation or shun it as the celebration of the substandard? This book explores the special place jugaad has in Indian thinking and India.
*Thank you Aleph Book Co for this review copy!
In ‘Jugaad Yatra: Exploring the Indian Art of Problem Solving’, award winning investigative journalist and foreign correspondent Dean Nelson objectively looks at ‘jugaad’ and its interesting linkages to India mythological stories and the life experiences of the country’s top industrialists. The author starts by doffing his head to India’s Mangalayaan mission, a successful one at that, made possible with less than the production cost of the space thriller Gravity! But if the reader is expecting a paean to India’s Jugaad DNA, he/she cant get more wrong for the author lays bare the perils of going for short term life hacks and how it can possibly harm development and progress.
From life hacks that people across the country adopt to ‘make do’, to innovations that improve the lives of people in the rural landscape; the book has ample examples of Jugaad. There is also a telling observation: that it is only a few innovations that are good enough to be used for the benefit of people like the Jaipur feet, or find great success, like Su Kaam inverters.
While giving examples of jugaad from Indian mythological stories and from Mahabharata, the author makes a telling point that jugaad was necessitated in a new country that emerged after a traumatic partition into a world where it was to develop its foot hold in the development sector. The anecdotes shared by India’s top industrialists who started out by making the best of what they have in hand to the professional attitude taken by another industrialist adds a nice touch of balance.
Dean Nelson also cautions, “For those who want to see India competing with and leading the world, Jugaad is one of the reasons why it often fails short. They see India’s love of the quick fix in the weakness of its research and development and failure to build respected enduring systems.” He draws the innate Indian love for the quick fix that compromises on quality, thereby leading to corruption that leads to other fallouts.
I found the book an engrossing read with very its insights into the socio politics and cultural fabric of India. I would recommend it for readers who love to read non fiction. You can get a copy from Aleph Book Company