For the past few years, we have been bombarded with articles about how the great Indian growth story has been due to 'jugaad' - this uniquely innovative ability to create something out of nothing.
Now that the Great Indian Economic Miracle has proven to be as mythical as the Obama "We Will Change" chants and as fragile as the Eurozone's one country-one currency illusion of a Euro, it is time to ask: Is jugaad dead?
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Alive and kicking
Well, the good news is that while India's economic miracle is dead, jugaad is alive and kicking.
It's all around us and it is thriving: we continue to excel at the ability to make do with what we have and, in fact, find innovative ways to make things out of what we don't have.
Being a grassroots movement, jugaad starts at the street level. The traffic light is red but the car or the motorcycle will bash on regardless blissfully unaware that a red light is an instruction to stop. We may be late for a meeting because we did not leave on time. Most people in other parts of the world will plan to leave on time so that they can arrive on time. But, hey, we have jugaad. We can create time. Rather than waiting for 3 minutes for the traffic light to turn green and usher us on our way, we decide to plough right through the red light. We just created a full three minutes out of nothing.
Well, there may be a cost to it in the form of an accident. And if there is an accident, we will deal with it in our very own jugaad way. Since the probability of getting a policeman to the spot to help us is zero (there are an estimated 200 active traffic policemen in all of Bombay), there is a jugaad solution. The person in the bigger private vehicle is perceived to be wrong and the person in the motorcycle is right. Money moves from the car owner to the motorcycle owner and we move on. Never mind the fact that the motorcycle driver may have been weaving from lane to lane at high speed (and no helmet) as the motorcycle driver may be creating his own jugaad solution to being late for an appointment. Or, if the car owner is actually in the wrong, his cash will be his jugaad and allow the world to move on and spin at his command.
The vertical jugaad
Jugaad is not limited to the horizontal world of cars. We see it in our vertical lifts every day. Thankfully, most buildings have a queue these days - or something that broadly resembles one. And the lifts have a sign which reads "Maximum capacity 6 people and 480 kgs". But the lift man wants to be accommodative and the people in the queue, ready to create their own jugaad of time travel, want to rush up in a hurry. So we pile in and maybe 9 of us make it before even the weary lift man puts his hand up to indicate "enough is enough". As a nation, we probably saved billions of watts of energy ensuring that the same lift has taken 50% more people than it was designed for. Just like the energy saved by all the Tata trucks with overloaded cargos, or the trains with passengers on the roof or leaning out to catch a breeze since the trains have no air conditioning.We are merely following the jugaad skills of our very famous and much-loved real estate developers.
Known for their skills to build less lifts than required in a building and their perfected art of ensuring we have fewer parking spots for our vehicles, the real estate developers have jugaaded their way to spinning money from dead land. With their ability to zone, re-zone, modify and change all the development rules with the help of their politician friends and partners, vast fortunes have been made in the real estate industry. To show their disdain for the basic principles of economic they have challenged the notion that demand and supply should set the price of any product. With an estimated 500,000 unsold residential units dotting the length and breadth of India Shining, one would have imagined that there would be a significant reduction in real estate prices to clear out this unsold inventory. But jugaad takes over. In an Indian rope trick that would make any bank in a free market shake their head in amazement, the real estate developers (and their political sponsors) somehow get the Indian government-owned banks to roll over their loans. With no bank asking for its capital, the real estate developer is in no hurry to cut prices to clear his excess stock. So we then create the mother of all jugaads: unsold homes in a country where people need homes and are willing to buy them - but not at the prices quoted by the real estate developers. That jugaad is a powerful one.
The politicians - masters of the arts and crafts of ancient India - wear their jugaad-creation abilities as naturally as they wear their puritanical khaki and angel-white smiles. Our Finance Minister is faced with a dilemma of walking 40 rounds of about 90 metres each and wanting to walk a little more - without going for the 41st round and unable to grab the land from the neighbours, a skill yet to be learnt from the real estate developers. This gave birth to yet another Indian jugaad - the lateral jugaad. The current Finance Minister may be moving into the Presidential Palace. An easy solution to get more walking space.
Meanwhile, when asked about why the Great Indian Economic Achievement is fading, there is this wonderful deflection: it is the Eurozone crisis and the state of the global economy. All our own sins of not planning, of sleeping on the job as planners and elected leaders, of creating an environment that is dependent on us getting a few crumbs from the plunder of national resources, is swept aside. Management consultants would call this the lateral jugaad: if you cannot take responsibility, deflect it the way Djokovic would and tuck it away or a winner.
But the prize for the greatest jugaadeers of all times - akin to the great climbers who have scaled Mount Everest - lies with the mutual fund industry. After having mis-sold products for years and transferred money from the savings pool of investors to their salary and bonus accounts, the leaders of the mutual fund houses continue to dazzle me with their jugaad. The lack of interest in mutual funds, they scream, is due to the fact that there is no opaque distribution system in place. Bring it back is their mantra each time they meet in the hallowed halls of SEBI. When, the fact of the matter is, that the mutual fund industry is losing investors because they realise that the mutual fund houses and distributors have effectively decimated their savings due to bad practices. But, hey, why let a few small details ruin the headlines that you can buy in the newspapers?
So, here we are: a nation of jugaad-wallahs, pretending that our chaos, our love for corruption and our worship of greed is all, somehow, and some magical jugaad. The next time a motorbike cuts through, remember that it is the skill of jugaad.
Or when your driver - or probably you - zips through a red light, it is jugaad.
Or when you are stuck in row number 11 in the aisle of a plane and cannot leave because educated people with CAs, and MBAs, and IIT degrees rush from rows behind you with their bags angled as spears and refuse to give you that split second of space to move out from your seat into the exit aisle, it is their jugaad.
And when department after department of a creative government asks you to identify yourself with a ration card, a driving license, a TIN or PAN, a UID, a Home Ministry effort, a SEBI effort, or a passport they are all just jugaadis blessed with the power of jugaad.
Maybe India has too much of jugaad, and maybe it is time to flush this jugaad down the newly built toilets of the Planning Commission and actually follow rules. Now that would be a good use of jugaad and civilisation: a stink less jugaad.
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