Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chaos = India

There's a term in Hindi, Jugaard, that pretty much sums up what living in India is like. Everything you need to do takes several extra steps, extra trips, extra paperwork, and many more passport photos than you could ever imagine.

Jugaard means basically by any means possible (legal or otherwise), using whatever you have on hand to get it done, usually at the last minute. This goes against every fiber of my being. I'm German and Scottish, both countries with tremendous craftsmanship, cultures that require absolute perfection, work environments that prize meeting deadlines, staying under budget, and getting the job done well.

Politics is a big deal here. More than any other country I have experienced. Respect is expected immediately, not earned as it is in the US. I am not political at all. I sometimes treat peons better than CEOs because they get no respect from anyone else. All the security guards love me, because I greet them when I come and go and ask in my very broken Hindi about their day. Due to the caste system (which, while illegal, is still very part of the culture), many people are "too good" to clear out their own wastebaskets or make their own tea. (They would never last in a US startup. At BuzzBoltMEDIA, a web consulting firm I co-founded in Chicago, everyone, including the two co-founders had the take the trash out once a week, vacuum the carpets and clean the bathrooms.) I have worked with a number of CEOs here and I am supposed to call them by their first name, with the "ji" at the end, a Hindi word that denotes respect, so if my boss' name was Sumit, I was supposed to call him Sumitji. I forget this all the time and insult people. I've taken to calling everyone Sir, even though I don't like it.

I have one superior that calls me "Boss" and I just love him. He treats me like an equal and I feel respected and appreciated for the work I do. I try to do my very best work for him. I'll go the extra mile. He's one of the very few leaders I've had the pleasure to work with here. For me, it's never been about the money, it always been about making impact, seeing the impact and having someone thank me for the good job I've done, nothing more. Another boss chastised me for making a public display of how happy I was with a worker's performance. He told that that will decrease his productivity. It didn't.

My first lunch in the basement at a company I worked for, I got my tray of food and went to sit with the staff on my team. They spent the entire time speaking in Hindi. Since it was clear to me that I was not to be part of the conversation, I never went back and ate at my desk. This made people think I was aloof and unfriendly. I'm not. People here isolated themselves from me. I have no Indian friends. All the people close to me are expats. I trust them. Most of them, except one Australian, never stole anything from me. But Indians have repeatedly stolen from me and laugh when I confront them. It's possible some of it comes from the fact that they think all foreigners in India are rich. I'm far from it. It's possible it goes back to the Colonial era and I'm just getting payback... Sticking with expats make me less homesick. They understand just how isolated I am -- we all are, not part of the culture we're immersed in, lost, not knowing how to do even the most basic things like getting cooking gas for our homes.

Chaos is everywhere, from the way people drive in my overcrowded city with no infrastructure, to the lack of electricity, and a wise man I met forecasted that in five years neighbors will be fighting over access to water. I believe him. Gurgaon has no water - they steal it from the poorest sections of Old Gurgaon to fill pools in the high rise luxury apartment complexes. There are no sidewalks and where they are, many small wallas (shopkeepers) have put up lean-to stalls to sell their tea and snacks. Pedestrians are forced to walk in the streets along side cows, trucks, buses, autorickshaws, bike rickshaws, cars and all sorts of other vehicles. People will ride their motorcycles, with the husband driving, a child perched on the gas tank, the mother on the back riding sidesaddle holding an infant in her arms. This seems to me to be one of the most dangerous of options in the already chaotic driving everyone does.

But I still love it here. Each morning we have breakfast ready to go along with our morning CNN news coverage of the world. My clothes are cleaned and ready for dressing - no ironing to be done. Our house keeper would do it for me. She has a good life working for me. They don't live in an unheated, non-air conditioned space on the roof - she has one bedroom in our apartment that she shares with her husband and infant daughter. Some maids in India have to sleep on the floor. We share our food with them and they are thanked all the time for their service to our household. I'm grateful for them and the energy they bring to my house. Outside it may be chaos, but within the walls of my home, we have peace and quiet, love and joy. When we leave the house, in spite of the chaos, India is blindingly beautiful - the brilliantly colored sarees and salwar khameez the women wear, the beautiful peacocks and brightly colored birds, the cows circumventing the cars in traffic (they always have the right of way!), the cute little feral pigs rutting around in the fields, even the packs of wild dogs with their adorable puppies are all part of the magic that is India.


  1. Sad but true! That is how India is - good mostly, bad somewhere. :)
    P.S. I loved how you described Jugaad.

  2. So similar to what I've experienced, I couldn't have said it better! Love your blog, so will go on a read more :)

  3. Thanks! India certainly changes your life in so many ways. :-)

  4. Wow..tats One Superb Description of Gurgaon i ve read..True to the core :D
    N Jugaad..wat can b sed bout that. I guess tats One thing tats Completely MADE IN INDIA n chinese can't copy ;)

  5. That was,with exception to few points, an engrossing account. Unfortunately the benchmark of "jugaad" dug in so firmly, blessed by the ruling establishment from time to time, that the common mass instead of eliminating are improving it to perfection for survival and enjoyment in every sphere of life.

    Amazingly I was compelled to do the same thing in a police station in london couple of months back but in a more refined way. Since I need to obtain a character certificate from the police for securing a job in another EU country, the staff in the station gave me options for paying either 50,85 or 110 pounds...more the payment lesser time would it take to issue the certificate..and that too I will be given a receipt for such payment of service by the police!

  6. interesting i like the way u describe india mostly things are true

  7. Hi Jeanne

    Very touched by your energy. Very Honest Blog.

    Keep it Up