My feet pounded the pavement and my vision started to fade into shades of blue and yellow as I sprinted to catch the last train home. The ancient train let out a yawn and creaked as if it were reluctantly awakened from a deep slumber. Out of breath, I glanced around the compartment and found people of all walks life: nervous parents dropping their son off to college, a mother cradling her newborn baby, and a blind man cloaked in white navigating the crowd with a light touch. While all different, I could feel each example surrendering to the flow of the train and simply making it work. In place of looking for a seat, I was completely engrossed by new surroundings and the flashes of countryside that sped past my eyes. After a few minutes passed, I took a grounding breath and realized I that I had just experienced the Hindi word, phenomenon, and art known as jugaad.
Here lies the beauty of untranslatable words. Although jugaad is frequently reduced to the word “hack,” it has come to represent something totally different than a single word over the course of my time in India. For me, jugaad is at once an art form and way of life meaning “going with the flow and making work.” I experience jugaad everyday and if I didn’t embrace this word as my central mantra, I think I would have a much more difficult time in India. From the times when I am at my apprenticeship and my mentor suddenly tells me that I must come up with a lesson plan on the spot and teach a class in front of forty pairs of expectant eyes peering into my soul to when I use my broken Hindi to tell my rickshaw driver how to navigate back home I am constantly living my word.
While on one hand jugaad exemplifies the glaring poverty of India and the reality of many people’s daily lives, it also highlights a sense of resilience and inspiring ingenuity despite lack of materials and funds. It prioritizes keeping things simple, showing up with an open mind, and diving deep into one’s mind to come up with creative solutions. It is not only a noun, philosophy, or art form, but above all, a necessity and the word I am trying to embody during my time in India and beyond.
A few months ago during pre-departure training, Global Citizen Year founder Abby Falik said something that has stuck with me to this day and ties in with the whole letting go concept, “Life is like monkey bars. You have to let go the bar behind you to be able to reach the one in front.” To really personify jugaad, one must let go of the bar behind them whether that be pride or comfort and look forward to ready to grasp grit, surrender, and inventiveness. I’ve fallen off the monkey bars many times…scratch that…many times a day, but it is the stubborn attitude to keep going with the flow and roll with the punches that has allowed me to be the best version of myself here.