See Amit Rai's most recent contributions to Society & Space: The affect of Jugaad: Frugal innovation and postcolonial practice in India’s mobile phone ecology

The social practice of everyday hacking, digital and mobile workarounds, information piracy, illegal copying and sharing—in a word, jugaad culture—is an increasing feature of post-liberalization India. But it has a history that must be understood as always involving repeatedly forgotten experiments in techno-perceptual assemblages. This history is marked by regimes of surplus accumulation that over time have effected a seemingly permanent separation of the body from what it can do. Our research into jugaad returns to this question of affect by situating social practices that remain untimely to the regimes of neoliberal development, enforced austerity and perpetual debt. What makes the contemporary moment jugaad time? This is as much a question of the growing Hindu chauvinism vitiating political and social life under Modi (but begun long before him)— what are Modi’s jugaads?—as it is a question of untimely politics. The social practice of jugaad traverses traditional class, caste, gender, and ablist norms of identity, yet while many people practice jugaad, not everyone can openly lay claim to it as some sort of heroic script of emergent power. Indeed, jugaad’s history has been and tactically must remain hidden; for the millions of jugaadu, visibility is a trap.


The reflections on the developing research practice of jugaad highlight several aspects of the social phenomenon in India; the photos present another kind of problem. Partly this problem has to do with representation. How, through what fetishes, codes, contrasts, and analogies, have images of jugaad proliferated in Digital India? Indeed, what images of jugaad in urban contexts point to is a heterogeneous mix of politics, rhythms, resources, infrastructures, and temporalities. The images themselves present contrasts, new connections, makeshift infrastructures that strike the eye at first as a hallucination: that doesn’t belong with that. This tactic of novel conjunctures allows jugaadus to develop improvised responses to material conditions of inequality.

There is no given politics to jugaad culture, and yet its vitality throughout India indicates the general parasitism of capital and inchoate exits. If the revolt against oppression and injustice is primary in social life, a revolt against neoliberal forms of subjectivity mixing production and consumption through brand-suffused and heavily insured lifestyles, if these everyday practices of hacking effect a rethinking of politics, jugaad diagrams that revolt. In “The Affect of Jugaad: Frugal Innovation and Postcolonial Practice in India’s Mobile Phone Ecology,” I argue that human–technical assemblages are being marketed through a rhetoric of frugal innovation or jugaad. I am pursuing this research with the help of two brilliant researchers, Anisha Saigal (JNU) and Shiva Thorat (graduate of the Centre for Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences). Both have been engaged in this research into local jugaad practices in the digital and their reflections that follow emerge from the first stage of that research.Amit S. RaiThe Jugaadu Lives

The brief to locate our respondents for the interviews was based on jugaad culture, in and around mobile ecology; my colleague Shiva and I set about locating potential "jugaadu" subjects. A person who performs a jugaad is referred to as a jugaadu. Very simply stated, "jugaadu" can be someone who finds solutions to more or less complex problems of everyday life, s/he can be a bug fixer, an initiator and a practitioner of shockingly simple and often frugal solutions to such problems and above all, a kind of subaltern innovator. Which would mean that any individual who is able to locate an idea or a solution in the midst of any complex relation of hierarchy, and re-working that in a manner different from text-book explanation or rote learning, qualifies to be called jugaadu. A jugaadu from an outsider’s perspective would sound like a unicorn, a mythical creature who is capable of doing anything, but that isn’t the case. Jugaadu individuals, in light of the interviews we have conducted are seen as fuzzily calculative, practical and most importantly determined characters who relentlessly but creatively work around the problems of everyday life in societies structured in various forms of dominance such as in India today.

This idea by itself is practiced by a sizeable population of subalterns in India. One does not require statistics or numbers by any organization to back this fact. Each and every individual struggling to make ends meet in our country today, in complex, antagonistic, and often counter-intuitive relationship with their socio-economic, political, cultural affiliations, then qualifies as a jugaadu. The material, geographical and the infrastructural shortcomings faced by the subaltern today are plenty, despite politically charged campaigns like Narendra Modi’s "Digital India"; which are devised to crack and provide a large scale solution to such issues. The jugaadu individual makes different efforts and attempts to bridge the gap between the haves and the have nots by looking at simplifying the issues at hand. The solutions are more often than not applied at a micro level, trial by hit or miss. The solution is often arrived upon by meandering around the often archaic legal frameworks in the country. It was this process, and consequently, the identification of this figure that brought us closer to narrowing down the kind of respondent we needed to speak with. Every jugaad turned out to be unique in itself, as the issues, situations and problems faced by those individuals and groups were specific each time. The problems which were recurring rarely had the same solution. Different problems in different contexts presenting different ways of proceeding and each of those in turn created several rounds of queries, doubts, and concerns.

In picking out our respondents, the point we had in mind was to look for stories where "unique" solutions and ideas made them move forward, even if it meant their jugaad was tumbling down around the hit or miss stage of it’s initiation. The respondents were those who had contributed in creating something, in the form of finding a solution to their problem/obstacle. Most of these respondents were the ones that emerged out of the crowd with their unique standing. Each one in their own light is an innovator. However, we were on the lookout for the ones who creatively engaged with the mobile phone ecology in India. Consequently, in the process of this research, we gathered that different subaltern subjects were more or less intensely affected in and through the digital infrastructures of jugaad practice. The lived histories of these heterogeneous subjects remains subjugated, silenced, and marginalized to the molar marks made by the privileged lot in the supposedly onward march of development in Digital India.

Having set these ambitious goal for ourselves to find jugaadu respondents, we were sure that this process wouldn’t take long and that the task of locating these individuals was not going to be difficult. We were soon disabused of this false idea as we began encountering several hiccups in the process of interviews, and during the pre-interview stage. Interesting respondents would shy away from being interviewed or being referred to as "jugaadu," inspite of introducing themselves for the project or by their friends’ word of mouth (snowball sampling!). The cageyness and resistance of the interview subjects was one of many problems in the beginning. For a while we struggled to understand if jugaad held a negative connotation in the minds of urban Indian public or were those who performed jugaad on daily basis wanting to keep it on the “down low.” Why was the term thrown around like a shorthand for people’s daily activities? The respondents were well aware of how they’re living in the margins of the law, and so were reluctant to come on record to talk about certain jugaad practices. It’s as if everyday life is commonly carried on outside the legal meshworks in postcolonial India, but to talk about it is forbidden. How does one attempt to explain that in an interview transcript which is suppose to question their (jugaadu’s) relation to jugaad? How does one address gender politics in jugaadu practices? Do you make the jugaadu respondents seamless with gender or do we treat them the way they have been treated all their life—women don’t engage very broadly with digital gadgetry, whereas men hit up and try every electronic device they encounter?

What’s interesting to note is that as the time passed, each of us developed our own jugaadu approach and techniques to understand and engage with respondents’ practices. We were now fixing and interviewing the respondents far more casually than before, as we were not approaching them as curious onlookers on a spectacle or so-called objective academics. We were no longer talking straight, to gather what they were thinking. We were asking the public for solutions! No better way to understand a concept than to practice it, and this exercise proved it right. We had completely immersed ourselves into questioning and getting detailed feedback to gauge how could a certain jugaad work and how they would come into being. The images gathered here prove extremely instructive in this case.


The first shot is taken on a rooftop during a bachelor’s party by the respondent himself. The shot in which the onlooker is lighting up a mini barbecue in his house is amusing, at the first instance. However, the technique of fanning the coal to be able to light them is tackled extremely efficiently as the respondent takes upon using a hair-dryer in place of a fan. Not only does the man avoid extreme physical labor but also creates an easy alternative to a tedious process like barbecue, which takes time and labor to set up. Also, since the hair dryer is smaller and compact to use, it’s easier as an alternative to several electronic devices which might serve the same purpose.

In the second shot, the people of the household repurpose an internet router to thaw cold cuts, and melt the butter. This instance has been adapted from the popular internet image, where a pizza slice is being re-heated, without using any pan/stove/gas/oven/microwave. The pizza slice rests on the laptop charger, incidentally making for an interesting if not aesthetic sight, to warm the food for the day. As the charger radiates heat, the pizza on the charger doesn’t stick to the surface, as it does while being heated on a plate. One can consume the re-heated pizza according to their personal preference of "toastiness." Similarly, butter can be easily melted by letting it out to rest on the router for a couple of hours, given the time. This approach thaws the food without water dropping onto the router. Of course, the timing and weather conditions mean a lot in terms of approaching a specific solution, yet it eases the everyday problems in the kitchen.


Besides these micro everyday solutions, larger infrastructure management strategies are tucked away on tree branches on the road heading towards Whitefield in Bangalore. Amit labels this phenomenon a jugaad tree, where the tree on the road is covered with wires to avoid a mishap or an accident, ever so casually (See images 1-3). On the street while you’d look around, you’d fine several trees laden with wires and machinery. One would think if this is due to the ill-maintained streets or if the city has a terrible sense of infrastructure. The answer to this question is seen in stack and loop of wires hung from trees on the road, as they’re used as spaces to mark the need for attention and the issue of reformatting and refurbhising the roads. Here a government jugaad calls out for another jugaad for local residence to re-wire the power lines and “redivert” electricity.

The makeshift jugaad culture in postcolonial India is then handy for the pirate value chains of jugaadu people. Perhaps, it is critical for the jugaadu to constantly innovate and pull jugaad mercilessly in unexpected directions without necessarily being conscious of the ecological effects of their action. The kind of reflexivity of aesthetic practice would leave an imprint of the artist upon the work of art, which may not bode well for the jugaad itself (no trace, no culpability). Else, the extra-legal ecology upon which jugaad culture subsists might collapse under the weight of its own fantastic creativity.Anisha Saigal

"Jugaad Walks"—Intentional but not Deliberate

I was preparing myself to go home. My friends had organized a meeting in my town, they said "we need you" in the meeting. I had to complete some work in the City (Mumbai) before going home. I went to Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) to buy books; I remember when it was called Victoria Terminus (VT). On the morning of 14th October I got into the station and started walking towards the Gateway of India. It wasn’t like I was new there. I had been there plenty of times before. From VT to Gateway of India is at maximum a 20 minute walk. While wandering there I saw lot of camera shops, mobile phone shops and repair shops, clothing stores, watch shop and a few hotels. The thela-wallas (thela is a Marathi word for a small shop or movable cart with few and specific wares to sell) and hawkers are the majority on Dadabhai Naoroji Road. In between there are places like Fort, Flora Fountain at the Hutatma Chauk, Peoples Education Society’s Siddharth College, Jahangir Art Gallery and Chatrapati Shivaji Museum. These places have a huge historic value for people in Mumabi. Hutatma Chowk (Martyrs Square) is known for the "Sanyukta Maharashtra Movement," Siddharth College is the outcome of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s visionary efforts.

While the "thelawalas" and hawkers are the majority on the road, they struggle to make an income for the day. This place captures the attention of tourists visiting Mumbai. In this area there are a lot of business hubs, banks, and international corporate offices as well. Foreigners are a common sight. Still for enjoying this place lot of foreigners landed here with intention of roaming and observing.. For poor peoples of Mumbai and also migrated peoples come here with their spouse especially when they newly married. It is very common when some new guests come to house of this people they took to see, enjoy. One of the Mobile repairer Anwar from Uttar Pradesh but his father migrated here in when he was in 20s, noted that, “log aate hai dekhne idhar, koi hansata hai unpe, koi dhandha karta hai, koi topi pehnata hai aur koi koi majak bhi udhata hai” (People come here to see the place, we laugh at them, we make money out of them, some people make fools of them and some people tease them.)

In my 20 minutes’ walk from the station to the Gateway of India I counted 13 mobile repairer thelas. Those are very small, with fewer equipment, tools, and accessories. Among 13 mobile repairers I had got a chance to chat with three. One of them Khursheed Uncle told me not to record anything. His concern was for the mobile repairer. Lots of people come and talk to them but nothing comes out of it, he added. He angrily said, “Hum kaun hai idhar? Hum researcheron ke liye nahi baitthe idhar, ham ye papi pet ke liye bait the hain.” (Who are we, here? We don’t sit here for researchers, we are here because of our empty, craven stomachs.) Khurhseed Uncle shared his experience saying, "there was one incident happened when one researcher came, after that two-three people came and took the mobile repairer with them forcefully." Khursheed Unlce is 50 year old, migrated from Uttar Pradesh. He’s been in Mumbai for 35 years. Along with a mobile repair business he retails cameras, camera bags, and a new phone shop. His shop is opposite of Siddhartha College. Khursheed Uncle and I spoke for ten minutes. Out of it I got really good sense of the place (not to mention the inherent dangers of research into the huge informal sectors of India’s new media economy). He gave me a good pointer: don’t try to talk to shopkeepers when they are eating. Khursheed Uncle had a Samsung android phone. A copy of the Times of India was there in his shop. Jugaad was for him nothing other than simply talking to people and convincing them (recalling the Airtel strapline in the ads analysed in Rai’s “Affect of Jugaad” article: baat karne se hi baat ban thi hain; only by communicating will the deal be sealed.) When I asked him what is your favorite example of jugaad he said, “Every day I am doing jugaad, that way every day is my favorite.” I asked him, how you feel when you heard the word Jugaad, he answered saying, "it reminds me of my work." Customer came asking for this or that, he asked me to go but asked me to come and visit him again.

I moved ahead and searching for a guy who can speak more about his work and his Jugaad stories. I met Solanki Bhai, who had migrated from Gujarat, and was living in Mumbai since after the communal riots (2002). He moved to Mumbai after that only. His uncle had a clothes shop before, he started his own work in front of his uncle’s shop. Among the locals he is famous for his unique surname Solanki, when I asked him for his name, he paraphrased Shakespeare to me: “naam mein kya rakha hai” (What is there in a name?). I called him Solanki Bhai; he’s 32 years old. Referring to the same problem with unethical researchers, he requested that I not record. First, I explained to him what this research was about. He interrupts me and said, "there are lot of books on these topics, no need to tell me." I asked him what is jugaad, he replied, ‘to fulfill the necessity of time when you are preparing, that is jugaad. Time is important here’ He talks to me for maybe 5 minutes. He continued, “how one does these careful preparations to perform a jugaad depends upon the economic situation of the person.” He had a Lenovo phone which seemed to me very expensive. He was never able to give me his full attention but he talked to me with patience and courtesy.

Anwar sits near a bank office in the Fort area of downtown Mumbai. He is 27-year-old, he looks to be a healthy man. I asked him for an interview; I did not ask to record it. Anwar was repairing a Micromax mobile phone (a popular Indian make), an android phone. It had a display problem. I was quiet; it was he who started talking to me. After a few minutes, I saw him just throw the phone down, which shocked me. I asked him why. He replied by saying, “this is the special technique treatment, and I use it on special phones. It is a useless phone but the owner wants it one more time, so I am trying to repair it.” He was ignoring his customers when I was there, so I asked him if we can talk after some time. It’s not necessary to avoid your customers, I said. He says, “aap jaisa sochane wale bahut kaam ke hain, kaam se kaam rakhnewale jyada hai." (Thinking people like you are of great use, most people just stay tuned to their work.) He offered me tea, and I enjoyed it. Anwar’s father migrated from Uttar Pradesh. Anwar was born here in Mumbai. He was educated until the 12th standard. He lives on Ray road with his family. They speak Hindi in their house. He has brother and sister. His sister is in college now, doing her undergraduate degree. He supports his father and has hopes to support his sister also and help her get through her education. His dream is for her to become a lawyer. In his life, jugaad is working hard and making money for him. When I asked him, "what is your favorite jugaad," smilingly he replied "woke up from the bed and come here is my favorite jugaad."

Jugaad has different meanings for different people—caste, class, gender, region, language, all make a difference in people’s understanding of jugaad—as I discussed with you before. Khursheed Uncle, Solanki Bhai, and Anwar have three different histories and lifestyles (although all of them are migrants to Mumbai who have stayed to become part of the fabric of the multicultural city. It was fascinating to me to experience this historic place of CST and witness the practices of jugaad, though each of them were reluctant to express aspects of jugaad with me. Whatever they did share helps us to understand the politics of both this area of the city, and lifestyle and work cultures of hawkers and thelawalas. Anwar got me to notice that in the place of CST most of the mobile repairers are migrants, and among them the majority are from UP-Bihar.

I am surprised that these three peoples have completely different ideologies of jugaad, for instance compared to Chembur, a northwest suburb and one of the most crowded areas of the city, or Lamington Road, famous for its electronic goods, accessories, laptops, and phone shops. We wonder if the very definition of jugaad is different in different parts of the city, depending on its cultures, communities, work styles and material infrastructures? In this corner of the city, you can see many political personalities on posters but the migrant workers like Anwar, Khurshid and Solanki are inspired not by these clichéd images of power, but by the practices of jugaad that they created themselves. Everyone has their own kind of struggle. To my mind, these practices of jugaad are struggles experienced through their lives of migration. But I do not want to exaggerate or romantically glorify what are they right now. Jugaad teaches someone how to survive. Anwar has given his life not only to support his father but to give sustenance and encouragement to his sister. In Mumbai today, religious identity, gender, and caste are impediments to or guarantees for a bona-fide education. Anwar is practicing his jugaads to educate his sister so she can become a lawyer. Khursheed Uncle and Solanki Bhai are supporting not just themselves but their entire families. They are following the circumstances of a jugaad life, which is continuous with their processes of living. Moreover, the inhabitant of migrant communities such as these—what makes up their lives? And what will be their life after the next jugaad, will it really change? Regardless, these people continue to fight individually and collectively, and are not simply sitting down with their heads in their hands and crying for help. Not to solve, not just do work on waste things and make useful out of it but it is everything that they called their lifestyle and which is jugaad. They are constructing their own lives from the detritus around them and sometimes they call it jugaad.Chembur

I am writing this because it can be the best example to show how and why Jugaad has become criminalized in the minds of most people today. At home, I discussed with my cousin if he can introduce me to other mobile repairers for interviews; the location was in Rabale, Bhimnagar (Navi Mumbai). On the bus, people were speaking of jugaad a few times. They were trying to get a holiday saying lie to the office for three-four days. But one of them was scared and advised the other to not lie to the Boss. I couldn’t help but say to them that, hey, tell the Boss that you want a holiday and show your strength as workers, your Boss should happily give you holiday; he might play the role of sponsor even. I got down at Deonar Bus Depot and started walking towards the Govandi rail Station. It was rush time. Some of them going to work or college or school, some coming home. In that area is a "Chaufuli" (where four roads meet) so lots of rickshaws, cars, motorcycles and public buses beep their horns and make lots of noise. In the corner of the "chowk" (intersection) before the Govandi Station, on the left (towards my professor’s old house), there is a small 4 by 4 wooden and iron block. There four people came together and started a shop for Mobile retailing, repairing and mobile network refill. Ahzaz, Dipak and Sultan were friends for many years. I asked them for interview, one of them refused but Ahzaz agreed and told them, “salon aise toh koi tumhe puchta nahi, bacche ka kuch fayda hota hai to hone do na. Kya jayega tumara?” (Bastards, no one asks you for interviews usually, if someone gets some benefit from your words, why refuse, what will you lose if you give him an interview?). After, Dipak Thakur Singh started an interview in which everyone was part of the conversation. First Dipak asked me, “tumko toh fayda hoga, mere ko kya hoga.” (You will get benefit out of it, what benefit I will get?), I smiled at him and said, "don’t worry, I will suggest my friends to come to your shop if their phones are broken." Everyone laughed Dipak said, “sala, chalu hai” (bastard is sharp!) The other question when I asked he gives "okay okay" answers but when I asked about jugaad, he starts screaming. He became annoyed, angry and tried to avoid me but I told him that this interview isn’t part of a government job but rather a college assignment. From his point view, jugaad is a game, it is play for just sake of passing time. It becomes illegal when someone gets hurt, otherwise it is not illegal. Jugaad responds to people’s needs, you have to believe in it. Finally, he said, "marriage is also kind of jugaad." After this interview I started walking towards the Chembur station and searching for mobile repair shops. I reached at "Bhai Bho Nagar" where I found another repair shop. This community is mostly of telugu-kannada speakers, and Marathwada (One of the region of Maharashtra) migrant peoples. Pohe (breakfast dish famous in Maharashtra) is a well-known and much loved dish of this community. There was no nameplate, there was no contact number of that shop but 6-7 people were standing around at a time. Things were disorganized, more than 100 mobiles were lying open in the process of repair or refurbishment. Vishwanath comes from Nerul and runs this shop. By caste he is Maratha (savarna, peasant community) and loves the holy man Sai Baba. He earns every day more than 10000 Rs. in his shop; another man also sits with him looking after a mobile refilling (for network connectivity) business. Vishwanath didn’t tell me his name but he participated actively in the conversation. When I asked him about jugaad, he arrogantly replied and said that, “see, this type question you asked here, don’t ask some other places. I am letting you go, just because you are Marathi, otherwise I might give you some kicks in your backside and teach you a lesson to not ask about this demoralised and de-humanised word which is only found in "category" people.

Before this beautiful, aggressive and brilliant response, he stopped me recording on my mobile. I was not scared that much but when he put stress on "category" people he meant Muslims and Dalits from Shivaji Nagar and Chembur were a majority of these people live. His anxiety was not about "category" people per se, but his business. He was worried that this word might ruin or adversely affect his business. He earns more than 10000 Rs. every day that means, he has good contacts and good relations with neighborhood people. He thinks "category" people only developed a language of jugaad in Mumbai.Lamington Road

I mentioned why jugaad is offensive to some people. Here, I felt bad but I enjoyed the situation also. When Paras’s (one of the interviewees) cousin got to know that I was interrupting him a lot during his work, he came over to me and told me to shut up, let him do his work. In between, when I asked Paras about jugaad, it became a huge scene with lots of tension there. He took my phone, stopped recording and justifying himself saying "our work is labor," "we are doing hardwork," "it is legal work," "what do you think? we are 2 numbar walas?" (involved in piracy or grey market activities). Lot of questions followed and lot of peoples came to his stall in a few minutes. They had speed dial in that shop. He just presses one number and at a time two people came, and second time again two people came. There was seven people in that place and asking me "what are you doing with these interviews," "who are you," "why are you recording conversation," "who sent you" etc etc. One of them was a Marathi guy who I tried to convince by saying I don’t belong to any kind of government body or municipality body; it’s a research project and I am student.

So jugaad can be quite offensive to people who have already been stigmatized for being migrants in an increasingly nativist Mumbai, and for their line of work which is how marginal but resourceful communities get by. So the question of class and caste privilege is very important to the practice and the “owning” of jugaad. It is only privileged people who are allowed to celebrate it. It is proved here, in my experiences. I was not surprised when Paras’s cousin called in a lot of people, but I was surprised how they all united against me, even after they accepted that I wasn’t an official of the municipality or government. In fact, I was his customer, but still he resisted my words very strongly…

Shiva Thorat