Charu Sharma is incredibly composed for a 19-year-old.
When you’ve travelled across all seven continents, represented India in taekwondo, swam with penguins in Antarctica, explored the rain forests of Australia and have been awarded the National Bravery Award for gallantry by the Prime Minister, composure understandably comes easy.
The National Bravery Award — for thwarting purse snatching goons on a Mumbai local along with her brother — is just one of the five national awards Charu’s racked up. She won her first at the age of 10 for exceptional prowess shown in extracurricular activities.
As this Lalbaug girl lists out her achievements, in a rather matter of fact manner, it’s easy to forget that she’s actually a teenager, second-year student at Mount Holyoake College in Massachusetts.
She spent most of her 2011 winter break interning for the chief political officer of the president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili as well as the leader of the opposition party. On her spring break in 2011, when most of her friends headed for the beaches of Florida, she went to a conference in Washington DC and hung out with the minority leader of the House, Nancy Pelosi. In summer, she was off to the Caribbean to help with engineering projects.
Doesn’t she miss doing normal teenager things like lazing around and watching TV? No, she said.
“I constantly need to be doing something. I love meeting new people, hearing their stories and travelling. I don’t know what I want to do in the future (she hasn’t yet chosen a major in college) but I know that it will involve these three things,” she says.
So what lies ahead for her? “I don’t like to plan things. I grasp all the opportunities I get and go with the flow. Too much planning is the enemy of opportunity.”
Charu sometimes speaks like she’s reading aloud from a self-help book. And sometimes she sounds like she’s giving an acceptance speech at the Oscars. “I’m blessed to have the life I’ve had. I have the best possible family in the world and people I’ve met have really inspired me.” She talks with such sincerity, you realise that she truly feels that way.
It’s not difficult to see, with her sunny disposition, why she gets along so well with people. Her Facebook friends count stands at a staggering 2,200.
On her latest jaunt to Antarctica, she had a stop-over in Argentina. One of her friends remarked that he would like to walk into a random house and see how Argentinians live. Charu didn’t think twice. She walked right up to a house, rang the doorbell, spoke to the residents in broken Spanish and made such an impression that she and her friends were invited in for lunch. They spent the rest of the day with the family going around the city.
What belies her composed exterior is a strong impulsive nature. “I am very impulsive. When I saw the penguins in Antarctica, I got this idea to go swimming with them in sub-zero temperatures. We almost got hypothermia, but when would we get a chance to do that again?” she asks.