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Politics and Activism

Jugaad–What The 'Duct-Tape Mentality' Means For Indians

"If you can't fix it with duct-tape, you ain't using enough duct-tape." Or maybe you shouldn't even be using duct tape.

Jugaad–What The 'Duct-Tape Mentality' Means For Indians

There's this mentality in India that is so deeply ingrained into every cell in my body that I can't fight it even when I try. It's what makes an Indian an Indian. It's what perpetuates so many of the stereotypes that Westerners place on us, it's what forms the very foundation of everything we've ever done. It's called "jugaad." Most simply translated, it's the word we use to describe a quick fix or a hack. But, as I've always believed for the Indian language, there isn't quite a perfect translation for it in English. But I'll try to explain anyway.

Jugaad is what I call the duct-tape concept. You know the one where they say, "If it can't be fixed by duct-tape, you ain't using enough duct-tape?" Yeah, that's basically jugaad. Jugaad is what we do to make ends meet, to just find the easy, "good enough" way out of any situation.

An example, my parents moved me into my apartment in August, at the same time that my roommate's parents moved her in. Her parents brought her nice grey bowls and plates and everything matched. They got her matching containers and dishtowels, and all of her spices were neatly packaged into tiny bottles that looked like they were specifically designed for spices. Nothing was necessarily new, but it was aesthetic. It was pretty, and it looked like they were making a home for her.

My parents packed me up and shipped me out with plastic peanut butter jars full of sugar and second-hand silverware and bowls that were laying around the house like spare change. Everything was perfectly functional, efficient even, but it all felt reused, old.

That spare change mentality, that "This is good enough for your purposes, Riya," mentality, caused me so much embarrassment growing up. It shouldn't have. But it did. I wanted nice new things like all of my friends had, but my family cared more about necessities. Don't get me wrong, I have never in my life had want for anything. Everything I've asked for, I've been given fresh and new. We never cut corners in places of necessity, as anyone who knows my father knows that he is not one for cheap stuff. But nonetheless, the ingrained mentality of Jugaad is not something you can run away from. Jugaad means that our high-quality organic food is stored in old containers of California Mountain High yogurt. Jugaad means that when I break our glass entertainment system, we clean up the mess and balance the boxes on the metal beams instead of buying a new system or a new glass top. Jugaad is the quick fix that never goes the step farther to the permanent fix. But jugaad is also more than enough for us.

Jugaad relates the idea of "necessity is the mother of invention," and India is full of poverty and therefore necessity. People in India have neither the time nor the resources to get things done the "right" way. They don't have time or money to take their bikes to the bike shop to get a proper seat installed, so they take a bag of flour, tie it onto the pole with some rope, and that's good enough. They make use of what they've got. If that means reusing old shoes, then hey, at least we're recycling.


"Usse kaam chaal jata hain." "The work just gets done. How ever it gets done, it gets done." It's that "ends justify the means" type train of thought.

But honestly, that mentality makes Indians who they are. It makes us that country of really smart people who invented a bunch of shit and figured out a lot of things. It makes us able to function in a condensed land of a billion people. It makes us smart, sharp, fast, and quick-witted. But, it's also our vice, because repairing the leak in the wall with duct-tape is a short-term solution. India is always short-sighted. Our solution to leaky roofs and leaky pipes is to just keep switching out the bucket underneath, not to fix the roof itself. Shortcuts will always catch back up to us. Always.

And for me, it just lands me back in ABCD-land. American-Born, Confused Desi Land.

Indians are ingenious, though. Take these for example:


When you can only afford either a fridge or an AC.


When you only get lukewarm water (@1101 z.west)


No seats? No problem.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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