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Jugaad the American way

Illustration: J.A. Premkumar.

Illustration: J.A. Premkumar.  

How the wife of a U.S. Ambassador and an envoy himself introduced simple techniques to help Indian workers

A friend had mailed a copy of a newspaper article by U.S. Ambassador Kenneth I. Juster narrating how similar is the dogged air pollution in the National Capital Region to that Los Angeles suffered in 1943. The U.S. city mitigated the menace, harnessing the simplest of a few technologies but with perseverance stretching to 40 long years. Maybe, India could benefit from the LA experience, perhaps in just one decade.

My mind flashed back to Mr. Juster’s two predecessors in India.

Ambassador Chester Bowles’ wife, Dorothy Bowles, a regular visitor to the Chandni Chowk bazaar in New Delhi, once noticed a sanitation worker in considerable pain as she plied the broom.

It struck her that the short length of the broom made the sweepers almost double down from the waist and retain that posture for hours on end all their working life, leading to chronic spinal pain.

Ms. Bowles turned to her staff-companion and asked her to go back and fetch the Ambassador’s walking stick. Meanwhile, she had the binders on the hand grip of the broom loosened a bit and went on to insert about a foot of the walking stick in the centre of the grip, tightened the binders and hey presto, there was a six-foot-long broom which could be plied with an upright stance.

Pleased with her innovation, she gathered many sweepers and asked them to try out the “Make in India” model. Each one passed the broom to the next with a big smile and then turned to touch the feet of Ms. Bowles.

She demonstrated her innovation to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and so after aeons, the sanitation workers in the country had a comfortable sweeping experience.

Reinventing the wheel

About a decade later, Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith was visiting the site of the Bhakhra canal project near Suratgarh where camel carts were the primary means of transport for construction material. But no cart could carry more than 30% of its capacity in the Thar desert environment. And in that instant, Mr. Galbraith came up with the idea to replace the wooden wheels with discarded balloon-tyre wheels of aircraft, bolted on the ends of an axle with ball-bearings.

This innovation shed a centuries-old design and enabled each cart to transport to full capacity and made it possible for the camels to make double the daily trips, if need be.

To stabilise the compacted sand on both flanks of the canal, countless thousands of endemic tree saplings had been planted, but the manual irrigation was inefficient, inadequate and labour intensive.

Again, Mr. Galbraith had an instant innovation: mount a diesel water-suction pump with a flexible long hose upon a wooden platform, fix a camel’s harness to the platform and float it in the canal, start the pump, goad the camel to walk and use the hose to irrigate saplings at the leisurely, walking pace of the camel. A single contraption, one camel and one labourer would suffice for every five-km length of the plantation.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 3:38:13 PM |

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