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Maa Ki Rasoi: Director Pratha Nagpal’s tribute to her mum

Maa Ki Rasoi is a celebration of the cultural legacy our mothers carry in their hands.

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A mother wields enormous power when she ventures into an area marked as ‘kitchen’. Who would know this better than Indian children who grow up watching their mothers labouring in it?

Delhi-born writer and director Pratha Nagpal, 21, celebrates her own mum – and acknowledges the sacrifices she has made over the years for her family – in the play titled Maa Ki Rasoi (My Mother’s Kitchen).

“My mum is known for her cooking within our extended family – it is always an occasion when people come over to eat her cooked food, both in India and in Australia,” shares Nagpal, who moved to Sydney when she was 13. “Everything about cooking that my mum knows is the legacy she carries from my grandmother (nani) and her sister (maasi ji).”

Combining stories from her own upbringing in Maa Ki Rasoi, Nagpal poignantly explores the intergenerational divide experienced by immigrant parents and their children. This crisis is demonstrated through a script around a mother’s hand-cooked food.

When Nagpal moved to Australia during her teenage years, she spent a lot of time navigating a new culture in a new country.

“I had to shed most layers of myself that defined my Indian identity,” she tells Indian Link. “I would be ashamed of my food, ashamed of my clothes, ashamed of my parents’ accent. As I grew up and am growing up, the guilt of shedding those layers kept creeping back in, and I felt this internal struggle to define myself and my identity.”

Female lead in Maa Ki Rasoi
How helping – but mostly annoying – mum in the kitchen can teach you about your native cuisine (Source: Supplied)

Life back in India was quite different, naturally.

“I think growing up in India, I just grew up in the kitchen – mum was in the kitchen so much, I inevitably was in it just as a curious child always playing with different foods, spices, flours and worrying mum,” recalls Nagpal, who has a Masters in Fine Arts (Directing) degree from the National Institute of Dramatic Arts NIDA.

Cut to present, Nagpal confesses she hasn’t learned much cooking from her mum. “Instead, I wrote a show about it,” she laughs. “Jokes aside, I am in awe of the cultural legacy my mother carries in her hands but am still on a journey of figuring out how I carry on her legacy without losing myself.”

It is this divided upbringing that inspired her to write Maa Ki Rasoi.

“I’m grateful for the experience I have gained here and wouldn’t necessarily change my life trajectory if I were given the choice, but with all of it inevitably has come the baggage of rediscovering yourself, carrying your culture, and unpacking intergenerational guilt,” she adds.

The play’s lead role and sole actor is Madhullikaa Singh, a 22-year-old Gurgaon resident who moved to Australia in 2019 to pursue higher education in theatre and performance studied at the University of Sydney.

Singh during a performance
Felt like home: Madhullikaa Singh on her role in Maa Ki Rasoi (Source: Supplied)

Like Nagpal, Singh too has experienced a deep longing for a sense of belonging and familiarity. She collaborated with Nagpal in 2022 in developing the script for Maa Ki Rasoi.

“Working alongside Pratha on this production provided me with a feeling of home,” Singh shares. “Together, we created an environment where we could explore our shared Indian culture and I had the opportunity to express the sorrow that comes with leaving behind a rich cultural heritage while embarking on a new journey in a different country.”

Before the upcoming shows at KXT, Maa Ki Rasoi has had two different seasons. “Each time I do it, it becomes a tiny bit less scary than the last,” Nagpal confesses.

As for her future plans, Nagpal will be working on developing a new work named Aurat Raj which is a piece that acknowledges the invisibility of women’s labour, especially women of colour. “I want to keep creating works that tell challenging stories – I want to keep pushing myself and my artistic practice and most importantly, keep telling stories that are able to capture the nuance of our lived experience as people of colour and as immigrants,” she concludes.

Produced by the Purple Tape Productions, Maa Ki Rasoi will be played at KXT on Broadway from May 31 to June 8.

READ ALSO: Talking about mums at Adelaide Fringe

Prutha Chakraborty
Prutha Chakraborty
Prutha Bhosle Chakraborty is a freelance journalist. With over nine years of experience in different Indian newsrooms, she has worked both as a reporter and a copy editor. She writes on community, health, food and culture. She has widely covered the Indian diaspora, the expat community, embassies and consulates. Prutha is an alumna of the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, Bengaluru.

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