Jugaad: The Fuel for Indian Innovation

Kavikant K. LalUniversity of California, Santa Cruz

Jugaad is a simple fix or a workaround to a problem using everyday objects; think of it as a MacGyver solution. A coworker at Tata Chemicals introduced me to this term during an afternoon conversation over chai. If you do a quick Google image search of “Jugaad” you can find a plethora of examples of pure Indian ingenuity. Need to fix your cracked car bumper? Stitch it together with fishing line. Need to boil some water, but don’t have a cooking stove handy? Place a pot over a hot electric iron and make yourself a cup of chai. These solutions are developed out of necessity; jugaad fixes come out of a lack the resources and money, but utilize widely available materials. I experienced jugaad innovation first-hand on a train ride from Haldia to Kolkata. The three hour train journey was jam packed with people traveling from rural areas to the big city and the route crossed through the beautifully green West Bengal countryside. The inside of the train car is pretty bare with rows of plastic benched seats that face each other, windows with horizontal iron security bars, and two open doors at the middle of the car provide for the only entrance and exit from the train. The train stretches twenty or more cars long and each is completely enclosed from the other. At each stop, vendors hop off one car and board another to sell items ranging from tea to fresh Indian food. One man hopped on the train with a large tin container strapped to his back selling jhal muri (an Indian snack made from puffed rice with toppings such as cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, and chilies). He was literally carrying his entire business on his back. The tin container held at least several pounds of puffed rice and cups full of toppings were neatly duct taped to the outside. So how does he serve his delicious snack to paying customers while ensuring his whole operation is as portable as possible? Each order of jhal muri is promptly served in an ingeniously folded newspaper bag. Another vendor served up hot dhal and puri in disposable banana leaf bowls. Perhaps the world can learn from India’s juagaad innovations and possibly reduce waste by repurposing everyday items for new uses. India has opened my eyes to rethink problems with new solutions and utilize everything around me.