Two years ago, noted film director Shekhar Kapur wrote in a national daily of his unforgettable experience with a grubby slum-dwelling boy of 19 who fixed his malfunctioning Blackberry in six minutes flat (a time limit that the boy himself had mentioned in advance). The Blackberry service centre had earlier given vague answers to Kapur about sending the phone in for an assessment that might take a week.

The boy, in fact, offered to fix even the new iPhone or any high-end technological product, and was ready to take on, as Kapur exulted, “the greatest technologists in the world….”! He ended his piece with words that would find an echo in every Indian: “I smiled at the future of our country. If only we could learn to harness this potential!”

What Kapur made us witness in his graphic account was jugaad in action. Jugaad is a Hindi word in day-to-day use which is hard to translate. It is a harmonious blend of ingenuity, innovation, mastery of the intricacies of a problem, solution-orientation and ability to leverage what is immediately at hand to yield the best and the most desirable results.

HUMAN CAPITAL

In this context, I would fervently urge my readers to read the article, “What the West can learn from Jugaad,” published in the November 19 edition of strategy+business. As per the article, jugaad is nothing but the capability of “a resilient mind-set (to) transform scarcity into opportunity by combining limited resources with inventiveness and a never-say-die attitude…(and displaying) the agility and differentiation that enterprises need in a fast-paced and volatile world… It is based on six operating principles: seek opportunity in adversity, do more with less, think and act flexibly, keep everything about the business simple, tap the margins of society for employees and customers, and follow your heart.”

Thousands of analogues of the boy in Kapur’s story are sprinkled, unhonoured and unassisted, all over India in the unorganised sector. The tycoons of business and industry, living in their own Narcissistic world, pass them by. For instance, soon after Kapur’s article appeared, I would have expected an Ambani, Narayana Murthy, Azim Premzi or Suresh Krishna to send scouts of talents to locate the boy in the Mumbai slum and groom him to form the nucleus of human capital of unimaginable worth.

This is the difference between the Indian and Western mentality, and this is why the West has advanced and prospered. An obscure clerk and a near destitute, Srinivasa Ramanujam, employed by the Madras Port Trust, writes to the greatest mathematician of the day in Cambridge, and the latter, without a moment’s delay, spots the genius in him, brings him over to England, helps him flower as a mathematician in stature perhaps even surpassing the rest, sees him installed as a Fellow of the Royal Society and makes him one of the immortals. Similarly, it was the great poet, William Butler Yeats, who took it upon himself and went out of his way to make the world aware of the poetic genius of Rabindranath Tagore and strove hard to see to it that Tagore got the Nobel Prize for Literature for his Gitanjali.

TALENT TREASURE-HOUSE

Note the magnanimous spirit shown by Graham Greene, hailed as one of the greatest novelists of his time, responding promptly to R.K. Narayan’s letter enclosing manuscripts of his writings, instantly recognising his superlative talents, and putting the entire weight and authority he commanded in the literary world behind his efforts to ensure that Narayan’s creative potential was tapped to the full and he emerged as the fore-runner of the generation of Indian writers in English.

Or, take V.P. Menon, latter-day acolyte of Sardar Patel, the architect of integration of States. He joined as a non-matriculate typist on a pay of Rs.30 during the British Rule in Viceroy’s establishment. All honour to the British that, seeing his incandescent merits, they gave him fast-track promotions resulting in his becoming the Constitutional Adviser to the Viceroy at the time of Independence.

Can we cite one example of great figures taking on the likes of Ramanujam or Narayan, leave alone Kapur’s slum jugaadist, and build them up into India’s talent treasure-house?

Truly, in Indian ambience, to quote from Oliver Goldsmith’s poem, The Deserted Village, “Talent sinks, and merit weeps known” and “Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law”.

(This article was published on December 4, 2012)
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