Book Review: Jugaad Yatra by Dean Nelson

Book Name: Jugaad Yatra

Author: Dean Nelson

Publisher: Rupa

Rating: 3.9/5

Book Blurb: India’s Mangalyaan mission to Mars and the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car, are two of the country’s most celebrated achievements in recent times. They have something in common with the inverter which keeps the lights on during power cuts, the desert cooler which eases the searing summer heat and the hybrid trikes, half-Enfield Bullet motorbike, half-bullock cart, which slow traffic throughout northern India.

They share traits with inspiring village inventions which offer cheap stoves, cool water, wind-powered pumps, safer wells and even sanitary towels to those who can least afford them. and they also share characteristics with some of the worst aspects of life in urban India unsafe vehicles, dangerous buildings, poor sanitation and shoddy standards of work and manufacturing. They are all examples of good and bad jugaad, the colloquial Hindi word for a frugal innovation, a quick fix, improvised solution with cheap materials readily to hand and ‘out of the box’ solutions which bypass received wisdom, rules and regulations.

The concept of jugaad divides many in India. Should the country embrace jugaad as the elixir of innovation or shun it as the celebration of the substandard? This book explores the special place jugaad has in Indian thinking and India.

Review: Dean Nelson delves deep into the fascinating world of Indian jugaad concept and documents diligently the various shining examples of jugaad the country has witnessed in its post-independence history.

The book begins with MOM (Mission on Mars) perhaps the best example of Jugaad- a low-cost mission to Mars that not only was a success but displayed that such planetary missions could be achieved at a fraction of what NASA spent on similar missions. The PSLV rocket launcher is another creative attempt at jugaad with the strap-on boosters for heavy satellites since the GSLV rocket always manages to fail.

Take Dharamveer for example who spent a lot of time and energy ultimately building a processor for farmers which is today not only used in India but also in Africa.

Necessity is the mother of invention and one could argue that given the lack of finances and opportunities, Indians have found a shortcut method to make ends meet. However, not all jugaad is good and the country must also aim for perfection rather than compromising with sub-end jugaads all the time.

“The best jugaad has a measure of altruism or community purpose behind its frugal and hand-made solutions, the worst can embrace the reckless, venal and deadly.” 

Dean has done a good job of documenting Indian jugaads but seems to have lost his way in the middle of the book. He frequently shifts from his chosen theme to discussing problems such as open defecation and river pollution. It would have made more sense if space had been devoted to more such interesting jugaads as I’m sure, there are many that could have found mention in this book.

Perhaps a revisit after a decade or two wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Read an excerpt from Jugaad Yatra here.

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