Commonwealth Games and Indian jugaad

The inherent problem with the international media coverage of Commonwealth Games so far is not just that they’re out to pick out the negatives but the fact that they don’t understand the power of Indian jugaad. Jugaad is pretty much how India gets things done. It refers to ingenuity, inventiveness, improvised solutions. It is when you add two spoons of turmeric powder if your radiator has sprung a small leak. It is when you’ve locked your keys inside your car and use a simple ruler to get it back. Jugaad makes India tick and it is at its most potent at the last minute.

Now to the rest of the world, it may seem that jugaad is synonymous with ‘haphazard’ but they don’t understand that many centuries of past practice has taken Indian jugaad to the highest echelons of professionalism. It is the same jugaad that has led us to a car that costs $2000 only. We know what our strengths are, we know what our weaknesses are. And we do our best to use our strengths to overcome our weaknesses. If our strengths are a large workforce that speaks English and a schooling system that drills Math into us, we jugaad up call centres and computing offices to become the back-office for the world!

Yes, jugaad does mean taking shortcuts but since when was that a bad thing? If you knew of a short cut that took you to the cinemas half an hour faster, wouldn’t you take it? If you knew you could start an assignment 2 hours before the deadline and get an A+, would you start 5 days earlier? For those who don’t understand it, jugaad means a compromise on quality. It means cutting corners but it isn’t that. Since you haven’t done it, you haven’t tried it, you don’t really know but we jugaad really, really well. There are problems sometimes but they’re definitely not the rule. Most of the times, we manage pretty damn well.

A side-effect of jugaad is a willingness to wait till the last minute. It’s inbuilt into the Indian psyche now. Nothing gets done till it’s absolutely supposed to be done. The last line of code is never checked in before Sunday evening. In multicultural teams, it drives our non-Indian colleagues crazy. There’s so much left, how will you ever get this done by the deadline!!! But we know we’ll wrap it up, we know it will be of good quality, we know because we’ve done it many times before.

Now, apply all of the above to the Commonwealth Games and maybe some of the misunderstandings can be overcome. The fault lies with Indian authorities as well, we should realize that when we’re opening our country to welcome the world, everything can’t be last minute. It’s an attitude that needs to change, it’s a way of working that needs to change. Jugaad is great but for the sake of the blood pressure of our foreign friends, maybe we need a little less of it.

But, really, I’ve been sitting here in the UK watching British tabloids paste photos of filth in the CWG village with a very condescending, holier-than-thou tone. It almost seemed like we were back in the era of Lagaan – these Indian darkies are used to dirt and filth and want us to live the way they live. I’m sorry to break it to you but those pictures you paraded were really, really bad by Indian standards as well. What I’d also like to tell you is something every official has echoed again and again, those rooms where the pictures were taken were obviously not meant to be occupied like that. The rooms where your early-arriving players were going to reside in were ready. The other rooms would have been ready by the time the rest of your players arrived. Yes, it’s last minute and yes, we now know that you don’t like that. But trust us, we’ll get it done in time. Your players will get the respect they deserve, we won’t make them stay in university dorms like happened in the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. And no, the fact that you’re shouting at the top of your lungs hasn’t changed our attitude in any way. We always work at a frantic pace at the last minute. It’s jugaad, remember?!

And yes, a week later, things are ready. A BBC reporter states at around 1:05 in the video below: “Athletes have been arriving all day today and everyone we’ve spoken to has been very positive about both the food and the accommodation. And those who’ve compared it to previous Commonwealth Games, well, they say this is the best.”

Of course, with not much negative news coming in, the press has decided to lie low for a while. In the 11th (yeah, that’s right! 11th!) paragraph of this article, the author says – “The England athletes I spoke to up at the village all said they felt it was well up to the mark. Mick Gault made me laugh. The veteran shooter said he had heard all the media reports before coming to Delhi, adding of the set-up: ‘This one is one of the best I’ve seen. Before we came out there was all the bad press. We were all going ‘oh my God – dengue fever, mossies and we’re gonna die’ but it’s brilliant, it’s really nice.’ He is a man who is at his fifth Games, so his view has to be respected.” If it was a negative comment, it would probably have made the headline on its own but one can’t complain that the media is more interested in commenting on how the US Ryder Cup teams waterproof clothing isn’t waterproof enough!

The games begins tomorrow. Everyone concerned seems to be satisfied now. Let’s watch some great sports together!

PS: The biggest problem with jugaad probably is that because everything becomes fine by the deadline, those people who screwed up earlier escape their day of reckoning in a barrage of “all’s well that ends well.” No, Kalmadi, I haven’t forgotten. The games will be over in two weeks and then we’ll talk about you.

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10 thoughts on “Commonwealth Games and Indian jugaad”

  1. It is when you’ve locked your keys inside your car and use a simple ruler to get it back.

    Tell that to the people who traveled to your marriage!

  2. Media was biased, the western media perhaps more so. We did not help matters with someone in administration making idiotic comments on different hygiene standards.

    But seriously, I don’t like to concept of Jugaad when it comes to more important matters. For too long now, we have put up with enough Jugaad when it comes to ourselves. Jugaad for no roads, for no power, for a broken administration, and many more. When it comes to stuff of importance, of national pride, I am so against Jugaad. I know we might somehow pull off the CWG pretty well, but do you think the pre CWG controversy would do any good to plans to hold the Olympic Games.

    We Indians have short memories. And even higher forgiving tendencies. For once I would love to see Mr Kalmadi being punished for what he has done (or not done). Let him be made an example of. Let him be charged of treason and punished accordingly. I am almost ok with politicians making money on such large projects. But at least do it right.

    Do you think we would have noticed the 4k toilet paper rolls had the games been pulled off without any glitch?

  3. I read this just now…After the opening ceremony, which the British media very reluctantly agreed was spectacular, I saw 3 articles, in british mainstream media (including BBC) questioning the moral issues involved in staging such a show with poverty around. cmon’, give me a break ! tails you win, heads we lose !!

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