In December 1993, I took a UNDP consulting assignment at the Indian National Institute of Hydrology Ganges Plains Regional Centre, in Patna, India. On the first night at the Guest House at the Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI) Complex, I found myself unable to eat the potatoes with chili because the dish was too hot for my taste. So, I told the waiter to instruct the cook to cut down the amount of chili for the next day's meal.

The next day, finding the food equally hot, I repeated the admonition to the waiter. On the third day, when the situation didn't change, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I entered the kitchen to explain to the cook that I was going to starve if he insisted on adding too much chili to the potato curry.

Great was my suprise to find the cook preparing the dish, not in a pot as I had expected, but directly on the floor, as is apparently the tradition in Patna. He had piled a mountain of chili and other seasonings and was adding a few potatoes in the middle. I knew then why he could not comply with my order; I should have instructed him to add more potatoes rather than to reduce the amount of chili. Thus, the moral of the story: Different cultures lead to different perspectives.


The Mondavi river, in Panjim, Goa, India.