Jugaad: India's duct-tape ingenuity

Dave sez, "I'm an American who blogs about life in New Delhi. I recently published an essay about 'jugaad': the semi-untranslatable practice and philosophy of jerry-rigging that is one of the prides of India. Once you look for jugaad in India, you see it everywhere: water pumps converted into cars, wrappers converted into rope, and so on. This essay also explores the broader implications of a culture that embraces jugaad. Jugaad is how so many people can survive with such stoic patience in conditions that would drive Americans like me crazy. "

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."

jugaad (Thanks, Dave!)

(Image: Jugaad in action, a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike photo from Chromatic Aberration's Flickr stream)


  1. I love looking at these pictures and trying to undertstand why things are the way they are.

    Look at the railroad rail going up from the water pump over the fence. Why is it there? It would be valuable, either as building material, or as scrap metal. Who owns it, and protects it from disappearing? Why? I’m wondering if someone has a cart that they can fill with water and then drag up the inclined plane of the rail…

    Also, look at the incredible simplicity of the design. Two ovals, hold four bike tires, making a cassis underneath to connect the tires, and supports for a table on top. The ovals probably have more front/back rigidity than a box frame the same size, and use less material too.

    Makes me want to go back to Congo, where you can see some of the same spirit.

  2. Jugaad: the art of surviving and making easier your hard life with whatever you find.

    It’s clear to me that for people used to live like kings in the Western world, to use trash in order to build a better world is “funny”, “odd” or just “curious”.

    It’s surviving.

    It’s to adapt what you find to your needs and to adapt your needs to whant you have.

    Beggars can not be choosers. That’s Jugaad: the art of surviving.

    It’s really sad to read a rich boy writing about poor people and how ‘smart’, ‘naive’ and ‘cute’ they are…

    Paris Hilton visiting the tent-cities in LA, California, could say something similar.

  3. “…and a lab full of ‘assistants’ whose inventions you can take credit for.”

    Thomas Edison’s assistant

  4. “Look at the railroad rail going up from the water pump over the fence.”

    Now imagine you were on the train that discovered that this rail had gone missing!

  5. The term is “jury rigging” and the original story uses it correctly. How about learning the difference between jury rigging and jerry built?

  6. Ingenuity is a wonderful thing, and every society should encourage it. With that said…

    This is only economically possible when labor is extremely cheap and retail goods are very expensive in relation to average income.

    In other words it depends on the resources available. Examples as shown in the article are economical if the sources of the materials and the labor is cheap or if new materials are unavailable due to supply or cost.


  7. This kind of ingenuity is everywhere in the developing world. Ward’s analysis is semi-accurate in that the high cost of “new” materials leads to this kind of innovation. However, “labor costs” is a fluid term that doesn’t apply neatly to situations where self employment is the only real option available. Maybe the labor exerted would be better likened to “start up capital”.
    As for in this country, we Chicano’s have a term for this kind of thing as well. It’s called Rasquachismo. Something made from parts of other things or reconfigured into something new, is called rasquache.
    nice article.

  8. we’ve always called it Mickey-Mousing, for some reason. I grew up in Mexico too, and noticed the similar approach when I visited in India- but basically, it’s just the most obvious common sense rule- “necessity is the mother of invention.” It’s just that Americans (for the most part) haven’t needed for decades, so this kind of living is newsworthy to them. Good article, sad context (the sadness being that we live in a culture that is clueless about being resourceful and ingenious.) I also grew up in New England, where the term “Yankee Ingenuity” is often thrown around, but there is nothing ingenious about New Englanders- that phrase hasn’t been applicable since, I would guess, the Depression.

    What bugs me the most is that people have come to associate “thrifty” with “Cheap”, so that if you do something that’s not super-wasteful, you’re automatically thought of as being too cheap to spend money, regardless of what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. That’s okay, as this society crumbles, people are going to have to re-learn what the rest of the world already knows…

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