A quaint and a colourful little book at a first glance, Jugaad is a storehouse of decolonized and unabashed knowledge about mental health by 14-young people between ages 14 – 19 years. It is a book carefully and collectively crafted by the young people that is rooted in their lived-experiences, and seeks to be a first-person account of what mental health looks like to them.
Mental health is often considered to be an unfamiliar territory from our everyday conversations about physical health, which makes any language around it mysterious, inaccessible and sometimes scary. It has also been a space which has been influenced largely by expert-based literature, ideas of normalcy and oppressive systems of ableism, capitalism, class and caste hierarchies, gender-binary, heteropatriarchy. Jugaad then seeks to be an alternative document that hopes to uphold the young people’s voices, their hopes and values of being in this world, and makes visible their stories of resilience, their ingenuity to respond to everyday mental health concerns.
“Jugaad” is a colloquial term that is used in many cities of India to describe life-hacks that people bring to navigate through difficult situations. And we often hear this word in our work with young people, when they talk about their jugaads, the ‘little’ doings, the ingenuity they bring in to manage anxiety, isolation, bullying experiences. This book is about all such jugaads – skills from these 14-young jugaadus, their know-hows of resisting, and responding to everyday mental health concerns, to reclaim their hopes for the world they live in.
The Jugaad team (an illustrator, two curators and 14-young people) got together sometime in June, 2018 over 5 days to co-create, reimagine and rewrite a world that takes care of them and works every day towards a healthy and a just living for all. To recruit these young people, we reached out to them through phone calls and a flyer that read, “the content of the book will be created and sanctioned by the group of young authors themselves and will need no other sanctioning”. We also reached out to partner organizations who were working with young people experiencing marginalization. While planning for these five days, our intention was to rescue, what Michael White called “insider knowledge” that is subjugated, the jugaads young people bring in to navigate through exclusionary worlds.
The five days of June were geared to co-create the content of the book by inviting young people’s knowledge of mental health through activities and discussion. The sessions were facilitated by one of the curators with the intention of wisdom-inquiring conversations about mental health knowing of young people as holding utmost expertise. The illustrator spent her time in the sessions observing the young people, asking young people questions of how would they want to be illustrated, and illustrating them from the corner of the room. The first day of the five-days gathering saw young people coming together and thinking of what mental health looks like to them, understandings of which were rooted in their lived-experiences of developmental and psychosocial disabilities, their contexts, and their social locations. In a heartbeat, the young people collectively dismantled every definition of mental health that did not fit well with them. They saw mental health in love and care, in being loved and cared for, in respectful and inclusive ways of being, a multi-storied identity of a person rather than totalizing labels of mad, dysfunctional, impulsive.
In the next four days, the young people shared stories of themselves that were filled with struggles, despair, hopelessness in an unjust world, but also in the same pulse, responding with so much grit, resilience, ‘jugaads’ of resistance. These jugaads are located in their ‘little’ doings of writing poetry, crying, reaching out to friends and family, drinking chai, turning to nature for support. These little doings, which are not-so-little, are prudent ways in which they respond to difficult spaces, a world that sometimes threatens their mental health. Their ‘jugaads’ are about hacking through oppressive structures, inaccessibility in the spaces of neighbourhoods, schools, homes, and communities. Their hope is then to be in a world that wants to care for all of us, which seeks to be inclusive, and doesn’t deny any of us access to experiences of joy, leisure and love. Their hope is to find themselves in a community that’s waiting to visibilize those invisible from the everyday, know of them and reclaim their voices for a better world.
The post-gathering process was about transcribing the audio and video content for the process of illustration and writing. This involved a lot of checking back of each of the content with each of the ‘jugaadus’ and that was a tiring process. But how else could we have ensured that the ‘first-person accounts’ are indeed first-person accounts of the young people’s lived-experiences? That the content of the book wasn’t another extension of an expertise-influenced literature about mental health or dilution of dominant narratives around mental health. As curators then, we were relieved to get a “no, that’s not what I meant when I said that” from the young people every now and then, to be able to ensure representation of their important voices.
The book is also a walk-through of the process of weaving individual, isolated cloth-patches into a blanket. A kind of blanket that represents a diversity of colours, textures, and designs from many regions but also comes together to weave into a warm place for chilly winters. In the book Jugaad, the patches represent each of the 14 young people, their stories, people, their lives, and the blanket represents the kind of world they hope to weave in, inform the readers of. Each page transitions on to the next page carrying a thread to the next story or to a woven version of the world the 14-young people want to bring to us that they’re building one step at a time, with one jugaad at a time.
In December of 2019, five of the writers from the Jugaad group represented Jugaad’s collective voice at the Second International Narrative Ideas Conference – Weaving our Voices (much to the team’s delight!). In a space that upheld the intentions of love, inclusion, and representation of voices, the Jugaad team together deconstructed ideas around mental health, disability and carework, while recognizing their jugaads and community support as an antidote to everyday mental health distress.
In our ideas of healing from a capitalist, medicalized, ableist world, we often pan for answers in the same oppressive structures. Jugaad, is then about locating healing in ‘little’ doings of sipping chai, cracking silly jokes, taking naps, an understanding nod, being there for each other. In teacups, cat-purrs, in old photographs, in a sea of people or even a few who want us around, who are waiting to hear us. Jugaad represents an initiated movement of resistance that ardently refuses to put up with injustices and repressive establishments. It is a start to a manual for working towards a world that’s beautiful and very possible, and hopes for everyone to join in armed with their jugaads.
Get to know the Jugaad team;
14-young people: Meghna, Yash, Simran, Aisha, Devashish, Adil, Kaivalya, Priya, Maria, Shraddha, Nehil, Darshana, Jayashree, Sanket.
An illustrator: Ananya Broker Parekh
This article has been put together by Yashna Vishwanathan, a Mental Health Worker at Ummeed Child Development Center. She works with children experiencing or at risk of disabilities and their families. She met Narrative Ideas at Ummeed in 2016. Ever since then, she has been drawn to resistance narratives in young people and adults.
Yashna enjoys collective reading and writing spaces, loves a warm meal on a rainy day, or loves to just be, with her legs up the wall, propelled onto a world of castle-sized dreams.