‘I Didn’t Go Through the ABCD Syndrome,’ Says Indian American Songwriter
Kolkata-based lyricist Amanda Sodhi talks about the process of her song writing, her experiences in India and the creative industry.
After the release of her existential song, Puppet Life, which saw appreciation from the likes of Indian actor Kalki Koechlin, singer Hariharan and others from the entertainment industry, Indian American singer-songwriter Amanda Sodhi reveals to Little India that her next song is going to be titled, I Don’t Write Sad Songs Anymore.
Sodhi, whose body of work includes songs such as Jigsaw Puzzle, Behind My Sunglasses and Main Khaali, all of which have a lovely forlorn quality about them, attributes the divergence of mood in her upcoming song to her move to Kolkata in April last year. “A very strange thing happened when I moved to Kolkata. I feel more inclined toward writing happier songs. Up until now, that was never the case. Unless of course, a client asked,” says the songwriter who spent the first 23 years of her life in Washington.
Saying that her experience of the Indian city, which she describes as having an “otherworldly, old school charm,” is reflecting in her writing, she adds: “As I have been writing happier songs here, I Don’t Write Sad Songs Anymore is the first one I want to put out there. You could say some portions of the lyrics are fourth wall breaking as it reflects my journey as a songwriter, while there are some sections where I have taken creative liberties because it makes the most sense in terms of an overall story.”
Sodhi, 30, who discovered her love for reading and subsequently writing quite early in her childhood, also dabbles in screenwriting and conducting writing workshops called Pen Paper Dreams. She attributes her creative ventures to her education in the United States.
“Most of elementary school consisted of creative writing or journaling being mandatory. So when I joined first grade, every morning we had to start the day with an hour of journaling. Up until sixth grade, we all had compulsory reading time. So all of this was inculcated in all of us through our years in school and college,” she recalls. “This is something I realized was missing in Indian schools — where they are not taught to write for themselves. It is something I try to bring to the table with my workshops.”
Her parents were against her choice of getting into a creative profession, as no one from the family had ventured into the field before. Sodhi also credits it to her sheltered upbringing in the DC. “My parents were really conservative so I wasn’t really allowed to go out and hang out with friends, so books, film and music became a new world to enter into,” she says.
They especially didn’t want her to move back to India when they had worked so hard to move to the States. It is a question she comes across in India as well — the reason for her move. “It was met with a lot skepticism and resentment. You have to understand a lot of people want to leave, so when they see someone doing the opposite, there is resentment,” she admits.
“My parents also had a lot of apprehensions about how the industry would be like. Unfortunately, the industry does actually live up to most of its stereotypes,” she says, recounting her struggles to get her songs released.
Sodhi moved to Mumbai in September 2012 after a brief stint in Los Angeles where she got into go into direction, singing and modelling outside of office hours. Her move to Mumbai “made the most sense logistically,” as most composers and filmmakers are based in India’s financial capital. “If I wanted to pursue music or filmmaking, this is what made the most sense,” she says.
Mumbai turned out to be a city where she felt more safe than in the United States. She also discovered that it’s a place where the “survival of the fittest” counts when it comes to opportunities. “If you can survive, then you can really excel,” she says.
However, during her time in India, she also felt a sense of otherness that she didn’t feel as an Indian American in the United States. “I didn’t go through the ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) syndrome while I was in the U.S. I was always clear that I was an Indian and an American, because after all, that is where I grew up,” she asserts.
India, on the other hand, has made her feel like an outsider, even though she has made good friends.
“My accent is not as thick as it used to be when I first came here. My accent is more pronounced when we speak English. Many people would get offended because of it, asking if I was trying to show off,” she elaborates, adding that it is okay for a person who was born and brought up in India to crib about the way something operates in the country.
“If you crib, it is met with ‘haan tum American log,‘ so there is definitely a sense of otherness that other people will make you feel,” says Sodhi.
The screenwriter for Life! Camera Action, a feature film that toured multiple film festivals, also points out that people have a very stereotypical ideas about how people from America are supposed to be, based on what they see in pop culture.
“It is really skewed. I don’t think most of us live up to those stereotypes,” she says.
Sodhi, who is currently in the process of writing a book, wants to eventually shuttle between Mumbai, Kolkata and the United States. “I didn’t enjoy DC that much while I lived there – because I badly wanted to move to India all along – but now that I’ve been away for a few years, I do miss the cherry blossoms, strolling through Georgetown and Bethesda, saying ‘hi’ to the panda bears at the National Zoo and stuffing my face with tons of chipotle,” she says. “You tend to value things once you no longer have them, I suppose.”