I Was a Waitress, Now I Write for HBO

  • Share

Official trailer for “F**KED UP” written by Prathi Srinivasan & Joshua Levy now on HBOGO and HBONOW.

My entire life, my name has weighed on me: Prathiksha.

It’s quite a mouthful, even for other Indian people. I had gotten used to the pursed pause and the unblinking smile whenever I told somebody my name. I get it, it is an odd one. In fact, when my family moved from bustling, humid, noisy India to West Des Moines, Iowa, I wasn’t even that surprised when I got much the same treatment. Midwestern, well-meaning teachers always tried to conveniently rename me,“Patricia.”

I insisted on going by Prathiksha. My full name in its full glory, I wore it like an overgrown lion’s mane and practiced my autograph on the backs of books. I was an awkward combination of Junie B Jones and Anais Nin. I figured I was going to be big. 

I was an awkward combination of Junie B Jones and Anais Nin. I figured I was going to be big.

Prathiksha means, “To anticipate, to wait.” 

The source of my stress often came from the very meaning itself. My parents were waiting for me to ‘arrive.’ They were always the good ones; well-meaning, eyes shining, hands clasped, very loving. And when I was a kid, it was so easy to please them with my arrival. All I had to do was remain conscious or use the toilet for them to shower me with love and praise. Man, times have changed. 

They gave me this name with such high expectations of me: when I finally ‘arrived’ I would be an incredible insta-adult with a sundry of mind-blowing accomplishments. All of their sacrifice and decades of patience would be worth it. They modeled me after my older sister, who is a busty Ivy League doctor with a dazzling smile and inconveniently thick straight black hair. Her greatest bane is her Angelina Jolie lips.

So when three years ago I found myself without a scholarship, between Universities, living back at home, and waiting tables at a diner, it is easy to say I was falling pretty short of their expectations.

So when three years ago I found myself without a scholarship, between Universities, living back at home, and waiting tables at a diner, it is easy to say I was falling pretty short of their expectations.

I was using maybe one-third of my braincells. I patiently enunciated my name to every single customer I came in contact with. I dreamed of television glory while I mopped bathroom floors. I was Persephone underground in an oversized polo shirt, sticky with maple syrup. I spent what I was told would be the prime of my life writing my first screenplay in between scrubbing counters and counting tips.

It’s bad enough that I had rejected the call of being a doctor to follow my childish dreams of writing, but I wasn’t even in school as I was doing it. I was, in a word…a dud. 

I guess there comes a point in anybody’s life when they hit rock bottom so hard that they hear pithy phrases like, ‘When life gives you lemons turn it into lemonade’ and it actually seems significant.

I threw caution to the wind and collected the last of my tips, flew to New York, wrote and filmed a web series with my writing partner Josh while I slept on the floor of his NYC sublease. I wrote about living at home when you’re supposed to be exploring the world. I wrote about sleeping on the floor when you’re meant to be accomplishing something. I wrote about all the things I cried about and wanted to smile about, how the expectations I had of a life for myself had gotten drunk and drove off a cliff. I wrote about expectations that had cruelly inverted.

Literally, none of my choices seemed to be traditional ones, or even intentionally successful ones. My parents were left scratching their heads at how they, the upstanding, hard-working immigrants, raised a girl who stayed up ‘til 5am scribbling into a notebook and laughing to herself.

In so many ways I was lost. I had lost sight of the path they desperately wanted me on. I lost myself in my very first love affair—storytelling.

I guess being lost is where everything else fell into place.

I guess being lost is where everything else fell into place. Even as I was sleeping on floors, scrubbing toilets, and daydreaming, I was honing my craft. When I applied for the HBO Writing Fellowship, there was literally nothing left to lose. It was either I get it, or I take out a loan and go to graduate school to become something that was more acceptable in my parents’ eyes.

I got the HBO Fellowship. When I got the call the day after I graduated college I imagined a TV executive put their cigarette down and said to my script, ‘YOU. You’re finally here.’ 

I flew to Los Angeles, college degree in one hand (finally! I did not take the typical 4 years but what felt like far longer) and my parents’ blessing in the other. I was the instant college success story: “GIRL GETS JOB RIGHT OUT OF COLLEGE, IN FIELD OF CHOICE, MIRACULOUS.” For all intents and purposes, I had arrived. And like samurais who cut off their hair when they ascend, I shortened my name to, ‘Prathi’, which was my nickname as a child, when the world felt huge and full of possibility. 

Prathi means, ‘First among all.’

Getting a chance to run out of the gate and into the world meant that I wasn’t waiting anymore; I was forging my own path. Because as anybody will tell you, there’s no one way of success, of following your dreams. There’s only what you have to give every moment. 

To watch Prathi’s pilot, go to HBOGO
or search “F**KED UP” on HBONOW.

Comments

Prathi Srinivasan

Prathi Srinivasan is an immigrant who grew up in the bustling city of Chennai, India. Her love of writing stems from the Hindu myths her grandmother told her throughout her childhood. Moving to America was a culture shock that resulted in her passion for characters who are stuck between where they come from and where they are going.

View All Posts
  • Share