My office in Gurgaon didn’t exactly provide the most ideal working conditions. The municipal power was completely unreliable, so we had a shipping container-sized generator running almost full-time in our driveway, spewing diesel fumes into our office when the wind was right. We had no microwave, no refrigerator, and nowhere appropriate to wash our dishes. Worst of all, the improperly-installed urinals emptied into the same drain-line used to drain the floor, essentially creating a stagnant open-air sewer that filled the office with the stench of urine. But we made do.

And this is the most important concept we learned during our time in India: jugaad. Making do.

The nearest English equivalent is “jury-rigging”, but that translation doesn’t do jugaad justice. My coworker Anurag translated it as “a duct-tape arrangement.” Artist Sanjeev Shankar describes it as “attaining any objective with the available resources at hand”. Jugaad is about improvising a solution. It’s about ingenuity in the face of adversity.

Backup power for our server room, jugaad style.

Many of our friends, when we asked them about it, said that the concept is best illustrated by a common rural sight that people actually refer to as “a jugaad“: a homemade vehicle made by cobbling together a wooden cart with the kind of diesel water pump farmers use for irrigation.

Picture 5
Picture by Flickr user Stuart-Cohen.

Fitted with makeshift steering and braking mechanisms, these jugaad vehicles are used for everything: for transporting people from one village to another, with dozens of riders crammed together tighter than the bundles of sugarcane they are also used to transport; for trips to regional markets; and for transporting the pump itself. Farmers share or rent these pumps, and this arrangement lets the pump actually transport itself to wherever it’s needed next.

Picture 6
Picture by Flickr user lakshman_M.

No two jugaad vehicles are the same, because each one is an improvised solution using unlikely parts. These vehicles are the purest representation of this spirit of ingenuity, and everyone we spoke to swelled with pride at India’s capacity for jugaad. “We are like that only,” my boss Murali would tell me when describing solutions to situations that would send most goras scurrying for the nearest five-star hotel.

The variety of solutions to seemingly intractable problems we saw supported this patriotic esteem: motorcycles chopped in half and welded to carts to create centaur goods haulers. The way families would fit mother, father, and three kids onto a single scooter. The clever repurposing of used water bottles as cooking oil containers. Rope spun from discarded foil packets. Cricket wickets made from precariously balanced stacks of rocks. And, as Anurag sardonically pointed out in a political statement I don’t understand but assume to be insightfully hilarious, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government: a duct-taped coalition of thirteen political parties.

As one blogger put it when describing those diesel water pump trucks, “these vehicles reflect the true spirit of innovation in rural India.”

But we think the spirit of jugaad is actually broader than clever mechanics.

Jugaad is the philosophical outlook necessary to make it work, regardless of what “it” is. It’s about solving problems with what you have, not with what you wish you had. For the office workers who would wait on Delhi corners for rides to Gurgaon in private cars driven by drivers looking to make a few bucks, jugaad is obviously the human Tetris that fits ten people into a car built for five for a shared commute to Gurgaon; but it’s also the stoic patience that’s essential for total strangers to sit on each others’ laps and breath in each others’ sweat for a ninety-minute sauna down MG Road. Jugaad is the ability of families to endure thirty-two hours on the train from Mumbai to Amritsar, when the three-hour stretch Jenny and I rode it from Bharatpur to Delhi left us exhausted and claustrophobic. It’s the hope for the future that lets a woman and her son spend two days waiting on a median for someone to pick them up.

Jugaad is how everyone gets by.

Jenny and I come from a tool-addicted culture. Before we came to Delhi, we couldn’t function without a certain baseline of modern conveniences: we needed adequate light, temperate air, comfortable chairs, and personal space; and if we lacked any of those, we’d be unable to do our jobs.

But the jugaad philosophy suggests a different approach: modern tools and technology are appreciated when they’re there, but they are not cardinal requirements for existence. Technology is a comfort, but not a necessity, and a lack of technology doesn’t change the fact that the job’s got to get done. Under the jugaad philosophy, only we Americans whine that the air conditioning has gone out; everyone else rejoices in the good fortune of having had air conditioning at all, and gets their work done anyway.

Picture 4
Picture by Flickr user Primus D’Mello.

75 responses to “jugaad

  1. I liked the way you stated that Jenny and you adapted yourselves to the environment here and the ‘work-culture’. Jugaad sometimes is good but many times (like in jugaad governments) can prove worse.

    Do catch the movie Outsourced, you guys will relate to many scenes I guess.

  2. My parents visited me in the US about a month back and I was amazed at how eco-friendly and recyclable some of their ideas were. Instead of shelf liners, my mom just grabbed newspaper we were going to throw away and used that. She saved all our throw-away yogurt & coffee containers and used that to store lentils, rice etc..This is how life runs in India — re-use..:) And I think its one of the greenest ways there is.

  3. Great post! I’m a big fan of your blog.

  4. Jenny and Dave, I’m so glad you brought out jugaad. I am actually writing on jugaad for one of my college essays. It is impossible to overstate its role in India. Its important to consider both its role in making society productive as people are unimaginably able to cope, and its role in decreasing productivity. People do not fix things when they break down and are unlikely to buy new supplies and technologies, impeding the growth of consumer demand necessary to raise living standards.

    We have a joke about jugaad, also with ABV’s gov’t.

    Vajpayee travels to the US and meets then Pres. Bill Clinton. They discuss bilateral trade and intergovernment cooperation. Clinton bends in close and looks Vajpayee in the eye.
    Clinton: Atal, we need one thing and one thing from India. We need your jugaad technology.
    Vajpayee: Dear Bill, take anything from us, anything at all, but jugaad technology is the one thing we cannot do without.

    When we visit India from the US, our household trash output more than doubles while the number of people in the house only increases 50%. Part of that is all the packing material for the things we brought to leave with our relatives, but undoubtedly, we Americans just don’t have that sense of need that mothers innovative uses for all the common materials.

  5. Pingback: The Edge of Grace » Jugaad: Ingenuity in the Face of Adversity

  6. While everyone else crows on about “jugaad”, i find it a pathetic situation, that being tax paying citizens instead of expecting things to just work ans work well, we are supposed to make “do”. IMHO Time to vote with our feet you fawning desis, at least that’s what the smarter lot of Indians have done. Then it would be easy to enjoy the luxuries of the west for the better part of our lives and then comment on how entertaining/unique are the “make do” approach of other cultures who have no other option.

    • I don’t think anyone would want their government to be truly jugaad, but then you’d also not want your government to believe the opposite (that it could plan or account for everything, this would be totalitarian). It’s an interesting concept since it reveals a bit of what’s human, a bit flawed, a bit make do, even in the culture of entitlement that the West has become, where we just expect things and feel anger and confusion when we can’t have them (vaguely child like reaction). If there’s anything to take away from it, it’s to be jugaad as a citizen in the face of government, to actually become involved and use what’s there. There’s a passivity in expecting things to ‘just work’ by just ‘paying taxes’. This is an entirely recent idea that goes with being a consumer. In the past, things had to be renewed by struggle. There’s a latent democratic power in this concept that perhaps post-punk self empowerment only ever got close to in say, the UK.

  7. Sudeep has a point. You should see the movie Outsourced, if you havent yet. It’s a must watch for everyone I geuss.

  8. True justification given to “JUGAAD”

  9. ‘Jury-Rigging’ is a curious translation, since it’s probably not even in common usage, at least in England. Another version of this I’d heard is ‘gimcrack’, which is also negative in connotation. ‘Improvise’ or ‘extemporise’ might be better. Likewise the wartime know-how of ‘make do and mend’ – although this misses the importance of invention. Although less important now in everyday consumer society, Jugaad is prized in art. Richard Wentworth did a photographic project on everyday ‘jugaad’ called ‘making do and getting by’.

    I love it though. It’s empowering in the same way it’s empowering knowing how to repair things. These days so much of what we buy are these mysterious opaque boxes we are completely ignorant of. We just plug them in and only notice them when they stop working!

  10. Here’s are some photographs of Jugaad that runs on water pump engine. Took these early this year at a place near Muzaffarnagar (Uttar Pradesh, India).

    The version of ‘Jugaad’ joke that I heard during those days went something like this:

    Russian Middle Man: Are you sure the deal will come through?
    Indian Middle Man: No worry, Sir! It is done, 100%. We have Jugaad.
    Russian Middle Man: What about the inquiries being made into our previous defense deal?
    Indian Middle Man: Not a worry. We have Jugaad.
    Russian Middle Man: How did you manage to use our previous product at all? And for so many years!
    Indian Middle Man: With a little Jugaad.
    Russian Middle Man: Really! You guys should sell this Jugaad to us. Lots of money for you and we will throw in an old submarine into the deal. How about it?
    Indian Middle Man: Can’t do, Sorry! Right now Jugaad is busy running the government.

  11. In the UK there’s a middle-class, eco/reclaimed materials trend for design based on jugaad principles (www.jamesplumb.co.uk for instance). Imagine scenes like a family driving to Baileys in an enormous 4×4, to buy a table made with reclaimed wood on the grounds that it’s eco-friendly.

    Is there a social group of wealthy Indians who’ll pay top dollar for Jugaad furniture/engineering?

    I can almost see a wealth-redistributing business opportunity, cleaning up jugaad machines and selling them to the Western rich as high art design.

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  13. I translate Jugaad as the MacGyver solution; referring to the 90s show starring Richard Dean Anderson.

    He, my friends, was the king of Jugaad.


  14. It’s not always as nice as it seems to be…

    I wrote about it from a bit different perspective some time ago:

    (ps. sorry for double comment if the reason for previous one not appearing was waiting for acceptance)

  15. In the US this spirt is alive and well with the Earth Ship Houses designed first in Taos area of New Mexico.

    Using recycled materials, mostly, they are able to build a house that provides it’s own water, heat, cooling, etc.

  16. Pingback: Jugaad – The spirit of indian innovation – Designwala

  17. Indian folks seem to be among the most inventive people on Earth, and the concept of jugaad is just wonderful. I’m going to do my best to get the word to catch on in rural Pennsylvania where I live, and where many people (myself included) practice jugaad as best we can, as well!

    • There is/was an equivalent concept called Yankee ingenuity (Yankee refers to New Englanders in this case) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yankee_ingenuity

      There’s a very British term for this called bodging – as in bodging something together, or a bodged job. (not to be mixed up with botched)

      There is also kludge, which has its origins in early computer systems but finds broader applications now.

      • Thank you Tom – Just fyi – British were in India in 1800 – early 1900
        so may have taught a bit of their Yankee ingenuity – to the modern day jugaad-ists some of whom were in their army too …?
        See – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jugaad
        , http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=3041
        … In Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth, authors Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja present a new approach to innovation that is fueling growth in emerging markets as well as developed ones. In their book, they outline the six principles of jugaad, a Hindi word meaning “an improvised solution born from ingenuity”: Seek opportunity in adversity, do more with less, think and act flexibly, keep it simple …

  18. Pingback: Jugaad: India’s duct-tape ingenuity | Newsblog

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  21. I really like the connotation of Jugaad as “a way to work with the existing rather than just waiting for the resources”. I guess most of the time we leave opportunities in the hope that some better ones will knock our door. but we forget here that using Jugaad we can make the existing ones BETTER and may be the BEST.

  22. I really enjoyed your exposition on this philosophy and it really opened my mind to consider how I can make the most of what I already have.

  23. Jury Rigged is a nautical term for hoisting a sail on a boat when say the mast is broke. Using Oars and spars etc.

  24. it’s the Makers movement.

  25. Most detailed explanation of Jugad, i guess. Fantastic post !

  26. great post! Jugaad is certainly the only thing keeping India going…

    You might like to see this 🙂

  27. Pingback: Jugaad – A Uniquely Indian Life Concept Worth Saluting « Celebrating India. In All Its Colors.

  28. I re-located a year back after 12+ years in the US. Every time I go to look how my house construction is coming along I see different Jugaad!
    The crank shaft of the vibrator, to make the concrete pack properly without gaps/holes, is broken. How to fix it you ask – new crank, weld etc. Nope. A rope with a knot at the end is stuck in the notch & is swung around a couple of times around the shaft and then you pull. Voila the vibrator starts doing its job.
    Need to take some material up to to second floor – the emptied cement bags are used, a plywood piece on two bamboo sticks on either end, with rope in between the bamboo sticks so that it wont slip out gets your swing. I love it.

  29. hello,

    while surfing on tweeter found your blog. thank you for providing a lot of interesting posts to someone who toys with the idea of going back to delhi after a lifetime spent in dusseldorf, germany.

    feel free to watch some of my animation work.

  30. awesome post…I guess is the ingenuity of the local farmer who knows how to use the tractor for farming as well as a vehicle for transport!!!

    juggad is innovation at it’s rudimentary best.

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  32. Pingback: .:: TechtTrotter – Innovation Happens Everywhere ::. – How to think like an Indian

  33. I really found great interest in your blog about India. I learned a lot of new things about the people there and found it very informative.

  34. Pingback: The Universal, Entrepreneurial Concept of “Jugaad” « JCC.COM

  35. Stumbled upon your blog and was truly fascinated by this post. It was nice seeing you describe ‘jugaad’, a truly Indian concept which finds place in every walk of life here. Great post!

  36. Pingback: 5 jokes about Delhi I don’t understand « Our Delhi Struggle

  37. Pingback: five jokes about Delhi we don’t understand « Our Delhi Struggle

  38. You are going to see some scenes in the upcoming film “My Name Is Khan” in which SRK teaches the Americans how to survive using jugaad … wait and see!

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  40. I really enjoyed reading your post.
    Yes, the ‘Jugaad’ is a homemade vehicle which I saw in Dausa district of Rajasthan on my last flights to India.
    I took help of Southall Travel Ltd. to book my holiday package.
    Pix are very good.
    Thanks for sharing!

  41. Hi,

    Great blog! I “jugaa-d” in Delhi for 3 years and understand completely!

    More power to you! I love how you are meeting Delhi head on and “savoring” every minute of it!


  42. Pingback: Jugaad | Lizard in the House

  43. One aspect of Jugaad (pronounced: ju-gaa-rh) – its also used to signify that one has “contacts”.

    Eg: A got the job coz of his jugaad.

    where jugaad would mean not on merit but by reference of his dad’s friend/partner/colleague etc.

  44. I became familiar with ‘jugaad’ when I moved to North India last year. (will be moving away again, ofcourse).

    As cliché as it sounds, ‘jugaad; is a way of life here- in a good way and a bad way. Good, because you get things done, almost like creating something out of something else, when a direct solution is not available. Bad, because its a make-do nonetheless and more ‘jugaad’ is often needed to keep the earlier ‘jugaad’. 🙂 Playing with words.

    ‘jugaad’ could also be seen as an abused-variant of a bengali word ‘jogar’- which basically means arrangement. This is my view- a Bengali. But, may be they have different roots.


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  46. the blog is very interesting, i like the research, : Jugaad is a very inside word, even locals dont know the meaning at times, cause their life is a jugaad
    and when you tell em how actually things are supposed to be done, they laugh their guts out….
    If you make friends with locals in delhi, specially of different areas like south, north, east, west… you guys will find that they all have had a different life all together… and there are Jugaad’s of different kind everywhere

  47. What an amazing blog you guys maintain here.
    I love every post and every funny picture.

    P.S. In Israel, Jugaad = Kombeena


  48. Jury rigging, waiting for people to pick you up on the median, breathing in sweat etc…………. none of this is Jugaad.
    Jugaad is “survival”. It is getting by, on whatever is available. Improvisation, imagination, patience, a sense of humor, acceptance are all elements of Jugaad.
    The show Survival is full of Jugaad.

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  51. Beautifully written.
    Was looking for a topic for my college assignment.
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    Brilliance. 🙂

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