The last-minute scramble to get everything ready for next week’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi is hardly unusual in India: a final push involving everyone in the village, plus the guests, to get arrangements finished is so commonplace it’s been dubbed the “monsoon wedding approach”.
In fact, there’s even a word for it: “jugaad”, used to describe a temporary fix or a workaround that may not always adhere to the strictest letter of the law. In English one might use the term “jury rig” to the same effect.
A wooden cart with a two-stroke motor attached to make a truck? That’s jugaad. A stick with a rock tied on to make a hammer? That’s jugaad. Calling in cleaning staff from hotels and agencies in a frenzied, 11th-hour bid to finish the work? That’s jugaad. “Jugaad is a peculiarly Indian term which means everything is a last-minute patch-up job, final-hour crisis management just to get the job done,” says Boria Majumdar, prominent Indian sports journalist and author of the newly-released book, Sellotape Legacy: Delhi and the Commonwealth Games. “That is exactly what is taking place right now,” he says.
To be fair, organisers have been plagued by labour issues. There have been widespread reports of workers on strike at the athletes’ village and alarming labour shortages. It was reported that only 100-odd cleaners had been deployed to work on the village’s 34 tower blocks. When the international outcry over conditions reached fever pitch during the past week, authorities finally swung into fifth gear and immediately corralled up to a thousand additional workers – called in from hotels, government departments and private cleaning companies.
Delhi’s chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, is also reported to have brought in her own staff, including engineers, to project-manage the work. Jugaad is not just embraced in India, it is celebrated as a sign of the people’s innate creativity in the face of hardship. Borne out of India’s decades of austerity, jugaad can refer to a quick fix, a band-aid solution or managing to just squeeze out of a tricky situation.
The phrase, along with its sibling “chalta hai” (“relax, it’s a minor issue”), help capture that head-wagging Indian fatalism that doesn’t just say, “what me worry?” but adds, “what’s the point?” Throw in “we are like that only”, an oft-repeated idiom that points to a stubborn insistence of “this is how we are, take it or leave it”, and you end up with frustrated foreigners. This is exactly what has happened with Games preparations as heavy criticism pours in over the lack of preparation, oversight and, reportedly, a refusal to accept outside assistance. “There is a nagging faith that at the end of the day, Indian jugaad will salvage national honour,” said commentator Swapan Dasgupta in a recent newspaper column. “But jugaad has scarred India, ushering in a celebration of expediency, shortcuts and shoddiness,” he said.