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Zen And The Art Of Jugaad



‘Keep your film out of the sunlight!’ was once a statutory warning I gave my charges. But by 2004, I was staggering around like a lost dinosaur peering at a spaceship console. Too much auto-focus, megapixels and image stabilisers for me. Our film world had passed away with nary a whimper and denied a headstone.

A high priest of those analogue days was a certain Mr Lord, (we never did bother asking him his first name) who lived near St Emilian’s Church, where you would have found him looking dapper in an old linen suit, sunning himself in a patch of winter sunshine.

‘Clutter is good for you,’ he announced as I looked at his pile of broken gadgets: black-n-white televisions, blenders, grinders, radiograms, record players and transistors.

‘It’s comforting to fix broken dreams,’ he’d said.

His workbench was a riot of Araldite, epoxy, resin, glue and Quickfix. With pliers, screwdrivers and wire-strippers lined up on his table like a row of soldiers on parade in an abandoned cantonment.

Maaan!’ he drawled. ‘Before moving to Landour, I worked at the Railway’s Balasore Workshop. Getting here I was pretty chuffed up to be seventy years old! But the older fogeys laughed! I could not apply for the Seniors’ Club before getting to eighty!’

‘My name made me an automatic choice for the undertaker of the Cemetery. Still trying to fix the unfixable.’

Then there was the scruffy Swiss Hans. You could call him the poor man’s William Tell after trimming his beard, clipping his whiskers and giving him a good scrub. Of course I dismissed bazaar rumours that credited him as being part of a team that had planted an ill-fated early warning device atop one of our peaks to the north.

I first spotted him astride a rickety-old Triumph motorcycle, taking Laali – his pet monkey – on a ride.

‘Be the first in whatever you do!’ he advised me. ‘Don’t be the last person to step into a swimming pool!’

I must say Hans dived deep, fulfilling his destiny by becoming world-famous-in-Landour-only for his handyman skills. There is no doubt he was the Founding Father of Jugaad – long before the term became a well-worn phrase. It was common belief that he could fix, tweak or modify anything. But oftener than not, with interesting results.

My friend Rakesh Garg living in Sister Bazaar once had a Royal Enfield motorcycle that developed a wracking cough.

‘One did what you did in those days – take it to Hans.’ ‘That’s easy!’ nodded Hans, eagerly stripping it apart. Out came cams, chain, engine, fuel tank, headlights, indicators, sprockets and wheels. Trouble came knocking when he couldn’t put them all back together again.

‘We did in the end what we should have done in the beginning, that is take it down to the workshop in Dehradun, only this time it was in seven assorted suitcases!’

Slowly, with the passage of time, Khaliq’s workshop, on the ramp of Mullingar, became Hans’ second home where he tinkered around with everything. On one occasion, he borrowed the doodhwala’s ancient muzzle loader claiming that the trusty flintlock would help chase away Landour’s pesky monkeys. They were a nuisance to Lalli’s frequent joy rides.

The first thing he did was saw off the barrel murmuring: ‘Easier to carry!’

Later when the milkman asked for it back, Hans welded the two pieces together, well almost, for who could argue over a slightly misaligned barrel?

‘My gun! You’ve ruined it!’ moaned the milkman. ‘I have improved it!’ Hans said, defending the indefensible: ‘See!

You can now shoot around corners too!’

I had a sudden urge to laugh, and almost did, but for the fact that Linda, his long-suffering companion, turned up. What on earth had the poor girl done to deserve such a stiff sentence for a single mistake?

By the time the digital age arrived, Mr Lord had left to join his Maker.

And Hans? Last we heard of him, he was peaceful and calm, helping a nunnery down south build an earthen dam. But that’s a tale for another day, perhaps to be told by someone else.

(Ganesh Saili, born and home-grown in the hills, belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books, some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.)