I am from Madison, Wisconsin and I was a U. Fulbright researcher to India this past year in TMC Vellore, which is a little city down south of India as a biomedical engineer. He kind of questioned me about it, said, "Oh, you have blue eyes?
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Those two together sometimes was just kind of this paradox of what are you doing here? Why are you here? Do you live with your parents? Things like that. Which is how things operate in India, but for us it's a little bit weird. It's a little bit different and you just had to become comfortable with understanding it's not something that they're trying to probe so deeply and it's just some information that we in the U.
A lot of the festivals are very regional. Holi is much more celebrated in the North. Actually in my city I It's so regional and that's something that makes it beautiful. At the same time then each region in the country will be dealing with different things in terms of gender issues or just problems that might come with conflicts in religion or problems with literacy. I mean, there's so many different things that they're dealing with, but just because of the diversity and how different each region in the country is, it's hard to really classify it all into one thing.
Knowing where the buses stopped, where they would pick you up, how much it was, but also there's something called auto rickshaws that are just little personal transportation vehicles that will take you anywhere you go. You just go to the side of the road, they're green and yellow and you can just kind of hail one just like a taxi here, but they're small. They're cheap. But the whole thing is is that they will sometimes try to rip you off if they feel like you don't know where you're going or you don't know how much it would be to travel there.
They can really charge you whatever they want. There's no standardization, there's no meter that will keep track of how much money you should pay for that trip. Once I could start to identify, I know how much it would cost me to go somewhere and then if somebody came and was asking for double, could use my little Tamil local language understanding to bargain with them and be like, "Hey, I know it's not that much.
Don't try to rip me off.
I live here. My first couple of weeks when I was in India, I didn't know how to describe it to someone. I said, "Everyone is just so creative. Well, they're going to put one on their shoulders. They're going to put one on their lap and they're going to go via their bike and you see people transporting insane amounts of materials or livestock or human beings in the same car because that's all that they have and that's all that they can do so they get very creative.
I was trying to process all of this. I couldn't quite wrap my head around all of it. Like, what is it that's causing this to be such a fundamental way of how India works? And someone said, "Oh well you know, we have a word for it, it's called jugaad. Basically it's like something I think you would define here in the U.
So like a makeshift way of solving a problem in like a very creative and witty almost way, but there's this added aspect of frugality. How do I solve problems that I'm facing in a very cost effective way, making use of the resources that I have? One example that I like to explain is let's say that your shower head breaks and the hardware store is fresh out of shower heads and you're not going to have access to Amazon Prime or something like that. So what do you do when the day is until you can find someone who can get you a new shower head.
Well, you stick a plastic water bottle on your shower head and you poke holes in it and then you turn on the faucet and you've got a shower head or another time was sitting in a restaurant and they had a mirror perfectly positioned to reflect the TV that was behind me. So this word of jugaad is something that isn't a negative connotation. Indians are very proud of it. Like, look what I was able to fix with a roll of duct tape.
Or look what I was able to fix until I could find something better. A lot of times they will balk at the idea of buying something completely new if what you have is already semi functional and just needs a little bit of a fix. This can go and be applied in your life. Other places too, beyond just a materialistic way of solving problems.
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There's books written about how you can use jugaad in business or in engineering. For instance, in my project, I needed magnets to hold something together and I couldn't find anything anywhere really, but what I found out was that the rupee coin, like our quarter, it is magnetic.
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So I just needed a magnet on one side and I used rupee coins for other half and immediately I had doubled the number of magnets that I could use for my project. I didn't have any friends yet. I didn't even really know who to approach, just felt really alone. I just had kind of this crisis, even just a few hours in like, am I going to find a home here?
Am I going to feel comfortable? Is this going to be a productive summer for me?
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Not only from my project standpoint, but just personally from a mental health standpoint. I met one of my best friends the first day. He came up to me, he said that he could just identify that I was feeling very overwhelmed in the moment. He just said, "Let's go get lunch. What's something that you want to do here? Like if I can get involved in any athletics, that would be great. It's a very social thing to do in Madison. The Madison summers, all of the parks are full of teams just playing. It's something that has always been a social thing for me, but also something in my identity as being athletic.
As we were walking to the gym, we kind of had to walk over this yellow bridge and as I'm crossing this bridge, I see a Frisbee cut through the air in the distance. The amount of relief that that flying piece of plastic gave me. There are people that I'm going to connect with and people that I'm going to just get to be myself with and so we walked over, introduced myself to all of them. I was in jeans and a tee shirt so I couldn't play with them at that point, but I said, "I will be here tomorrow. Just for some context, ultimate Frisbee is a very up and coming sport. It's not that popular.
It's not really well known and that's a lot of the apprehension I had going in it. I don't think that there's going to be any Frisbee where I am, but it's catching on. It's about seven to 10 years old at this point. So I was fortunate enough that this year, while I was in India, they held their first ever national tournament. They're like, "You have to come play with us. We know you're much farther away, but wherever we travel for the different rounds of the tournament, just fly in, meet us there. I knew I was going to be here for nine months and develop other friendships, but to walk in and see like a group of like 15 to 20 people that I knew from the previous time.
It was just so much fun. As cool as it was, it coincided with the weekend my dad was here, so he'd see me play Ultimate in the U. He and I, we flew up together to Aminabad and yeah, we were there for a weekend of tournaments. It was amazing. It was humbling for me to get to play at a national level. It also just further expanded the community of Ultimate players that I have.
I was chatting with people from all over India and hearing stories about what does Frisbee mean to them? It's brought communities together. People have started nonprofits that unify communities based on sports and Frisbee for whatever reason is one that just clicks with people. It's easy. You just need a piece of plastic. Because of that, it's really taken off. I just remember this moment as I was flying home from that national tournament because of the timing of the flights.
It happened to be that that whole plane was full of Ultimate players and we arrive and we were doing baggage claim and I guess I hadn't really recognized how many Ultimate players were on that plane until they came off one by one.
I was standing there and able to converse with all of them.