A tale of Jugaad

There are some words which carry within them entire cultures and centuries of thinking. Translating them to another language does not achieve much. It fails to convey the purport, the essence around the word. To truly do that, one would have to relate a story.

The word that prefaces this story is ‘Jugaad’ – the act of creatively solving a problem, of devising a ‘hack’. It is the act of sticking a piece of paper into a battery box to push the spring and get the toy to work. It is the act of adding a keychain at the end of a broken zipper clip that lets the jacket still function seamlessly. It is the creative shenanigans at a certain coffee shop on the sixth floor of the hospital where my father is recovering from a surgery.

The coffee shop is small and ensconced in a corner of a relatively empty floor. The attendant comes in the morning, wearing a bright orange shirt and a cheerful ready-to-serve attitude. His hair is neatly coiffured with coconut oil and his mustache is impeccably trimmed. His station with the white countertop is tidy and organized. On the right end, sweet limes lay stacked in a big steel bowl next to the juice maker. A commercial oven with fried samosas and baked puffs wave a tempting hello at hungry and tired visitors and doctors. And on the left end of the counter stands the star of the show, a massive coffee machine.

The machine is fed with no ordinary coffee powder. In it goes only the best coffee beans from the high-end coffee retailer taking the country by storm. The attendant takes order after order. He relentlessly measures coffee beans into the machine. The machine whirrs and powders the beans into fragrant brown powder. Then he froths the milk and mixes it with the fresh coffee powder. He triumphantly pours the creamy coffee into paper cups. But his service does not end there. There are no fancy lids and cup holders to serve. So he carefully wraps each coffee cup with a meticulously cut square piece of silver foil. Then from the cartons that deliver his supplies, he fashions a tray. He cuts a rectangular piece of cardboard and places the cups neatly on it. “Hold at the bottom”, he instructs me as he expertly opens his sandwich maker to make my next order, a vegetarian sandwich. The sandwich is laden with thinly sliced cucumber, red tomatoes, green peppers, cheese, and chutney. He smothers the two slices of bread with butter and places it on the hot grill. But the grill is loose and he would have to stand there pressing the handle down to make a good sandwich. So he pulls out a foot long, three-pound heavy green squash and places it nonchalantly on the sandwich maker. The squash does its duty and holds down the handle. The vegetables cook and the soft bread gets those delicious grill marks.
I pay him the money in admiration and walk away with this machiavellian trio product of jugaads. My cardboard tray, silver-foil covered coffees, and squash assisted vegetarian sandwich. The next customer steps in and the coffee machine whirrs merrily in the background.

Comments (2)

  1. Reply

    Loved your play with words while describing what was actually another day in the office. You made it sound magical. 🙂

    I think it’s an oriental/Asian trait being Jugaadu. The Chinese and Arabs do it all the time. It’s okay to be Jugaadu when you are genuinely falling short of resources. Trouble is when it’s used as an excuse for lack of good service.


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