Every morning on my way to my glass-enclosed office facing the beautiful hills of Mountain View I walk through the snack kitchen area of my office floor. Be it 7.30 or 8 or 8.30am, there is always one person who is in the office before me every morning: Jason! He is a super friendly 20-something kitchen personnel who makes sure our snack kitchen is clean and stocked before most of our floor starts filling up. He is also the first person who greets me every morning with a big bright smile, chit chats about the weekend and often tells me how excited he is to play golf at Shoreline on the weekends where he works a second job and self-taught himself how to play golf over the years.
A few days ago I was taking a red eye flight from San Francisco to New York for a couple of days of work in the city that never sleeps. Little did I know that I wasn’t going to get any shut eye either – not only because I can’t sleep on planes, regardless of the time of day, but because this flight was going to be a – well – let’s say new kind of experience.
It was a Tuesday night. I had been warned that flights might get delayed out of SFO because God had decided to open the floodgates of rain on California and the state that has been in a drought for the past five years did not have a modern enough aviation system to deal with these weather conditions. My sister picked me up from a dinner wearing a pajama, evoking boundless jealousy in me, because all I wanted after a long day of work and socializing is a warm home with a soft couch, a fluffy blanket and me somewhere in between. Alas! On the way to the airport I remembered that I forgot to pack my toothbrush. Was it because of a piece of lemongrass that was stuck between my teeth that I started thinking of the most mundane of things on an exciting trip to NYC? Since we were a bit early I asked my sister if we could stop somewhere to drink a coffee and maybe buy a toothbrush. No chance! She was wearing booties underneath her PJ and refused to step out of the car. Drive through coffee? No, she thinks it is uncool to sit in a car in the rain with a drive through coffee…with me. Hmmmpf!
My otherwise just-in-time track record of getting to the airport was broken by this early arrival. Lo and behold, I was the only one in the security line and made it to the somewhat spookily empty gate area with almost two hours left on my hands. Instead of trying to find a toothbrush I got the ridiculously yummy hot chocolate from a gourmet shop across from my gate because I was a) freezing and b) thinking that the heat of the drink will help “melt” the lemongrass out from where it was stuck. It had been a long day, you know.
Despite the torrential downpour the flight was on time. I had no idea where all those people came from suddenly but the plane was chock-full. Luck and I have never been best of friends so I got a middle seat to add insult to injury.
Now I was fully expecting there to be a baby in my row or within a two row radius of mine. God bless the potential future Mom in me but I was really not prepared for a red-eye-middle-seat-middle-of-the-week flight with a crying baby anywhere near me. Fortunately, parents thought the same and there was no one under five feet anywhere in sight. Three minutes into settling into my seat – with my coat on to prevent hypothermia – my aisle seat neighbor showed up. She was an unsuspecting Asian girl (woman?) – I can never tell. As soon as she sat down and shoved her bag underneath the front seat I wrinkled my nose and started sniffing like a disturbed little puppy. I knew this smell! It’s all over San Francisco and near bridges in San Jose. Weed! OMG, weed! This woman’s bag was full of weed. I couldn’t stop wondering how she got through security with this. I know marijuana has been legalized in California but she was flying into New York and the nauseating smell told me this was more than just a little pack or two. I looked around and no one was even flinching. Why? I was about to pass out from this smell. There were no other seats empty and I couldn’t just have gone to the flight crew and told them to please change my seat because – uhm, eh, my neighbor brought on a bag full of weed on board and I was about to throw up from the smell. My six hour misery began. I started hallucinating – not sure if it was the fumes of the weed getting to me or the thought that I had three days of jam-packed work ahead of me with little prospect of sleep.
About halfway through the flight, awake like I have never felt before, I was staring at the blank screen in front of me on a plane that was darkened for people to fall asleep. Suddenly, I sensed a flicker of light hitting the side of my face and the smell of the weed being diluted with the smell of something else I was trying to recognize. An elderly, cute gentleman, clad in a lungi, a long white kurta, an Islamic prayer cap and a long bushy white beard was violently shaking his fist that was tightly clasping around what seemed to be a tiny little flashlight. He must have gone to the bathroom and was now trying to find his way back to his seat not realizing he had way overshot his seat number and was now in the front of the plane. He was reeking of zarda. The smell was so strong that it woke up everyone in my vicinity and I saw more than a few worried faces when Uncle Zarda continued to pound his fist to get that flashlight battery to fall in place. I saw a woman quietly mouth the word “bomb” to her husband and I couldn’t help but laugh at the comedy of all of this. Or maybe it was just the potent mixture of the stomach churning smell of marijuana and zarda that was driving me nuts. Slowly but surely, after flashing at least five more people by accident Uncle Zarda made it back to his seat but left behind his cloud of sweet tobacco. That cocktail of smells must have woken up my window seat neighbor too – a very stylish, clearly NYC lady in her 70s, with white hair and as I found out instantaneously a runny nose. Now that she was up and awake she was snorting and thanks to a lack of tissues was “slurping” her runny nose “back in” every few seconds. I have no idea what the later is called. All I know is that it drives me baloni every time someone does it. If only I could have offered her a tissue. In addition to my nostrils being filled with the the dry pissy smell of weed and the sweet minty smell of zarda for the next three hours I had to endure this constant intrusion of nerve-wrecking slurp. An out and out attack of terroristic proportions on my olfactory and auditory senses! My head was spinning and if I had had a parachute in that very moment I would have put it to use!
We landed half an hour earlier than planned and given the chance I would have kissed the pilot’s feet for freeing me from this narcotic hell.
Looks like I was not the only one dying to get off this metal bird. As soon as the door opened a stout little New York woman started yelling from three rows behind me to “get the f*** off the plane” at which point my neighbor, gangsta Asian lady, turned around and gave her the look of her lifetime.
Having lived in NYC for a while I knew not to take a cab into Manhattan at rush hour so I made my way to the Airtrain station with puffy eyes and an assaulted nose. The train doors were about to close as I got to the platform so I jumped in and sat down next to an African American family of three – father, mother and a pre-teen girl. The mother asked a question, the father answered and within seconds both of them were in each other’s hair arguing about who said what. Spying through a thick black NY accent I deciphered they were arguing about whose decision it was to get on the wrong Airtrain. We were on the train to Howard Beach, not to Jamaica. What?! I was sitting on the wrong train too! For the next 15 minutes I circled around the airport to get back to where I started from with a fighting African American couple next to me, each trying to be louder than the other. Who needs a Broadway show when you have drama everywhere in this city?
20 minutes later I was on the right train to Jamaica Station. I got off, took the elevator down to the subway and while I was trying to make sense of all that had happened in the past seven hours I smelled it again! That sweet minty smell. I turned around and Uncle Zarda was right behind me. What in the world are the chances that I would see him again – that too on a busy NYC Subway platform after making a 15 minute detour on the wrong train? This time Uncle Zarda was holding a little pink tamagotchi like device in his right hand and was clicking on a silver button every few seconds all while murmuring a prayer. Now I am not easily terrorized or influenced by stereotypes but I don’t know what bombs look like these days. All I remember are the oval looking dark green ones in old Shatrugan Sinha movies. Maybe their aesthetics have changed over the years?
The E train arrived and we all jumped into the same wagon. That zarda smell and my complete lack of sleep was now slowly putting out parts of my brain. 20 minutes later I saw Uncle Zarda deboard and I continued on my journey into Manhattan.
With black circles around red eyes and a traumatized nose I made my way to the most amazing shower I knew of in the NYC office and let the hot stream of water wash away the past night of travel.
Yesterday was the sixth and final activity of my year-long commitment to organize Gratitude & Giving Back events for my family and friends.
The New Year makes a lot of us set resolutions for the future, finding things we can do today to make our tomorrow better. One way it manifested for me was to find a way to connect two things that are true beacons of the future and help with a cause that supports both: a greener world for children! So this time I planned a volunteering activity at an Elementary School that needed trees to be planted around their campus.
It started with a very useful 15 minutes of instructions on how to plant a tree. Despite having helped my dad in our garden a handful of times I learnt quite a few tips and tricks, from digging the right size of hole, to creating a platform, “tickling” the roots, building a berm, installing posts, etc.
After the tutorial we went on to pick a whole slew of tools like shovels, gloves, posts, bands, support ledges, mattock and pick.
From here we went to find our marked spot near the playground and carried our 12 foot tree and mulch to the exact location where work was about to commence.
Now one may think that a rainy day and drenched soil may make it hard to spend the day outside planting a tree but it actually made it easier and much more fun (except that it was quite the act of heroism to clean our clothes and shoes afterwards). We had a blast measuring, digging, using all our strength all while listening to desi party music (thanks Anusha!). Driving the posts into the ground was the hardest part and with every pound I was in awe of how my dad does everything around our huge garden at home all by himself at the age of 64!
For Type A people like me a little competition adds a whole new level of motivation so it was even more fun that our playground area needed three trees and we were “competing” against two other groups that ended up being quite a bit slower than us. Girl power!
For those of you familiar with Aditi-isms, my sister had the brilliant idea of planting an apple tree – likely the only apple many kids will hold in their hands in the future unless we plant more real trees.
Knowing that one day this tree will carry a beautiful crown of colorful leaves, providing shade to children, likely oblivious of what went into getting it to spread its wings here brings a warm smile to our hearts.
After two hours of solid work, and leg , arm and back muscle toning we proudly named our tree “Baum” – the German word for tree. Here is a picture of Baum with Anusha, me, Kevin (our guide) and Aditi.
Our tree will grow to about 40 feet and will turn a beautiful red in the fall. We can’t wait to come back in a few years and check out Baum in all its glory!
Two weekends ago six of us completed our 5th Gratitude & Giving Back activity.
It also happened to be the day our car was frontally hit by a large wooden plank driving down the freeway at the speed of 80 mph. Things could have ended really badly, forever altering the maps of our faces but I like to believe that someone is watching out for us and knew we were on our way to express Gratitude and Give Back. The plank damaged the entire front bumper, grills, fender, and other parts of the car leaving my Mom, my sister and me unscratched.
An incident like this would usually leave me very frazzled and cursing myself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, today I chose to see the silver lining and thanked the power that is watching out for me for saving us from what could have been a much bigger tragedy. Sometimes, it only takes one right thought to find order within chaos.
But I digress…
We were on our way to the Gurdwara in San Jose to help with Sunday lunch Langar preparations. A Langar is a common kitchen run by the Sikh community to prepare and serve food to all visitors of the Gurdwara, without distinction of faith, religion or background, for free. On an average Sunday the San Jose Gurdwara serves lunch to 5,000 people and then some for dinner. The entire operation of the kitchen is run by volunteers making one think that it would be a hotbed for chaos. To the contrary – it’s the most beautiful and comforting example of order taking birth out of chaos.
Starting at 5am in the morning volunteers – many from the Sikh community but also general volunteers that just want to help – start showing up and without receiving a single direction make themselves useful in the kitchen wherever help is needed. No one tells you to roll out rotis, or peel onions, or cut vegetables, or wash and dry dishes. You just seamlessly plug into an activity where a helping hand is needed. We saw elderly people well in their 80s making rotis all the way to 10 year olds running between the dish washing and serving stations to take back washed plates.
It is nothing short of magical to be sitting in a circle and peeling onions with a group of total strangers, shedding tears, yet smiling because everyone is here not for themselves but to orchestrate something much bigger than an individual can ever fathom.
Right around noon an orderly line of colorfully clad worshippers entered the immaculately clean Langar hall, took a plate and walked past the food line to get served. Without many words being spoken there was a blanket of respect spanning the entire Langar hall. People only took as much as they could consume, they bowed in respect to the elders who served them and then took a seat on the long rows of carpets laid out for the diners.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures from the clockwork occurring inside the kitchen because, as intended, my hands were busy doing what I came to do but we took a picture outside of our group (minus one).
With the bottom of my heart, I thank all these lovely volunteers for joining me for yet another activity and expressing their Gratitude for all that we have. A special thanks to my Mom who had come all the way from Germany and after cooking delicacies for us every single day at home insisted on spending time with us at the Langar kitchen too!
What do you like most about working at Google?
- The people
- The culture
- The innovation
Yup, I’ve heard and said it all!
Baadal is our full-service on-campus Indian restaurant at Google’s Mountain View headquarters. Started a handful of years ago by Chef Irfan the torch has now been taken over by Chef Mahesh and Cafe Manager Carmelo Pullaro. And man are they apt at setting fire to your taste buds with their culinary skills!
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a private lunch with the Chefs hosted by Chef Mahesh and his sous chef Francisco. As you may know Indians are know for their hospitality and walking into Baadal that day felt just like I am walking into someone’s home in India. The Chefs greeted us and sat us at a beautifully set table with crisp linen and shining stem wear. A party in our mouths awaited us! Just take a look at the menu:
We started with a feast for the tongue and the eyes alike. A lip-smacking dose of Strawberry Lassi,
followed by crispy and tangy Dhai Papdi Chat.
With out tummies half full we then gorged on delectable Kadai Paneer and Saffron Pulav.
No Indian meal ever ends without a dose of sweet somethings…in this case Bread ka Halwa that was so perfectly roasted to glory that I had a hard time parting with it.
I often post pictures of my Mom’s, sister’s and my own cooking but rarely do I talk about the love and labor it takes to get to the final products you see in the picture. The magic at Baadal also wouldn’t happen without the immaculate care the Baadal chefs put into their art. I got the rare opportunity to take a look behind the scenes:
Food safety and guest feedback is King, so much so that reminders are posted all over the walls to remind the Chefs of what makes their way to us Googler’s stomachs and then straight into our hearts.
For any of you that know me personally I am quite the clean freak but Baadal’s kitchen left even an approaching OCD like me spellbound by how sparkling neat and clean this place was.
Yeah, so clean that I had no problem letting my jaw drop to the ground!
In case you are wondering what makes Indian food so irresistibly mouthwatering it’s a cocktail of these carefully measured spices that goes into each dish:
Pictures speak a thousand words, just like these endless tubs of papad
but we at Google are numbers people at the core. So brace yourself because I learnt some pretty mind blowing stats about the number of mouths fed at Baadal every day and what it takes to do that:
- Chef Mahesh, Sous Chef Francisco along with 7-8 line chefs, three receivers and one washer run the entire show.
- On an average day they cook for 1,200 people culminating into Friday Biryani days with 2,000 guests.
- On Paneer Tuesdays 240 pounds of paneer are ordered in to feed vegetarian and non-vegetarian Googlers alike.
- Biryani Fridays call for 440 pounds of rice and about 400 pounds of chicken (ouch!).
- 50-70 gallons of kewra chai smoothly flow down Googlers throats every day.
It would be an understatement to say that this is an incredibly well-run ship. I, and many Googlers, are grateful to the entire Baadal Team for not only making us not miss home but pampering us with the love and care we are used to from our parents in a land far far away from home.
Watch out, Bay Area! It won’t be long until Baadal tops the Bay Area Indian fine dining scene…in case it’s not already up there.
While most of us take food and shelter for granted it was eye opening to see that a very large part of our community cannot. The San Jose facility of SHFB serves six zip codes in which thousands of families rely on fortnightly nonperishable food pickups and weekly perishable grocery pickups. The needs of different types of families is so well researched and responded to that it makes you want to give a big crisp hat tip to the men & women behind SHFB who have worked tirelessly to put so much thought behind their actions.
Our group arrived at 9am and we were promptly guided through registration, getting name tags and being assigned a project appropriate for the size of our group. The efficiency of this place made the German in me perform a happy dance three times over! We were assigned a volunteer leader, Mike, a humble regular volunteer in his late 60s, maybe early 70s who was continuously lending us a hand throughout the three hours we were there. Mike graciously welcomed us, gave us some background on the work the permanent and drop-in volunteers do for the community and then explained how we could help today: 80% of the food going through this center goes to families that have access to cooking facilities. 20%, however, is delivered to individuals or families that are homeless. Our first task of the day was to pack food and toiletries into brown bags for these homeless people that didn’t have any possessions and hence would have no way to use any perishables or even cans that required a can opener. Each bag was designed to contain proper nutritional values within the confines of not being able to add any fresh fruit or vegetables. Mike had already set up a “production line” for our team. On top of a series of long metal tables he had placed baskets full of brown bags, cans with hearty protein, soups cans, peanut butter jars, walnuts, trail mixes, graham crackers, toilet paper and ziploc bags with basic toiletries.
My sister was the pacer of the group, starting with the brown bag and filling it with protein cans. That bag then traveled down our assembly line with each person adding the thing or two they were responsible for. After adding the last item I was then heaving the bags onto three-tiered racks, each rack packing about 54 brown bags. Mike and another team member were our re-stockers. Anytime our assembly line was running out of supplies they found backfill in the very well organized warehouse and replaced our empty basket with a new one full of supplies. In just under an hour we had packed four racks – that’s more than 200 brown bags!
It was time for a break. Mike showed us the break kitchen that was stocked with tea, coffee and a variety of snacks for volunteers to replenish themselves. I loved that SHFB thought of this place as an inspiration for volunteers to learn from other volunteers’ experiences. The walls were lined with pin boards of quotes and testimonials of past volunteers. Reading through some of them raised the feel good factor in my heart a tiny bit more because I know people are watching out for other people – completely selflessly.
Like clockwork we went back into the main warehouse after our 15 minute break and were greeted by Mike again. He walked us outside and gave us a brief tour of the produce section which looked like a well stocked interior of a large grocery store. As we walked around the corner of the building we saw a little wood-framed box that was being used as a kitchen garden. Mike told us that this is SHFB’s initiative to teach the recipients of their donations how to be self-sufficient. Many families in the zip codes they serve have been given these wooden frames to plant in their front yards and volunteers have taught them how to grow their own vegetables and fruits in them. This is how community service can go beyond providing fish. They are teaching them how to fish.
Armed with all of the info about fresh produce we went back into the building and commenced our second task: Mike had neatly decked out our metal tables with a clean white paper tablecloth and he rolled a giant palette of boxed corn on the cob to our area. We were given latex gloves in all sizes, a selection of large knives and plastic bags. Our task was to cut of the slightly wilting ends of the corn on the cob, clean up the husk a bit, pack five in each plastic bag and knot the bag before putting it into a large container. Our practiced team rolled up their sleeves and over then next hour and a half we processed a whole palette full of corn. This was food that grocery stores would have thrown away because consumers don’t like buying vegetables that look like they are about to wilt but in reality there was nothing wrong with the corn and its kernels. We just took of the ends and husk to make it look “pretty” again.
So the next batch of volunteers would find the place as neat and clean as we did our last task of the day was to clean up. We each grabbed brooms to swipe the floor or knives to wash and within 10 minutes the space looked the way we had found it.
A mere three hours, 8 pairs of hands and the will to help someone else than yourself! That’s all it takes to make a difference. And you would be surprised that in the end the person that’s being helped the most is actually you. Nothing gives you as much perspective on what you have to be grateful for as experiencing other people’s plight. Having the opportunity to help them is a true blessing and I hope I continue staying blessed.
A little more than a month ago I visited Priya Living – a Senior living community – in Santa Clara. That experience taught me a lot about what it means to be independent in retirement and that age is merely a biological fact. What you make out of it is entirely up to you.
The positive energy, enthusiasm and love for life of those Seniors made me want to see them again so I invited them to join me for lunch at Google yesterday. I had been planning this lunch for quite a few weeks with Mahesh Uncle’s help who is the CEP (Chief Event Planner ;)) at Priya Living. I also enlisted Mahesh Kumar’s help who is the Head Chef of Google’s Indian restaurant Baadal. He graciously agreed to host a group of 19 of my “Senior” friends and five of my younger friends for his special Biryani Fridays.
The morning of our lunch, Dr. Magal, a regular visitor at the Senior living community and the wife of a Director at Google, emailed me sharing this:
Looks like the big day is bringing lots of sunshine & smiling faces. I could palpate the enthusiasm last noon among the Priya living residents. They are all excited like little kids & I was so touched.
As you can tell, none of the Uncles wanted to sit next to the Aunties because in typical husband-wife banter they said they spent enough time with each other and preferred sitting with their friends. Despite living in Silicon Valley, I don’t think I have ever sat at a table with such density of accomplished people: I was immediately surrounded by a Physician with his own private practice since the 1960s, a certified Gemologist, a Research Scientist, an Engineer who started his own businesses and a scholar who translated the entire Mahabharat from Sanskrit to Hindi amongst writing more than 20 of his own books. While my stomach was feeding on Biryani my mind was feeding on GDP facts about countries around the globe, why Germany is the superpower it is, how technology is an enabler and a disrupter and why it is my generations’ prerogative to figure out the right balance between the two. And no, this was not boring serious talk. I learnt more than I typically do over a casual lunch all while laughing at why Kothary Uncle, across from me, always confuses Laxmi Aunty’s name for Rukhmani. These gentlemen have an unparalleled sense of humor.
After lunch we headed over to Google’s Main Campus to give my new friends a tour and have some fresh pressed juice and smoothies. Believe me, I have given many a tour at Google but rarely have I received such intelligent questions. Most visitors just feel they will come across as smart if they make snarky remarks about Google and its company culture. Not these gentlemen and ladies!
While we were waiting in line for our juices and smoothies one of the Aunties told us she is a retired Gynecologist and literally brought Ranbir Kapoor and his likes into this world as she was Neetu Kapoor’s and many other Bollywood celebrities’ doctor. I almost spit the juice out. I couldn’t believe my fortune when it comes to meeting super interesting people.
On our way back to the cars we passed by another cafe. Since it was a hot day I asked if anyone was interested in vanilla or guava ice cream. 19 arms went up in a jiffy and I saw a few extra sparkles in those lovely eyes.
I must say there is something very special about this generation that ours and the ones to come are unfortunately losing. When we started collecting the empty ice cream cups to dispose of them every single one of our friends said a very heartfelt Thank You and somehow you could just tell that they actually meant it and it wasn’t just a phrase that was rolling off their tongues. The grace of this generation is something to hold on to. A fantastic reminder for me that one shouldn’t just make friends their own age. Always be sure to have friends much older and younger than yourself because you will learn so much from them that friends your age can never teach you.
And here is a group picture with my “Senior” and “Junior” friends:
Cheers to new friendships!