Jugaad And The Death Of Craftmanship

Jugaad is probably one of India’s best gifts to the world. The word originally comes from a vehicle that is put together using the chassis of a tractor/bus/mini bus and an agriculture water pump as its engine. It’s a word that is used to describe a process of creative innovation when resources are limited. Like the saying goes – necessity is the mother of invention, a.k.a jugaad. The jugaad (vehicle) itself is a lifesaver in Indian villages where no short distance public transport exists.

There are countless other fascinating stories of creative innovation from small towns and villages in India. However I fear that the wave of creative and cheap innovation has brought forth a jugaad mindset.

By the jugaad mindset I mean how people in this country have found ways and means to cut corners, avoid steps, quicken the process, pocket the money and eventually lower the quality of the final product. Jugaad stems from being frugal, creative and innovative. It teaches us how to stretch and best use our resources. It shows us how to achieve more with less. But when you always think on those lines, you begin wondering what can be avoided that isn’t entirely necessary, whether it is to save on costs or quicken the process. In my opinion, that leads to people to do a shoddy job or build a product that isn’t built to last. This mindset, in my opinion, has become pervasive and all too acceptable. No longer does something have to be perfect, it has to just be “good enough”.

It irks me when I see poorly built roads, flyovers, buildings and even our cities. I would like to believe that I’m a perfectionist and that’s perhaps why this bothers me so much. But honestly, I’d be ok with roads that weren’t perfect but were built to last for years, or cities that were planned in advance and not improvised on the fly.

My favourite example these days are the elevators in my building which underwent renovation in February. The workmanship is worse than poor, there are no finishing touches, one of the elevators broke down a month after the renovation (and trapped residents in it for 4 hours) and the other day, the button panel fell off when I pressed the call button. Shoddy doesn’t even begin to describe it! And what’s worse is that people don’t really care about all this. They are all too indifferent to get the company back to do a better job or withhold a part of their payment.

So how and why has this jugaad mindset crawled into people? Why are people satisfied with “chalega na?” (it will work right?) and not demanding perfection? I pondered over it for a while and here’s what I came up with.

1. Can’t Keep Up With A Booming And Fast Growing Economy

Now technically this shouldn’t be a reason why jugaad is so common in India. We are a developing economy and we should be building an economy (read infrastructure) that is built to last. But what has happened is that in order to keep up with the pace of growth, we started cutting too many corners.

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I’m a big fan of the Delhi Metro and I think it has proven to be more than a lifeline to the people of this city. But sadly to me it looks like it was built ages ago, with cheap material and by someone who was more concerned about just getting the job done rather than building something to be admired. Now don’t get me wrong, its function is purely utilitarian and yes it was needed as of 10 years ago, but every time I look at it or ride the train, I can’t help but think how long will it take before one of the ugly, scrawny grey pillars crumbles?! Morbid thoughts? I hope you know that in order to meet deadlines many safety procedures were skipped. Jaldi karo is pretty much jugaad in my books.

DLF Rapid Metro
DLF is building its Rapid Metro, a circular track connecting its malls and office complexes in Cyber City. As a choice of the roof of the metro stations, it looks like they have chosen some sort of soft canvas top. I guess it’s cheap and faster to lay on the roof. Here is a picture of one of the stations after a storm, the canvas was blown off from a part of the structure.

2. Price Consciousness

Have you heard of the Big Mac Index? If you haven’t let me tell you what it is – the basic idea is to compare the purchasing power parity (PPP) of different countries based on the price of a Big Mac in the country. The index is published by The Economist and can be found here. Right, so you saw India is the cheapest country in the world. Surprise, surprise!

Even if I didn’t look at that index, I could tell you that we are a country of cheap bastards! We want it ALL and we want it CHEAP! We are so spoiled by our government paying the difference for every essential commodity in our lives, we expect everything to stay at the same price levels as 1920 (funnily McDonald’s ran an ad campaign based on this idea). Why buy Diesel jeans in a Diesel store when you can pick up a pair of export rejects in Sarojini Nagar for 1/10,000,000,000 the price? Please don’t regret me for asking this question!

We love showing off their latest gadgets, acquisitions and what have you! But you know what we love showing off even more than that is how cheap we got it for or how my discount was bigger than your discount! We will haggle till we die! We will use our black money to buy a Gucci bag at DLF Emporio because we’re too cheap to tell the government how much money we have so that we don’t pay taxes!

For the vast majority of Indians, who are so price conscious (or price sensitive), do you really expect quality in your product when you are not willing to pay for a quality product? So if we don’t demand quality, why should suppliers supply quality? Economics right?

If you think I’m being too serious, here’s someone who agrees with me and is funny.

I think DLF fits into both points 1 and 2 here. I remember the first building I worked in was DLF’s Corporate Park, the first office complex constructed by the real estate company. It was small but well built. Basements were clean and finished, lifts were big and worked, the walls, stairs and floor were well finished. We shifted from Corporate Park to Building No. 10 (when you can’t be bothered to name your buildings, you’re definitely not bothered about the quality of work that goes into them DLF) which was the exact opposite in terms of quality. There was no finishing, the workmanship was terrible and shoddy. Whereas Corporate Park was barely 6 floors, all its windows were doubled paned and insulated glazed (I think that’s the term for thick, solid feeling glass which probably will never break!), and the ones in Building 10 were cheaper than the ones vases are made of. The windows were quite literally 8 feet by 4 feet and whenever the wind blew, or I touched them, they would shudder. Very scary if you’re up on the 20th floor.

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3. Jugaad Lowers Expectations And Creates An Attitude Of Indifferent Acceptance

So here’s what I think: Conditioning. That’s right. India is primarily an agrarian economy (in terms of 50% of the population working in the primary sector) which is still heavily dependent on the great Indian monsoon. Ah…the monsoons, the true test of our “modern” cities. Every year it’s the same story: Mumbai goes underwater and Delhi’s roads dissolve as if they were made of cardboard and chalk and glued together with sugar.

Every year this happens and every year we accept it as a part of life. The vast majority of people have been conditioned into believing that this is what the best they’ll get or roads are meant to dissolve when someone splashes water on them.

Extrapolate this to everything else around you and I believe that people have been conditioned to expect shoddy and inferior quality products. It’s a cycle, pretty much.

4. Corruption

If jugaad has taught us one thing, it’s that with a bit of creativity (financial creativity), you can build the same road/bridge/building/satellite for 50% the allocated cost. So when you really think about it, jugaad is a facilitator of corrupt practices. And if you really think about it, the word jugaad is so often used while bribing a cop, “bhaiya, jugaad kara do!“. The shame!

I could be mistaken in drawing a cause and effect relationship here, but I think I’m onto something. That both the creator and the receiver are satisfied with a cheap, inferior quality product that really isn’t built to last.

You quote what perhaps is the acceptable market rate for constructing a project, use part of the budget to pay off corrupt politicians, and use what remains of the budget to finish the project by cutting corners.

Now of course, like everything on my blog, these are my thoughts and beliefs from what I’ve been observing over the years. And I really do believe that we cannot build a sustainable economy or country on this mindset. Jugaad is a lifesaver for those with limited resources and a sense of daring creativity. Of course, it can teach us to be frugal and efficient. But when it becomes a way of life, I find it hard to accept.

Devesh Sahai

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