Five in the morning. Driving to Bangalore airport with colleagues. No traffic jam at this time, but the car is moving very slowly. I was sleepy and barely had my eyes open. Suddenly, I blinked. Was I dreaming or was what I saw real?
An auto-rickshaw in front of us was carrying a 40-feet long pipe that was sticking out horizontally from both sides. He covered the whole road; no vehicle could overtake him from either side, nor could he speed with the heavy, unwieldy pipe.
Images of William Wyler’s 1959 blockbuster Ben-Hur entered my mind’s eye. In that most spectacular chariot race ever put on film, Prince Judah Ben-Hur’s devil-like friend Messala was using a saw on his chariot wheel, while his four horses charged at high speed; colliding time and again while trying to overturn Judah’s chariot. Now here was this auto-rickshaw, its destructive pipe weapon horizontally cutting the entire airspace. We were tailing it for over 30 minutes, trying to somehow cross it, when unexpectedly the auto-rickshaw took a sharp turn to the right. Just imagine how it swerved! Two troubled-looking men in the backseat were hugging the colossal pipe for dear life.
Delayed at the airport. A kind customer services manager rushed me through a special security gate at Bangalore airport’s newly-opened wing which looks dreamy with its soothing lights and decoration. The stylish shops reminded me of the ground floor shopping area of New York’s Trump Tower. Drops of liquid suddenly fell on me while waiting in a queue, startling me. As I ducked, I noticed a few buckets capturing driblets from the ceiling. It was not raining that day, so what was this unpredictable contamination in this high-tech airport barely a month old?
On another occasion, I went to use the toilet after landing at Delhi airport. As I was habitually sitting and checking my mail on my mobile phone, water suddenly gushed into my cubicle, and the bottom half of my trousers became wet. Here I was, about to go for a project review meeting with the board of directors of an American client of mine in the sophisticated Oberoi Hotel in Gurgaon. Fortunately, my dark trousers hid the wetness. I yelled at the neighbouring toilet occupant to control the health faucet water jet. He too rushed out apologising; then showed me his helplessness as the defective water jet was still overflowing. He said he obviously couldn’t have known this before he used it. We set out to look for the gentleman cleaner. We found him outside.
He was clueless; he requested us to complain to the management so that the defect would get rectified. In yet another Delhi airport toilet experience opposite Starbucks, I was holding my nose while entering a particularly smelly cubicle. Suddenly, I saw vapour clouds descending from the top and beautiful jasmine fragrance wafted in. I couldn’t understand how Nature became so magical, entering my cubicle to reverse the odour. When I came out it was the gentleman cleaner spraying air freshener. Undoubtedly his work was welcome, but it only temporarily covered the stick. By the way, Airports Council International has named this the world’s second best airport after Seoul’s Incheon airport in South Korea. I wonder if the judges ever used the toilets here.
In semi-rural areas, I’ve seen motorised, hand-made three-wheeler transport contraptions — carts with a wooden platform open on all sides. Male passengers dangle their legs from three sides, women and children sit on their haunches in the centre. Such unofficial transport with no licence to ply can certainly fulfill the purpose of being speedier than a bullock cart. But just imagine the risk to passengers when overloaded trucks jostle alongside for road space.
The just-fix-it approach is known as jugaad. It’s endangering — a temporary patch to a problem, a solution with no predictability, no process, no discipline. The auto-rickshaw driver transporting the 40-ft pipe will earn money because he can use his vehicle like a cart without doors. The point here is that the manufacturer is least bothered that the auto-rickshaw is only a jugaad delivery. It can jeopardise everyone’s safety on the road. The owner of the unscientifically motorised rural cart also ingeniously found this livelihood and gives passengers the option of cheap transportation. We cannot fault the economically underprivileged as jugaad becomes their fundamental need. But we can certainly charge those in authority for dereliction in providing the poor with opportunities to earn. Also, improper construction supervision resulted in a dripping airport ceiling, while pitiable toilet maintenance made the cleaner powerless. Both are examples of the “chalta hai (will do)” attitude of jugaad.
To prove they are on a par with reputed global players -— which is not the case — India’s industrialists have donated millions of dollars to their US alma maters. When there’s dire need, why not intelligently invent to meet India’s requirement of low cost, world-class, advanced livelihood machinery? If Indians don’t spend for our country’s needs, who will? For example, designing an affordable rural passenger vehicle will demolish hazardous jugaad. When the industry addresses this jugaad phenomenon by setting examples, common people will automatically abandon their perilous jugaad mentality. This is the only way industrialisation can be based on the requirement of the country’s.
Most bottom level service people or workers in India earn Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000 per month. They cannot change their jugaad mindset, which often earns them quick, extra money. The privileged class has the responsibility of changing the precarious jugaad lifestyle of poor people. McDonald’s and KFC are showing anti-jugaad ways by introducing processed housekeeping standards. Even at Bangalore’s crowded, cluttered, hygienically imperfect Majestic bus stand, these foreign outlets are clean, disciplined and non-jugaad; a place where you can enjoy a low-cost, but quality dinner.
I don’t see any political manifesto say, “Jugad hatao, aam admi ki jivika garima se badhao (don’t just-fix-it, uplift the common man’s livelihood with dignity)”. Implementing such a goal will change our country’s face in the global field.
Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at shiningconsulting.com