Antara was a sweet and simple girl just like any other girl of her age, but only for one thing – she was very shy. She was so shy that she could hardly talk to anybody. She remained quiet most of the time. Though she was very observant, she rarely opened her mouth. If somebody asked her anything she would simply stare and look at the person. To save face, most of the time, her parents answered on her behalf.

Uncles and Aunts tried to make Antara talk. They would succeed a little when she opened her mouth to tell her name and class. Beyond that, no more questions were entertained.  It was not that she did not know how to speak. She would express herself well when she was with her Mom and Dad. But the moment a new person came to the house, especially elders, she would become silent.

Her mother clarified to everybody, “Antara talks a lot. She knows a number of things. She has her own views about everything.”

But people looked at Antara doubtingly. They wanted proof of what her mother believed. Their suspicious glances and questioning looks made Antara even more withdrawn.

This was not all. There was one more problem which Antara had. She did not like it when people laughed. She would feel that they were making fun of her and laughing at her.

Her mother tried her best to convince her, “Nobody laughs at you. There are many other things that make them laugh. Above all, laughter is a good habit. It keeps us happy and healthy. People laugh and enjoy when they are in a good company. Don’t you also laugh and enjoy, when you are with your friends? We never feel you are making fun of us or laughing at us!”

But all explanations fell on deaf ears.

Papa tried another trick. He was an excellent storyteller. Antara loved listening to stories from her father every night before going to bed. He started weaving stories in a way that would make Antara change her behavior.

Gradually, Antara showed some change. She would answer some questions asked by the elders. But, at large, she still avoided talking and remained a quiet and an introvert child.

Besides her Mom and Dad, she would talk to her close friends, and some favorite relatives. She would be quite friendly and open with some people whom she liked and admired.

The years rolled by. Antara was growing up, moving on from one class to another, learning new things, attending school sometimes happily sometimes with a grudge. She was in class VI now. English and Hindi were her favorite subjects. The reason behind it was that it was mainly these two subjects in which the course books had stories. Stories of a king and a queen, stories of the world around her and stories of space and rockets.

Like every other child, Antara loved reading and listening to stories. They would take her into a different world – a world of imagination where she loved spending most of her waking day. She was as reserved as she was in her childhood.

But one incident brought a tremendous change in Antara.

It so happened, one day in school it was English period. The teacher was about to begin a new lesson. Children opened the books only after the teacher entered the class. Antara noticed from the illustration given in the lesson that it was about Mahatma Gandhi.

The lesson was taken from the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi – ‘My Experiments with Truth.’

The teacher asked the students, “Children do you know who Gandhi Ji is?”

All the children said in unison. – “Gandhiji is the Father of the Nation.”

One child said, “Gandhiji fought in the freedom struggle and made India free from British rule.”

Another stated, “Gandhiji was born on 2nd of October in Porbandar, Gujarat in 1869. He played a major role in the struggle for India’s Independence. Because of his principles of non-violence the British had to finally leave India and declare it a free nation. ”

“What smart kids are there in my class,” thought Antara. “They remember all the facts learnt in the previous classes so well. Why do I hesitate so much? Why am I the only one who cannot open her mouth around people?”

And as the lesson progressed, Antara found herself greatly surprised.

Gandhiji’s description of his own behaviour, seemed as if he was describing Antara.

That day when Antara reached home, the first thing that she said to her mother was, “Mamma, you and Papa always say that Gandhiji is the father of the nation, but see what is written about him in my book!”

“What is it? Read and tell us!” Mummy was as usual in the kitchen, busy preparing lunch, and listening to Antara as well.

Antara quickly took out the English Reader, opened the lesson and read a few lines from it. Gandhiji had written-

“…There is hardly anything to note about my studies. I could only have been a mediocre student… I used to be very shy and avoided all company. My books and my lessons were my sole companions. To be at school at the stroke of the hour and to run back home as soon as the school closed that was my daily habit. I literally ran back, because I could not bear to talk to anybody. I was even afraid lest anyone should poke fun at me.”

After reading these lines Antara blurted, “Gandhiji has himself written all this and he is describing himself as a shy person who never made any friends!”

While Antara was reading, she saw Papa had entered the house for lunch. His office was close by and so they all had lunch together. Papa had heard all what Antara read. He also heard her say, “How can a shy and a mediocre student, who was also scared of other children making fun of him become the father of such a great nation?” there was an utter surprise in Antara’s voice.

This time Papa spoke “Gandhiji led a truthful and humble life. His simple ideas were different from all the other leaders. He insisted on a non-violent protest against injustice. His simple living, high thinking and fearless attitude were the qualities that inspired the people. Under his leadership, the whole nation was united and the movement for the independence of India became so strong that even the British were forced to leave.”

“Any person, shy or bold can become a leader if he or she chooses the path of truthfulness,” Papa continued.

Antara heard about Gandhiji with great attentiveness. Her parents could clearly see a shine of confidence on Antara’s face. Her eyes also had a spark in them.

Antara went to her room to change her uniform. Mummy and Papa looked at each other. There was a shine of hope in their eyes too.

Words meanings:

  • withdrawn – reserved
  • autobiography – life story of a person written by himself
  • unison – the action of speaking the same words simultaneously
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