Technology, History, and Place

Series: Jugaad (Page 1 of 3)

Panoramic view of the Pima Paisano, an ex-IAF B-24 on display at the Pima Air Museum, Tucson, AZ, USA.

The IAF Cleans House

Panoramic view of the Pima Paisano, an ex-IAF B-24 on display at the Pima Air Museum, Tucson, AZ, USA.

Panoramic view of the Pima Paisano, an ex-IAF B-24 on display at the Pima Air Museum, Tucson, AZ, USA.

By 1968, the Indian Air Force’s fleet of refurbished B-24 Liberators had outlived their usefulness. The IAF began phasing out their B-24s in favor of the newer jet-powered Canberra bombers. Although most of the retired bombers would go to scrap, a few were offered to museums in India and North America. Pima Air Museum in Tucson, Arizona and Canada Aviation Museum in Rockcliffe, Ontario received offers for donations of retired IAF Liberators; the museums could have the planes if they paid to fly them back to North America.

To the Canadian team dispatched to India, the mission of flying the plane would be a rare and memorable encounter with an “ancient aircraft.” Because of the fuel capacity of the plane, the route back to North America would follow the old routes of Allied aircraft during World War II. The plane flew across the Middle East, over Europe, and across the North Atlantic to North America. To comply with modern regulations, the bomber carried updated radios for the flight across Europe. Operation Longhaul, the ferry flight from India to Canada, covered twelve days and 10,500 miles.1

The IAF’s B-24s had come full-circle. When the Allied forces left India in 1945, the bombers were worthless to them. Defying the Allies’ expectations, the Indians got another twenty years of use out of the bombers. By 1968, the bombers were no longer useful to the IAF, so it discarded them. But now, B-24s were had found a new use back in the West. The aircraft no longer had any value as bombers, either in India or the West. Instead, they would be museum exhibits.

Kevin Lynch argues in Wasting Away that societies should not stop wasting; rather, they should learn to waste well. When an object is no longer of any use, it should not be either thrown blindly away or kept to gather dust and take up space. Instead, old objects should be put to new uses; this is what Lynch means by wasting well.2 By Lynch’s standards, the IAF’s B-24s were wasted well, twice. First they were wasted by the Allies and picked up by the Indians, who used them longer. Then the Indians wasted the bombers, and they were picked up by the Americans and Canadians, whose forebears had discarded them in India a generation earlier.

  1. A.J. Pudsey, “Operation Longhaul,” Canadian Air Forces Sentinel, October 1968, 24-31. []
  2. See “Wasting Well,” in Kevin Lynch and Michael Southworth, Wasting Away (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990), 167-201. []

The Benefits of Buying Used

In a particularly successful example of adaptive reuse in independent India, Hindustan Aeronautics, Ltd. (HAL) refurbished forty-two B-24 Liberator bombers, which had been abandoned by the Allied forces when they left India after World War II. After their reintrodution to service in 1948, the bombers served in the Indian Air Force for twenty years.

HAL’s B-24 refurbishment program represents the Indian military’s extensive use of secondhand equipment in the early independence period. India also received decommissioned radar sets from the United States. These sets had been retired and replaced by newer models before being shipped to India. (This did not stop the Texas congressman whose district had supplied some of the decommissioned radar sets from declaring in the House: “This is a deplorable and almost unbelievable situation, indeed, when our Government is willing to close down our own military centers and ship our equipment to any country, much less a Socialist country such as India that has continually played footsie with the Communists.”1 )

The largest, and probably longest-serving example of secondhand military hardware used by India was INS Vikrant, the Indian Navy’s first aircraft carrier. Originally named Hercules and constructed by Vickers-Armstrong (Newcastle) for the Royal Navy, the ship was one of six Majestic-class carriers built during World War II. The ships were meant to last only three years or until the end of the war. None of the six Majestic-class carriers entered service with the Royal Navy; after VJ-Day, they were laid up until the navy could decide their fate. Ultimately, five of the carriers were modified and sold to Commonwealth nations: two to Australia and Canada each, and one to India. (The remaining carrier, Leviathan, was finally scrapped in 1968.)

After the Indian Navy purchased Hercules in 1957, the Belfast shipyard Harland and Wolff spent four years modifying the ship to accommodate modern carrier aircraft. Among changes made during the retrofit, the ship received an angled flight deck and full air-conditioning. The Indian Navy received the newly-commissioned INS Vikrant in March 1961. The ship was pressed into service in the Indian takeover of Goa later that year. In 1971, Vikrant operated in the Bay of Bengal during the Indo-Pakistani War. The Indian Navy retired Vikrant in 1997. With careful maintenance and periodic refittings and modernizations, the navy had kept the ship in service more than fifty years after her keel was originally laid-down—long past her expected service life of three years. By the time of her retirement, she had been replaced by INS Viraat—another secondhand British carrier, originally commissioned in 1959 as HMS Hermes.2

  1. Cong. Rec., 88th Cong., 1st sess., 1963, vol. 109: 15006. []
  2. Roger Chesneau, Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984), 134-151; Norma Friedman, British Carrier Aviation: The Evolution of the Ships and their Aircraft (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1988), 242; David Hobbs, Aircraft Carriers of the Royal and Commonwealth Navies: The Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia from World War I to the Present (London: Greenhill Books, 1996), 107, 200-201. []

Improvising in a Planned Economy

Yale anthropologist James C. Scott has argued that large-scale modernist projects to transform nature and human society—from scientific forestry to Soviet collectivization—have failed because they lack a special characteristic known as metis. In his 1998 book Seeing Like a State, Scott defined metis as knowledge from practical experience; it is folk knowledge or a knack.1

Small-scale jugaad can be thought of as a form of metis. Schools do not teach jugaad; it can only be learned from a mentor or through trial-and-error. By contrast, a planned economy such as Soviet Russia’s or Nehruvian India’s lacks metis. According to Scott, when central governments attempt to control economies, they fail because they lack adequate knowledge of specific local conditions.

An example of modernist planning gone awry in India is the planned capital of Punjab, Chandigarh. Designed by modernist architect Le Corbusier, the city was built to a grid plan on a colossal scale. Unlike in most other Indian cities, Chandigarh’s buildings are spaced widely, leaving large areas of empty, wasted space. The colossal, dehumanizing scale of the city discourages the busy street scenes characteristic of other Indian cities. The Penguin Guide to the Monuments of India says that Chandigarh “makes a rather sorry comparison with the spectacular civic grandeur of New Delhi…”2

But not even Chandigarh was without its hidden narrative of improvisation and adaptation. Nek Chand, a state roads inspector, secretly built a sculpture garden on a disused, twelve-acre plot of government land. Over a period of twelve years, Chand built 20,000 sculptures of wasted materials such as toilet porcelain and glass. When the government discovered Chand’s secret garden, they tried to remove the sculptures. Chand and his supporters prevailed over the government, and the Rock Garden, as it is now called, is a popular tourist destination in Chandigarh.3

  1. James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 6. []
  2. Philip Davies, Islamic, Rajput, European, vol. 2 of The Penguin Guide to the Monuments of India (London: Penguin Books, 1989), 116; Scott, Seeing Like a State, 130-2. []
  3. Kevin Lynch and Michael Southworth, Wasting Away (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990), 21, 23; Takeo Kamiya, The Guide to the Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, ed. Annabel Lopez and Bevinda Collaco, trans. Geetha Parameswaran (Bardez, Goa: Architecture Autonomous, 2004), 43. []

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