Being an introvert isn’t easy, but Abinayaa Murugupandiyan’s route to self-acceptance is one we can all relate to.

Namita Nair

Staff Writer

     People say that high school is one of the most formative moments in a person’s life.

     They’re right.

     Look around and you’ll see it everywhere. High school is a vortex of new hairstyles, new friend circles, new personalities and values, and opportunities. It is only natural that change is a guarantee.

     For Abinayaa Murugupandiyan (11), high school has been full of change. As an introvert in a society that celebrates extroverts, she has come to see that being introverted can be a strength.

     “There have been a lot of times where I went online and read about being an introvert or an extrovert and, it literally took me reading the words ‘introversion is not a weakness’ for me to be like, ‘Oh introversion might not actually be a weakness!’” says Murugupandiyan.

     As a child, Abinayaa, or Abi (as her friends affectionately refer to her) was the classic bookworm.

Abi, lost in her own world. Reading is an escape and a freeing experience for her.
“I would say that I really relied heavily on my imagination to tackle various different problems, and it helped me imagine myself in a better situation and imagine myself with, better abilities. So that was how I tried to improve myself.”

     “In elementary school, I would be reading during recess a lot. And I think that kind of led me to be in my own little world for a long time,” she explains.

     “It was always easier for me to think about things that didn’t exist. So, I read fantasy and fiction, a lot more than nonfiction…I would think of the weirdest scenarios all the time…it was definitely a big part of being a kid for me,” she elaborates.

     Many of us can relate to picking up a book and never wanting to let go; wanting to forever wander in those fantastical worlds and go on thrilling adventures. 

     Abi credits this need to escape to her introvertedness, noting “Instead of connecting what happened in the books to what happens in the real world, it was usually more of, ‘Okay, this is a completely separate world from my own. There’s no possible way things like this are going to happen in the real world.’ So I think it was more of escapist tendencies.”

     And with the world tending to favor extroverts more, she had countless stories of daydreaming for hours on end and being asked to “Talk more.” In elementary school, she recalls that these comments were more prevalent.

     “When I was younger…I used to read a lot on the playground, and all the supervisors would be like ‘Why don’t you go play you know, spend your recess talking to your friends?’ and stuff like that,” Abi recalls.

     The pressure of being asked to step outside her comfort zone was a daily force. Abinayaa was more comfortable in between the pages of a book rather than the bars of a play structure.

      She remembers that “It did make me feel like I had to go talk to people. I remember if I was asked ‘Why don’t you, why are you reading on the playground?’ I would feel obligated to get up and be like ‘Okay let me go play.’ If someone said that I would feel obligated to do that.”

     However, as she grew up, she realized that she was not the only person finding solace in books and her elementary school library. Introvertedness seemed to be a curse, one that she worked to overcome every day, but fate seemed to give her the friendships she needed to feel secure and comfortable with herself.

     “I definitely know that some of the friends I made were because I read. For example, I remember you used to meet on the playground with me. Yeah, it’s stuff like that that made me notice that I don’t always have to change what I’m doing in order to fit in with more people,” she states.

     Her friends have been a supportive force in her life, and although her circle has changed since elementary school, Abi values the lessons that every friend has taught her. In high school especially, her friends have helped her become comfortable with who she is.

     “Being okay with the way that I am, basically external validation is great. Sometimes it can help me see things that I didn’t see myself…I have friends who can carry the conversation really well on their own and they notice when I don’t want to talk, and they’re fine with that,” Abi reflects.

     This understanding and compassion played a big role in her self-actualization, and while she acknowledges that she still has a long way to go, traveling with company always makes the experience more meaningful.

     As an older sister, Abi has a built-in companion. Her younger sister Disha has been a constant presence in her life, and she shares that her responsibilities as an older sister have only recently become apparent, with their time living together drawing to a close..

     “In the past, I guess I didn’t really give much thought to the role that I would play in her life. But as time passed, I started to think about it more. And especially as college comes closer, you know, leaving home and all of that. I really, really want to have a good relationship with my sister, and it’s just one of the things that’s really special to me. So I want to be somebody who she feels that she can talk to, no matter what. And I also want to be kind of a guide for things that she feels like she needs to be—she wants to be guided for,” she explains.

 Disha and Abi’s bond has grown stronger during quarantine, and having a live-in companion makes life a little less mundane. “She [Abi] is someone who is willing to listen and talk, no matter the topic. Whether it’s about school or anime, she’s there, legs crossed, ears ready. Something that annoys me sometimes is that she is very stubborn. Whenever she and I start talking about something  and she has a point to make, she won’t stop until I agree with her. On the rare occasions I don’t and am too tired to argue, she won’t give up. Although that annoys me sometimes, that is something I admire,” explains Disha.

     Disha herself shared her own thoughts on her sister, and the bond that they have is apparent to anyone who sees them. It is sufficient to say that Abi has had a profound effect on her, and as her older sister, is a major support system for her.

     “I would describe her as caring, diligent, and reliable. She takes others’ feelings into account and is kind. She also works hard no matter what it is. My sister is someone I can talk to and rely on,” Disha states.

     To Disha, her sister is someone whom she can lean on, and this bond is clearly important to both of them. With her senior year coming up and college looming on the horizon, Abi has come to cherish her time with her sister, though Disha can sometimes still be annoying.

     “When we were both young, we definitely didn’t do much besides annoy each other and give each other company. But as we’ve both gotten older, we’ve both changed, and so I think the changes that both of us are going through in terms of personality and the way that we deal with things, has really affected our relationship,” Abi shares, laughing at this reflection.

     Leaving her will be a hard thing for Abi to do, but the strength of their sisterhood is something that remains unbroken. Disha knows that she will miss her sister a lot, and the loss of constant companionship will be an adjustment for her.

     Disha states that “I will definitely miss her and the house will feel empty without her. One of the many things I will miss about her is my TV-watching buddy. Since she is a junior now, she spends most of the time in her room, studying and doing homework. Whenever we get a chance, we always turn on the TV and watch together. It felt like one of the few times she could relax and not worry about college, since it’s always the main topic. I am glad that she chooses to spend her relaxing time with me.”

     Their mother, Mrs. Padmanabhan, knows that her child is ready to tackle any challenges that she may face. And with the immense growth that Abi has gone through, it is not surprising that her pride is scarcely hidden when talking about her oldest daughter.

     “She is lovable, hard-working, and a person of principle. I am amazed at how Abinayaa sticks to her principles even through difficult situations, at this young age…Where there is a will, there is a way. I see her well determined and matured to choose the right path ahead, which makes me feel confident that she is ready [for the world],” says Mrs.Padmanabhan.

     And all of her friends can attest that her wisdom is not to be taken for granted. As her friend myself, even as an elementary school student, Abi has never given a bad piece of advice. If I was not jumping off the slides, it was because she let me know that breaking bones was not worth winning a dare.

     And nothing much has changed. Hershy Karthikeyan (11) can attest to Abi’s wisdom even now. If anything Abi’s wisdom has only deepened, making her a reliable friend to converse with.

     “I felt like it kind of balances in a way to have someone who’s more responsible like an adult… she’s not an adult. I’m saying she’s just more mature with her thoughts, and when she says something, it’s much more meaningful. She doesn’t say as much but everything she says holds more value, and I felt like that compliments me because I’m just always talking, and half the stuff I’m saying doesn’t really add anything to the conversation,” Karthikeyan states.

     Her drive to work hard and achieve her goals is contagious, and Karthikeyan can attest to this. Abinayaa is known for her hard-working can-do attitude, and as high school has progressed, she has found the balance between working hard and taking care of herself.  Her passion to tackle her challenges head-on and support others around her is inspirational, but the most important lesson that Karthikeyan has learned from Abi is to be ever-evolving.

     “I would say it’s that respecting myself includes taking the time to manage my own well-being. And I feel like she does a good job of that. When she goes through stuff, she makes an effort to get better. And when I’m not having it, I don’t really take the time to stop and get help. I just say, ‘Oh well’, and just keep going, even if it’s in a downward spiral. From her, I’ve seen that if you make the effort to get better and improve yourself, then you will. And I feel like that’s one thing I’ve really learned from her,” Karthikeyan reveals.

     Amani Shah (11) met Abi at Thornton in Mrs. Zamora’s third-period PE class. Shah recognized the need to succeed and work hard in Abi, and as friends do, they pushed each other beyond their limits to achieve their goals. This dynamic has only grown stronger as highschool has pushed both their academic and mental boundaries.

     “She works really, really hard but still somehow makes time to do fun things. The latter part is something I really struggle with and hope to get better at,” Shah confesses.

     “We’re both very goal-oriented, so I think seeing each other work hard and then seeing the fruit of those efforts really keeps us going. When everyone around you is slacking off, it’s easy to want to do that too, but with both of us constantly reminding each other to prioritize both our goals and our mental health, I think we thrive in each others’ presence.”

     Abinayaa Murugupandiyan is an extremely special person. Whether she is a friend, student, daughter, sister, or merely an acquaintance, her impact on those around her is visible. As she grows, the people around her thrive with her. High school is a time for growth, and it’s safe to say that Abi has blossomed.

Audio of the interview:

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