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Jugaad and the Art of Letting Go

It’s a day after arriving in Delhi, about 2 in the afternoon (4am back home), and we’ve been informed multiple times that jet lag is a myth. Nevertheless, I find myself slowly sinking into the couch of the hotel lobby, the room spinning slightly as I struggle to keep my eyes open.


As I fight back dreams that threaten to overcome my consciousness, I hear a phrase to my right that my brain can’t quite distinguish.


“Wow, that’s some good jugaad,” my instructor Hemant Ji remarks, pointing to the makeshift strap Lena has attached to her water bottle with string. Lena’s expression mirrors my own confusion. What was that word Hemant just said?


“Jugar?” She responds, trying to interpret this new word. It is the first Hindi word we have learned since we arrived.


“No… jugaaD,” he responds. In my sleepy haze, I’m still not entirely sure what he just said, but I listen intently to find out more. “It’s like… making it work. Basically jugaad is getting the job done with whatever you have available to you. Like if you take your car to the mechanic and they don’t have the exact part you need, you can just say ‘Do some jugaad’ and they’ll make the car run run until you can get the part.”


I laugh at the concept of some sort of McGuiver-esque mechanic, rolling up his sleeves in preparation to do some life-saving jugaad, sweat dripping down his furrowed brow in intense concentration. The conversation ends as we prepare for a day in the city, but throughout the day I continue to notice acts of jugaad around India. From observing the patch jobs on the outside of buildings to the doors which unquestionably close but never quite shut all the way, I’m still adjusting to the concept that not all things must be perfect in order to be complete.


As our journeys continue, our group adopts jugaad as a sort of slogan, deeming ourselves “The Order of the Jugaad.” When it comes time for us hang mosquito nets in our room, Hemant excitedly shouts “let’s do some jugaad” and begins to hang nets from a string suspended between the two walls (rather than hanging them from the ceiling as traditionally intended). The mess of tape, string, and pure determination that is the result may not be as appealing to the eye as nets hung neatly from above, but it gets the job done in a fraction of the time and effort.


Weeks later at the Center for Contemplation of Nature, Lena and I find ourselves in another predicament. Ajay Ji, the founder of the Center, tasks us with making a cake for a neighborhood dinner party that night. We carefully collect all of the ingredients, double checked the recipe, and are ready to begin baking when we realized one key ingredient was missing: measuring cups. There are no perfect tools to measure the exact quarter cups of sugar and eighth teaspoons of salt required by the recipe. Like the dry, tasteless cake Lena and I so desperately fear would be our end product if we failed to use measuring tools, our thoroughly curated plan is beginning to crumble.


To make the cake, Lena and I were forced to throw away our preconceptions of the exact science we conceived baking to be. Selecting an approximately 8 ounce glass to be our 1 Cup measurement and a spoon as our teaspoon, we carried on with our recipe, doing the best we could with what we had available. The end result: a chocolate cake of a unique texture and flavor that when combined with ice cream and sliced banana turned out to be the hit of the party. Feeling relieved and exhausted, Lena and I sat down at the end of the night to eat a slice of what I can only describe tasted like pure victory. Hemant, who receives the last slice of the night in a rather elaborate ceremony, was proud of our effort successful adventure with jugaad.

In India, the only guarantee is that there are no guarantees and it is often easier to go with the flow rather than fighting against the tides. Coming from a performance culture where schedules must be planned down to the minute and perfection is of the utmost important, such uncertainty usually induces anxiety in me. However, through my adventures in jugaad, I’m beginning to learn how to embrace the uncertain and see where it takes me. So while imperfection still makes me wildly uncomfortable, practicing jugaad has taught me that sometimes “making it work” is enough. A month and a half into my connection with India, I’m starting to believe it will be alright if this journey doesn’t go exactly as planned.