'I derive from the absurd three consequences: my revolt, my freedom, and my passion.’
- Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
You can hear it coming long before it appears on the dirt road, spitting, sputtering, clickety-clacketing at fifty-five kilometres an hour. The driver facing forward holds the de facto steering wheel, shouting chitchat over the engine with his human rear-view mirror, facing back. Behind the two, twenty passengers piled precariously on bounce along. A four-hundred-rupee ride of a lifetime. Welcome aboard the jugaad.
It has four wheels and an engine and serves as a mode of transportation, but a jugaad does not exactly fit ‘Motor Vehicle’ specifications; the contraption is a combination of parts of different automobiles. No electronic system, occasionally no brakes. And yet, somehow, it runs.
Jugaads are common in North Indian states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab. They cross the distances between villages and small towns, carrying people, produce, and livestock. A ride on a minibus would cost more than twice a bumpy trip on one of these, if indeed a bus can be found; public transportation is limited here.
As is, consequently, access to work, hospitals, schools, social assistance. A decent income; 179.6 million Indians live below the poverty line. That means survival on less than a dollar and ninety cents a day; in America, the equivalent of a small cup of coffee, and maybe a few cents left over as tip.
As of 2014, 10.7% of the world does exactly that: 872.3 million people live on less than the price of a latte.
Poverty is much more than just an absence of financial means. It is an active violation of the fundamental human right to access, growth, opportunity. At a bus stop, no bus route. In life, no roadmap, or road. A choice: submission, acceptance. Or revolt.
The Indians call the latter jugaad.
Jugaad is more than just a colloquial Hindi and Punjabi word. It is an attitude toward life: know what you need, and get it. Do not wait for a ride. Create one.
Jugaads get labourers to the fields and crops to the market in time. ‘By hook or by crook,’ the expression goes. Unconventional? Perhaps. But if access to resources is limited, creativity and determination are not. We may not have chosen the life we are dealt, but we can choose to live it.
A man in Ethiopia has been making a living recycling mortar shells. He transforms these burnt-out remnants of a bloody civil war into coffeemakers. In Somalia, where drought and famine are rampant, a woman has successfully domesticated a wild plant that needs little water and yields nutritious seeds: Yeheb. Back in India, a young man has taught women how to gather used hotel soap bars, transform them into new ones and sell them to generate sustainable income. And a short walk away from right here, in Boston Common, twice a week, homeless people sell copies of Spare Change News to fight for their own living.
‘By the sheer activity of consciousness, I transform in a rule of life what was an invitation to death—and I refuse suicide.’
Standing on the side of the road, wherever in the world that road is. A bus may come, or it may not. Absurd, unfair, but then again, we were never promised bus routes or schedules. We were given a choice:
Stay by the side of the road and wait, or build a jugaad and go. The ride will be bumpy, but it will be your own. Freedom, passion. Revolt.