A three-wheeler autorickshaw in front of us was carrying a 40-ft-long pipe that was sticking out width-wise 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 Wylers 1959 blockbuster Ben-Hur entered my minds eye. In that most spectacular chariot race ever put on film, Prince Judah Ben-Hurs devil-like friend Messala was using a saw on his chariot wheel and colliding time and again, while his four horses charged at high speed, trying to overturn Judahs chariot. Nowhere was this autorickshaw, its destructive pipe weapon horizontally cutting the entire airspace. We were tailing it for over 30 minutes somehow trying to cross, when unexpectedly the auto-rickshaw took a sharp U-turn to the right. Just imagine how it could swerve! Two troubled-looking men on the backseat were hugging the colossal pipe for dear life.
Delayed at airport arrival. A kind airline customer service manager rushed me through a special security gate at Bangalore Airports newly opened wing. The stylish shops reminded me of New Yorks Trump Tower ground-floor shopping area. Waiting in a lean queue, drops of liquid suddenly fell on me, startling me. As I ducked, I noticed a few buckets capturing driblets from the ceiling. It was not raining, so what was that contamination in this high-tech airport barely a month old
On another occasion, landing at Delhi airport, I went into the toilet. As I was habitually sitting, checking mails in my mobile phone, water suddenly gushed into my cubicle, 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, 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 couldnt have known this before he used it. We set out to look for the cleaner. We found him outside. He was clueless; he requested us to complain to the management. In yet another Delhi airport toilet experience opposite Starbucks Cafe, I was holding my nose while entering a smelly cubicle. Suddenly, I saw vapour clouds descending from the top, beautiful jasmine fragrance wafted in. I couldnt understand how nature became so magical, entering my cubicle to reverse the odour. When I came out, it was the cleaner spraying air-freshner. Undoubtedly, it only temporarily covered the stick. By the way, Airport Council International has named this the worlds second best airport after Seoul Incheon. I wonder if the judges ever used the toilets.
In semirural areas, Ive seen motorised, hand-made three-wheeler transport contraptions like rickshaw carts with a wooded platform open on all sides. Men dangle legs from three sides, women and children sit on haunches in the centre. Such unofficial transport with no licence to ply can certainly fulfill the purpose of being speedier than bullock carts. But just imagine the risk to passengers when overloaded trucks jostle alongside.
The just-fix-it approach is jugaad. Its endangering, a temporary patch to a problem, a solution with no predictability, no process, no discipline. The autorickshaw 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 his three-wheeler is only a jugaad delivery. It can jeopardise everyones safety on the road. The owner of the unscientifically motorised rural cart ingeniously found this livelihood while serving passengers with cheap transportation. We cannot fault the underprivileged where 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 unsafe jugaad.
To prove they are on a par with global players, which is not the case, Indias industrialists have donated millions of dollars to their US alma maters, Harvard or MIT. When theres dire need, why not intelligently invent to meet Indias requirement of low-cost, world-class, livelihood machinery If Indians dont invent with outstanding R&D spend for our countrys needs, who will Designing an affordable rural vehicle will demolish hazardous jugaad. When industry addresses this jugaad phenomenon by setting examples, common people will automatically abandon their perilous jugaad mentality.
Most bottom-level service people or workers in India earn Rs 5,000 to maximum Rs 20,000 per month. They cannot change their jugaad mindset, which oftentimes earns them quick money. The privileged class has the responsibility of changing the precarious jugaad lifestyle of the poor. McDonalds and KFC are showing anti-jugaad ways by introducing processed housekeeping standards. Even in Bangalores cluttered, hygienically imperfect, principal bus stand, Majestic, these foreign outlets are clean, disciplined and non-jugaad, where you can enjoy a low-cost but quality dinner.
I dont see any political manifesto say, Jugaad hatao, aam admi ki jivika garima se barhau (dont just-fix-it, uplift the common mans livelihood with dignity). Implementing such a goal will change our countrys face in the global field.
Shombit Sengupta is an international consultant to top management on differentiating business strategy with execution excellence (www.shiningconsulting.com)