After an hour of walking and sweating profusely under the hot mid-day sun, we were in search of transport to the nearest town. We saw a vehicle approaching far on the horizon; it was the ubiquitous Mahindra vehicle, called Maxx. The vehicle is usually expected to seat 11+1, the additional 1 being the driver.
The vehicle groaned to a halt in front of us, I could spy three vacant seats in the bench style seating in the last row. I quickly clambered on to the vehicle and then surveyed the scene; there were already 5 people in both the front and the middle rows in addition to the driver. The bench style seat is a local innovation to maximize carrying capacity for 3 people on either bench. The conductor however, was having none of this. He quickly asked us to scurry to our respective corners, thus making room for 4 on either side. Grudgingly, I made way and precariously staked claim to a space enough for one half of my generously proportioned buttocks and heaved one almighty sigh of relief. To my naive mind, the vehicle now appeared full and I thought that we would be proceeding directly to the destination. But the driver had other plans.
In some time, he promptly stopped the vehicle for picking up a group of people, who to my credulous eyes seemed to number at least half a dozen! I again surveyed the vehicle in a fit of panic and assessed the situation and concluded that the vehicle simply could not accommodate more than 2 people, who would probably have to cling for their dear lives to the sides of the vehicle. I am sure the reader is aware of the theory (which has been done to death) of the glass of water and the two viewpoints normally associated with this – the glass being either half full or half empty. But our driver had nothing but pure disdain for such minimalist views and his opinion being that such glasses are actually huge empty cauldrons and that there was space for more, always. He again asked the last benchers (of which I was one) to kindly further displace their behinds to make way for this group. Please note that when faced with such dire personal hardship I had shelved my plans of personality judgments, more so as the songs were switched off momentarily in the interest of stuffing the cauldron. The 3+3 benches were then easily converted to seat 5+5 and 2 others in accordance with the author’s assessment clung on to the sides of the vehicle.
No sooner had the vehicle moved ahead on its journey, than two young women on the same stretch of the road signaled the vehicle to a stuttering halt. I had now moved well beyond the first stage of panic and began to wonder at the audacity of the two parties involved in the latest act – the two ladies who clearly were not blind, and the driver who clearly knew the situation about the sardines in the can. My powers of reasoning had deserted me completely and there were absolutely no straws to clutch at now. The driver now displayed his deep reserves of enterprise and asked two of my fellow last benchers to clamber on top of the vehicle and the two ladies were accommodated in the seats which provided the safest possible seats under the circumstances.
I stirred myself from this reverie and focused my thoughts on to a test of basic counting skills and arithmetic to put a definite number on this experience. I could count 25 people who had decided that this was to be their mode of transport for the next hour. What are the chances of this happening, 25 people on the same stretch of the same highway at more or less the same time, all having a premonition about a vehicle from the grand stables of Mahindra and all 25 of us fulfilling our premonition together? A fateful time of the day indeed! At this point, I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to the engineers at Mahindra who released a vehicle for 11 good sized adults into the market, but designed the vehicle to accommodate 25 good sized adults and a pipsqueak. To top this, also designed the vehicle to race at a speed of 70 kmph with this load- truly blessed is the organization that employs such engineers. I now completely understand the reason behind the extra ‘x’ in the Maxx.
The reader is now warned that I will attempt to dissect the episode in a serious manner in the section to follow. The entire episode as depicted above is more or less true in nature; the exaggerations are obvious to the reader. But this episode is a perfect example of the Indian concept of ‘Jugaad’. This is a term for an innovative fix to achieve results with meager resources. This concept is apparently the latest fad in management circles, touted as the next big thing from India (South Asia). Management gurus wax eloquent about this and are selling this to their western counterparts. However, I beg to differ on this whole concept. Instead of trying to sell this concept as a management concept, what really is needed is a focus on the ‘meager resources’ part of the problem. Humankind when pushed to the limits in the fight for survival will often resort to such tactics. The tactics adopted may very well be innovative and appreciable, but the idea of celebrating such tactics and propagating this as a way of life is akin to supporting the lop-sided nature of our development and the elitist stranglehold on resources. Just as war and hatred are not natural states of humankind, so is Jugaad not a natural state, it is very often a struggle for survival and should ideally shame the establishment in to tangible and democratic action. In this episode (where I have quite shamelessly chosen to see the humorous aspect completely ignoring the evident human angle of the struggle), the tangible and democratic action needed was quite evident to me. The stretch of the highway I refer to above is a National Highway, where state transport buses ply almost every 5 minutes. However, since most of these buses run on a longer route, they do not stop to pick up passengers on the wayside. I counted a minimum of 3 buses in the space of 10 minutes wherein the buses were almost empty. But since there is no designated stop for the buses, they refuse to stop for the passengers. Moreover, there are quite a number of people who travel as detailed above on a daily basis. Apparently, there is a paucity of state transport buses to plug the demand. However, as evidenced by me, in reality there is no such paucity in terms of the supply (given the fact that long distance buses ply empty). This supply gap is plugged by operators who flout all safety norms in order to maximize their returns per trip. Humorous though, it may have sounded – it is exactly these sorts of practices that endanger human life. In Bangalore, a recent initiative by the State Government is revenue sharing with the staff. The drivers and the conductors of the city buses including the Volvo buses now get a straight cut (the percentage of which I am not entirely sure) of the revenue that they generate by the ticket sales on a daily basis. Ever since this incentive has been introduced, there has been a sea change in the attitude of the public transport staff in terms of customer friendliness, etc. I would like to point out that the Karnataka State Transport authority is one of the very few state transport authorities in the nation to have consistently generated profits. Returning to the point of the supply side gap in this case, all that is needed is a survey of where people want stops and then the frequency and routes of the buses need to be re-planned. This will not only result in increased revenues, but also increased road safety.
– SBI YFI Fellow Satyanand Mukund His project was on ‘Laborers’s Experience of MGNREGS’