The Great Indian Jugaad: how to survive and succeed in India

A fun, insightful look at this essential Indian gene by filmmaker Anandana Kapur

Have you seen trousers used as an AC duct? A tractor used as a generator? A hand pump used as a vehicle? A pressure cooker turned into a coffee maker? A bike helmet used as an onion guard? A scooter engine turned into a mobile vegetable cart?

Welcome to the world of Indian jugaad.

If you are Indian, you probably understand jugaad instinctively. But Anandana Kapur's film The Great Indian Jugaad captures its spirit and range brilliantly. (See video)

"The word is so versatile. It evokes instant understanding across the country. It is a unique 'Indianism'. That's what made me want to explore it," says Kapur.

Management guides have a fancy name for jugaad: they call it Indovation. "The process by which innovations are developed in India to serve a large number of people affordably and sustainably in response to conditions of scarcity and diversity."

But cut the jargon, and most simply, jugaad is the will to survive, against all odds, by any means possible.

As Kapur's film points out, look no further than the ancient texts: In the Ramayana, Hanuman transforms himself into a mosquito so he can infiltrate Lanka.

In the Mahabharata, Krishna has Bheem kill an elephant named Ashwathama in order to trick Dronacharya into laying down arms.

And Chanakya's 'saam, daam, dand, bhed' (roughly: persuade, purchase, punish, divide) is basically sage-speak for 'by any means necessary'.

Management circles have a fancy name for jugaad: they call it Indovation. Most simply, it's the will to survive

Kapur pulls in a wide range of voices on this: rural, urban, educated, semi-educated, all sorts. Expectedly, jugaad means different things to different people.

"Jugaad is more corruption," says one young man. "No, it's more innovation," his friend disagrees.

It's certainly polarising.

Philip McClellan put it best in a piece for The New York Times: "For some, jugaad represents the best of India - the ability of an enterprising people to make do with less. For others, it represents shoddy products and shady practices for which the country has long been known, and a fatalistic acceptance of that reality."

As Kapur days, "Writers have either intellectualised the jugaad phenomenon or politicised it, but neither presents the complete truth. I found there are many jugaads: one is for the privileged city-slicker who uses it to bend laws or work around his problems; and the other, more importantly, for the less privileged, where jugaad is the means to their survival."

Either way, it's an insight into the essential Indian phenomena one shouldn't miss.

The Great Indian Jugaad was financed and produced by Kapur herself and won Best Documentary of the Year at Stuttgart's Bollywood and Beyond Film Festival in 2010. Interestingly, it was made on a shoestring budget - which makes it a kind of jugaad itself.

You can also feast on some more absolutely delightful jugaad here.

Catch Team

Catch Team @catchnews