Inspiration for Meera’s Kitchen
A list of things giving me inspiration… but first, a list of things *not* giving me inspiration.
From May 30, 2021:
So much for the unofficial start of the American summer.
We’re two days into a gloomy, wet Memorial Day weekend in Brooklyn. Friday morning was pleasant, but rain was falling by Friday evening. Worse still, the temperature dipped (much of the eastern U.S. saw this, too)! I traded in shorts for sweatpants and my thick socks.
I write this from my couch, curled up under a blanket, heat on. It’s a good weekend to be stuck inside. I’m working with my boyfriend-turned-tech director, Jack, to complete final edits and promotion for “Meera’s Kitchen,” which premieres in exactly one week (!). We are so close to the finish line, and today’s newsletter celebrates the people, art and writing that inspired me to pen and produce “Meera’s Kitchen.”
I heard thunder boom in the distance. I’m not feeling very inspired today. Just tired. In need of sunshine and maybe a break.
Some pandemic memories feel warm, even in sunshine-less months. Little moments kept me pressing on: Books, Netflix shows, virtual connections. Then I had gray days, when I tried to write but instead watched hours of the blinking cursor on an empty Microsoft Word page.
Today is a gray day. There will always be gray days, even though I’m lucky enough to be vaccinated and healthy. Writing helps; writing this list of recommendations I collected on my journey is already giving me some light. If yours is a gray day too, I hope this list brings you some sun, and if you’re already in the sunshine, I hope these recommendations help your day glimmer more brightly.
And, an update: It's no longer raining!
Beena Raghavendran (@thebeenster)
Co-founder of Red, White and Brown Media
Thank you to these inspirations...
Food and food television
At first, I botched recipes like these. Then I started getting better: Dosas, aloo tiki, oat roti, saaru and rice, okra palya, sweet Pongal. My loving family responded to texts of food pictures with praise, bolstering my confidence.
The Netflix docu-series “Chef’s Table” helped me shape the hardest parts of Meera’s character, particularly Niki Nakayama’s story that included family pressures and food and Massimo Bottura’s initial struggle at his restaurant Osteria Francescana. I’d one day love to start a supper club like Asma Khan did. Netflix’s “Ugly Delicious” validated for me the importance of highlighting Indian food’s diversity (check out the season 2 episode “Don’t Call It Curry”). I cheered when I saw Padma Lakshmi’s “Taste the Nation” on Hulu, celebrating the power of food from immigrants and indigenous people. Anthony Bourdain’s shows — especially “No Reservations,” which Jack and I watched often this spring — is a masterclass in whip-smart writing while remaining respectfully curious of other foods and cultures.
Thank you to my virtual playwriting class at The Acting Studio for teaching me that every good scene comes back to what characters want, how they’re achieving their goals and what’s getting in their way.
A few playwrights I love: Heidi Schreck, whose show “What the Constitution Means to Me” inspired me to write my own; Madhuri Shekar, the first playwright I read who writes about South Asian characters; Larissa FastHorse and Tori Sampson, whose stories and plays inspire me to keep writing.
So many other writers helped me on this journey. I will always be a fan of Jhumpa Lahiri’s work (“The Namesake” was particularly inspiring in this journey), Salman Rushdie’s blending of fantasy and reality and Anita Desai’s “Fasting, Feasting.” I binge-read Cathy Park Hong’s “Minor Feelings” over a couple days, and it helped me grapple with my emotions and broaden my perspective of the Asian American diaspora. Krishnendu Ray’s writing and points about willingness to pay for ethnic food inspired a scene in “Meera’s Kitchen.”
Thank you to Domino Park, my local park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It hugs the East River and gazes into the Manhattan skyline. I spent so many days on its walking path, mulling Meera’s story and my own. Thank you to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where I memorized lines under an umbrella of cherry blossoms.
Thank you to friends and family who have given me feedback during my playwriting process and shared stories with me. Special thanks to my parents, my grandmother, my sister, and these friends who especially helped me bring my playwriting vision to life: Amy Gumbs, Paul Pierre-Louis and Vignesh Ramachandran.
My friend Kofi Gumbs, who produced music for “Meera’s Kitchen,” always wows me with his originality, his love for collaborating and his catchy melodies that get stuck in my head for days on end.
My last shout-out goes to my boyfriend, Jack Lotkowski. We’ve never collaborated on a large project together but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. This show would not have been possible without Jack’s video production and editing skills, crisp graphics, coding knowledge and general encouragement/support for my big ideas.
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