In a world of round holes and square pegs, it’s only adjusting that will keep the show going.
‘The quality of mercy,’ said Shakespeare’s Portia, ‘is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven on the place beneath.’ Stirring stuff no doubt—the kind of lyricism that get poets smacking their lips in thrall. But then poets aren’t practical people. In our everyday world, the growing public demand is for less rhetoric and more results. If Portia were in India rather than Italy, you can bet she would have thrown poetry out of the window in favour of the far more persuasive: “Please adjust.”
Although it is not a native Indian invention, we Indians have taken to ‘adjusting’ as if it was designed with our precise needs in mind. Indeed, if ‘adjusting’ was an Olympic sport, we would have swept all the golds. Generally phrased as Zara add-just karo in the northern parts of our country or solpa adjust madi in Bengaluru and points south, it reflects our accommodative spirit towards a less-than-perfect solution, and our readiness to get on with the game.
It comes in where corporate strategist C.K. Prahalad’s ‘jugaad’ has left off. As you know ‘jugaad’ is the Indian way of finding innovative and quick-fix solutions to problems that bamboozle the rest of the world. But what happens when even ‘jugaad’ doesn’t deliver results? Well, you simply adjust.
Adjusting is most visible, or more precisely, almost palpable in the state transport (ST) buses that ply across our fair land and bring people closer to each other. Each bus carries what the Mumbai Railway authorities have officially defined as ‘Super dense crush load’.
En route, the crush load becomes more crushing… but then the conductor spots a family at the next stop desperate to get in. Should the bus speed off, leaving the family looking at the tail-lights? That would be heartless, and there’s also a baby bawling her little heart out. Through practical experience, the ST conductor knows well the resilience of the human spirit and equally, the elasticity of the human body. He manages to carve out a mother-and-father-sized hole in the crowd and welcomes the family in. As for bawling baby, he deposits her on the surprised, if not the unwelcoming, lap of another mother.
That’s ‘adjusting’ in action! 'Adjusting' applies to all aspects of our lives—from obtaining those certificates that mark both endpoints—birth and death, to everything in between. There are rules and regulations supposedly governing all these activities but the prevailing view is that only fools follow rules.
Your friendly neighbourhood chartered accountant will show you how to get around tax laws, and your railway tout gives you a live demo about how to adjust with the ticket checker and pull a berth out of thin air. You can also demonstrate your filial regard by ‘adjusting’ with the health authorities to get your parents an out-of-turn vaccination.
The ‘Happy Hour’ for 'adjusting' is before and after elections. Take a close look at the states, from West Bengal to Kerala, bracing themselves for Assembly polls. You will see aspirants ‘adjusting’ with the party bosses to bag a ticket while parties do the same with each other over seat-sharing.
Once the results are out, ideologies are ‘adjusted’ beyond recognition and sworn enemies bond overnight as almost prenatal partners. At the end of it, everyone is happy and everyone is laughing all the way to the bank or more precisely, to their respective hawala operators. That’s why adjusting is called the ultimate win-win.
Happiness gurus tell us that at a deep, personal level, ‘adjusting’ is also the key to lasting happiness. Life with all its twists and turns can often leave your accomplishments far short of your aspirations. Conventional thinkers will then succumb to disappointment and the pangs of self-blame.
Adjusters however are made of sterner stuff. They simply recalibrate their expectations to match reality. They are also more ready to forgive themselves. As the Buddha said, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is not complete.” You may not be quite gung-ho about many things around you. For instance, you may think that completing a Test match inside two days is not cricket. Or you may feel that the long stretch of potholes that you drive on cannot be called a ‘road’.
Or finally, you may not be convinced that achhe din is here. Well, please adjust!
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK.