(December 29, 2021) In 2021, Amanda Sodhi was on the move, non-stop. Around Christmas last year, she sold her furniture in Kolkata, downsized to a suitcase and embarked on a journey in search of “home” and “belonging.” Living life out of a suitcase, Amanda’s search took her to 10 cities in the past 12 months. Friendships were born, memories cherished as this juggler of many talents moved forward. Her 12StepsToHome Instagram project across 12 cities in India went viral. The singer who has written lyrics for two songs in Amazon’s Made in Heaven and directed films in diverse genres, is looking at 2022 to become an author now!
A digital nomad, Amanda’s startup — Pen Paper Dreams promotes creative self-expression. The former Washington DC native wears multiple hats — entrepreneur- singer-songwriter-poet-screenwriter, filmmaker now travelling philosopher.
“We’ve conducted sessions at bookstores, cafes, schools, co-working spaces, lit fests, etc. We’ve been hosted by Juggernaut Books, Rupa Publications, LBB, WeWork, YLAC, Hyderabad Trails and Haptik,” informs Amanda, a self-confessed book worm to whom poetry, songs and stories come naturally.
While Pen Paper Dreams began as a poem-a-day Instagram project, it evolved into a brand that helps people bust stress through creative self-expression.
A city to city trail
While enjoying a shikara ride on the pristine Dal Lake in Srinagar on Diwali 2020, a realisation dawned upon Amanda. “Rather than staying in one place and feeling sorry, why not consciously uproot each month and live in different cities and see if I find a place that has the potential to feel like home or, if I find my tribe,” informs Amanda, who like many others was feeling isolated towards 2020 end.
A chance meeting with filmmaker Amit Madheshiya (Cannes-winning director) in Srinagar who himself shuttles between Delhi, Mumbai and Srinagar led to 12StepsToHome. “Witnessing him pull that off inspired me to take it up a notch and live out of a suitcase for 12 months, a different city each month,” says Sodhi in an exclusive with Global Indian.
Born and brought up in Washington DC, Amanda moved to Los Angeles in 2011. She was 25 when she moved to Mumbai (2012) and later to Kolkata (2017). The same year, the Indian-American launched Pen Paper Dreams — which works towards cultivating inclusive virtual safe spaces which are creative communities.
But first, the travel
Amanda’s journey took her through India’s hinterland. Her experiences in Andamans were most cherished. “In Andaman, I was fortunate to meet very kind locals who were a wonderful support system. The beaches were stunning too,” she says.
The beauty of Kashmir captivated this itinerant traveller though it was challenging at times. Her time in Hyderabad was great. “It has all the facilities of a tier-one city with the added bonus of a more leisurely pace,” quips Amanda, who went to Marymount University in Virginia, where she double majored in communications and English, and minored in business. She graduated the four-year programme in three years.
Living out of a suitcase is quite affordable, insists Amanda matter-of-factly. Her monthly spend is ₹7,000 to ₹15,000 on rentals, meals or shared kitchen access, Wi-Fi, electricity, room cleaning etc, though in metros like Mumbai, it was more. Amanda, whose father passed away in December 2015, has her mother and elder sister in the US.
Work defines her, through her 12 steps. To budget, the 34-year-old relies on auto-rickshaws and buses to sightsee. The startup founder is presently in God’s own country – Kerala – the 12th and final month of #12StepsToHome.
While her 12-month journey ends on December 31, 2021, the search for home and belonging has come full circle. “I would like to divide my time between Hyderabad and Srinagar next year,” informs Amanda, who just finished reading The Cat Who Saved Books and now switches between The Startup Wife, Destination Wedding and Tokyo Ever After.
A solo woman traveller
As a woman travelling alone, she has had some bad experiences too, one homestay billed her falsely, and after she wrote a bad review, she had to face the police. “In Srinagar, someone followed me to my homestay, and later even followed me to the police station. The homestay was semi-starving (us) tenants – though we were billed for a meal plan – as the landlady was sadistic. The second wave was in full swing, so most shops were shut and sourcing food became a huge issue,” says Amanda, who agrees with Indian comedian and actor Vir Das about “two Indias.”
Of course, Sodhi always has her guard up while travelling. “I have never felt that my life is in danger but eve-teasing saddens me. In Puri, I was uneasy when older men stared and cat-called at a beach. This, I would only go for walks when friends were on a a call with me,” informs Amanda, who grew up watching Hindi films and listening to Indian music.
The entrepreneurial bug
Travel aside, she is a hands-on entrepreneur. “I’m a digital nomad and I have great discipline. I meet client deadlines, irrespective of whether I am traveling or not. I’m simply living in different cities each month, not on a 365-day vacation,” says Sodhi. Interestingly, she had previously enrolled in a few kirtan classes at a local gurudwara, briefly.
Her startup conducted online sessions during the pandemic too. “Writing is therapeutic. We conducted many free creative writing workshops online to help people destress, in addition to our paid programmes. We created a virtual interactive reading and writing group. It is rewarding when people share how these sessions have helped them,” says Amanda. Her company works with interns and freelancers but Amanda does most of the work on her own. “We are a tiny startup, and don’t have the budget to recruit a full-time team,” she smiles.
The future is bright
Next on agenda is a book about her 12StepsToHome. “I hope to release it in 2022, and will also release a new single then. I hope to continue to grow Pen Paper Dreams.” She is hoping that the book about #12StepsToHome gets picked up for an OTT project.
Earlier in her career, the Indian-American recorded the background score of an Indie film called 5 Souls in 2011, and wrote music reviews for Planet Bollywood which caught the attention of renowned lyricist, screenwriter and poet Prasoon Joshi. He asked her to translate his lyrics into English for his anthology, Sunshine Lanes.
She has penned the lyrics of two songs for Netflix series Made in Heaven, and for the hugely popular — Puppet Life, I Don’t Write Sad Songs Anymore, Takiye Pe Sar she composed and sang too.
A tweet by AR Rahman and Kalki Koechlin for her lyrics in the two songs in Made In Heaven thrilled her to bits. She also released three singles earlier — Jigsaw Puzzle, Behind My Sunglasses and MainKhaali that were received well.
As she juggles diverse talents, one must mention her co-written feature film Life! Camera, Action…. with Rohit Gupta. Amanda shared a nomination with him for Best Screenplay at the World Music and Independent Film Festival 2011. Apart from the lyrics of Hai Yeh Kaisa Safar, she wrote and directed two short films — The Dance of Death and Through Bloodshot Eyes.
“The fact that I’ve survived the curveballs life has thrown at me, and haven’t given up on my dreams yet is what gives me maximum joy,” says Amanda, for whom Mindy Kaling, Hasan Minhaj and Lilly Singh are her favourite global Indians.
- How Amanda went around India in 12 months
- January – Hyderabad
February – Andamans
March – Ooty
April and May – Kashmir
June – Hyderabad / Hampi
July – Manali / Spiti
August – Imphal
September – Puri
October – Chandigarh
November – Delhi
December – Kerala (Wayanad, Alleppey, Varkala)