It was September 2013 and the post monsoon humidity was high. The air conditioner was still a blessing even though the summer was officially over and the temperatures lower. Not only did it reduce the sweat, the cool air discouraged the mosquitoes. Comfortable in bed reading my book I was startled by a loud noise as the air conditioner’s purr was shattered by a loud clatter. I jumped out of bed and shut it off and pondered sadly that this was surely the death rattle of an old friend.
I had bought the machine in 1980, a beautiful Westinghouse window model from an Embassy official who was leaving India. He had hardly used it for two years, and I was delighted to enjoy the luxury of a cool bedroom during the Delhi summers.
I looked at the battered old thing, its grill rakishly askew, dials dull with age. It had been serviced regularly and repaired at least half a dozen times. Get a new one? At my age? Well maybe I could use a new one, and maybe I will live another ten years?!!
The next morning I sent for my old electrician friend Ishwar Das. He has a friend Ram Singh who specializes in Ac’s and has taken care of this old machine with great admiration and loving care. “You don’t get compressors like this any more,” he always said, “this is a foreign one. Will last you for years…:
On this visit though, he opened it up and looked at it sadly as he pulled out the fan, one blade of which was broken. “This is a good machine, but an old one and one can’t get these parts any more” he said, shaking his head. The two friends looked at each other, talking in a low voice. Then Ram and Ishwar, being of one mind, pronounced : “You don’t need an Ac until next summer. We will look around and see if we can find a fan from an old Westinghouse AC.”
“Take it away and sell it to a kabadi for scrap’” I said, heartless and yearning for one of those new fancy ones that Murti advertises. to pamper his father-in-law, in dry Delhi or humid Chennai.
Without answering me, the two men lift the heavy machine and fit it into the window, and leave it there, promising to return until they could blow life into it, – or until scrap do us part.
* * * * *
It is spring 2014 and the airconditioner is still Westing in the House.
I was on a car trip with friends through the Punjab. The mustard fields were in bloom a bright yellow, and the sunshine mild. We stopped at a small village dhaba to get a cup of tea. Suddenly I saw a strange contraption drive up and stop in front of the shop. It looked like a vehicle that had been put together by a committee,– its wheels were from motor bikes, its seats from an old jeep, the engine was probably from a tractor. The driver sat on a high seat while the family sat comfortably on lower seats, the “trunk” was full of farm produce like the back of a pick up truck. We admired the creativity of the driver who had put this together by joining parts of several vehicles. He grinned and said it was his JUGAAD. The teastall vendor smiled and told us there are many similar “motor vehicles” in the villages. They were used mainly for transporting goods to the market, and sometimes the family went to the nearest town to buy necessities. They were registered as motor vehicles and operated on diesel.
Later I learnt that the word Jugaad had come to be a part of normal Punjabi vocabulary.
If things don’t work, then use your ingenuity to put things together to get your work done! That is Jugaad. It was usually used in the context of mechanised things, but soon it came to denote “fixing” by operators who will get your work done for you through Jugaad!! You just need to make the right connection.
It is May and I decide to go on a short holiday to Europe. I asked Ishwar Das when he was going to sell my broken AC. He suggested that since I was going away and would lock the bedroom, perhaps he better take out the machine and leave it on the verandah.
I agreed and the square hole in the window was boarded up with a piece of plastic sheet taped into place.
It was foolish on my part to return to Delhi in May after the delightful spring weather in Europe. The day after I returned, at 4 pm the sky suddenly turned dark as night. I tell Raj that a storm is expected and we should lock all the doors and windows. Hardly had we done so the storm breaks and with a loud crashing of trees., banging of doors , gusts of wind blow sand in through the Westing-Hole-in-the Wall. I scream, and try to ‘batten the hatches’, putting my weight against the plastic sheet that had blown away, to hold it down and block the wind. After what seemed ages, the wind died down a bit and we are able to move some heavy boxes against the window and cover the hole..
Upset, I complained to Ishwar Das the next day that thanks to him I had a non-functional air conditioner and a sand- filled chaotic mess in my bedroom. He looked at me expressionless and said he would talk to Ram Singh.
The next morning Ram Singh came in – as expressionless as Ishwar, but the muscles of his face tight, his lips compressed with determination.
”What will you do?” I asked irritably..
“I will fix it with Jugaad” he said.
I watched, bewildered first, then unbelieving.
He held up a fan. He had found it in the junk shop, he said.
In half an hour we had a Jugaad. The fan did fit, it did blow in air.
It did cool my room. I had a Jugaad AC. Relieved, grateful, I thanked him and
asked him his charges : Rs. 700 for the fan, and Rs. 500 Labour charges!.
The cheapest organ transplant in non-medical history.
This is the hottest week in Delhi. Record temperatures of 46 degreesC
But I will survive the summer with Jugaad.
PS The old broken fan is ‘westing’ in my garage, in case Ram Singh needs it for a Jugaad somewhere else.