CBC Toronto - Photo By Timothy Neesam
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Steve Gupta

Ties to India

Jugaad on Jarvis

"When jugaad doesn't have to happen," says Steve Gupta, "it won't happen."

Gupta, Toronto developer and owner of 14 hotels, tries to explain a word that has no real English equivalent.

"But we say that what is in your luck is going to come to you."

But it requires active participation, says Gupta. "When opportunity knocks, you've got to open the door." He laughs. "Hello, jugaad! Welcome, I'm ready for you, that's how it is."

Audio: The CBC's Mary Wiens shares stories about "jugaad", a mysterious, but key ingredient in the art of the deal.
Listen audio (runs 6:04)

When things come together

Jarvis mansions
Mansions along Jarvis St., 1910
(City of Toronto Archives)

Jugaad is Hindi slang, a word that originated in India's Punjabi region for the moment when things suddenly come together, with the slimmest of resources. Like the day a friend called Gupta about a building at Jarvis and Dundas. The former RCMP headquarters had stood empty for 7 or 8 years.

When he first walked in, Gupta found every glass door broken by squatters. And the federal government building needed major environmental work - it would cost a million dollars and almost a year just to clean it up.

Almost since the day Gupta arrived in Toronto, he'd dreamed of opening a hotel on Jarvis. But back then, Jarvis was pretty seedy. In 1974, when Gupta drove down Jarvis, one of his first encounters was with a couple of prostitutes who propositioned him from the sidewalk as he waited for a red light to change.

But he also noticed the once grand mansions, built in the Town of York during the late 19th century. "I said this is going to turn around one day," Gupta recalls. "This is like the Bridle Path of downtown Toronto."

By the time Gupta sat in his bedroom, marking up the plans of the former RCMP headquarters at 241 Jarvis, he already owned two other hotels and numerous highrise apartment buildings, including a couple on Jarvis. Now he sat calculating how many hotel rooms 241 Jarvis could comfortably yield.

Jugaad at play

Hilton Garden
The Hilton Garden Inn
(Hilton Hotels)

His calculations showed 120 rooms. In the end, he built 150 rooms, after discovering on closer inspection a top floor with an excessively high ceiling - another sign of jugaad at play.

And although the deal nearly unravelled when government officials told him that he would have to pay for the environmental cleaning before they would turn over the keys, Gupta credits a combination of quick thinking, a mutually agreed to sleight of hand involving the ownership of the building while the work was carried out, and a gut feeling that he could make it work, which all transpired to bring about one of Gupta's favourite ventures, a gleaming hotel on what was once one of the most derelict intersections on Jarvis.

"One thing, I make quick decisions," says Gupta, "almost split second decisions. My gut tells me I can do it, I do it. When the jugaad has to happen, it happens like that." Timing, a bit of luck, hard work and passion – that, says Gupta, is jugaad.

Today, Jarvis is being transformed top to bottom. Gupta is given a lot of credit for starting the transformation.

Maybe those men who built Jarvis's first mansions had some jugaad on their side. Whatever the case, it appears Jarvis itself is having a bit of jugaad, with some help from Steve Gupta.

Your experience

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