Humans of Harker: Conquering through humility

Varun Mangla finds confidence in volunteering and music


Nicholas Wei

“I’m not a very outgoing person, so music is a way for me to speak out in a different way — through music instead of words. I think it’s a way for me to conquer my shyness. Although I’m not the most confident in my playing skill, compared to speaking, music has been a mouthpiece for me to convey my own thoughts,” Varun Mangla (12) said.

Standing with his feet spaced evenly apart, his lips pressed gently against the mouthpiece of his trombone, Varun Mangla (12) gazes thoughtfully before beginning to play. Powerful, soulful notes emanate from the gleaming instrument, the brass brightly burnished a warm gold. At once there is a lilting, trembling sweetness to the air, and as suddenly as the last trill dances away, a look of confidence flashes in Varun’s eyes.

At first glance, Varun may seem shy or reserved. Becoming closer with Varun, however, allows his cool and calm personality to shine through.

“It really is evident that he’s a deep thinker. He likes to make sure that his words are well thought out, and he’s often the voice of reason among us,” close friend Wilson Zhang (12) who has known Varun since middle school, said.

Varun may not immediately reveal what he is thinking about. Still, although he may not always initially join a discussion, his friends greatly respect him for the calm, incisive reasoning that he brings to a conversation.

“When he’s talking, he has the floor, and no one’s really interrupting him. Everything that he says is cool and calculated,” close friend Andrew Chavez (12) said.

As with Varun’s deep thinking, another trait of his that emerges further as one spends more with Varun is his humbleness. Varun doesn’t always reveal his achievements to his friends and instead focuses on his friendship with them. 

“I think that just reflects his humility,” Wilson said. “He simply has an aversion to selfishness, and he doesn’t like to brag. I think he really makes it a point to … not be selfish in that regard.”

Varun’s humility reflects his choice to keep his volunteer work relatively private. Although volunteering has become an important part of his life, Varun has preferred to engage with the work he loves without overtly discussing this passion with his friends. In fact, Varun at first did not feel a pull towards volunteering until he went on a formative trip to India. 

“In ninth grade, when I went to India during the summer, my mother suggested that I volunteer in the old age home there. And I did, maybe due to boredom, but then I really enjoyed it. I found that helping others was something I was really passionate about. So I decided to further it,” Varun said.

Dedication towards charity is evident in Varun’s family. Varun’s grandparents have always donated to children in India, and Varun feels grateful that he has the opportunity to learn from them the joy of helping others.

“I think [my grandparents’] values of service have been or transferred to me. They actually wanted to refer me to the old age home along with my mother,” Varun said. “Eventually, I started volunteering at the California School for the Blind and Second Harvest Food Bank. In an attempt to further my teaching, since I tutor, I took summer courses on how to teach so I can improve my work. We’ve also been raising money for homeless people during COVID-19.”

Over the years, Varun has accumulated valuable memories in his volunteer work. Varun remembers one moment in particular, when he helped a blind ninth grader named Emily transcribe a recipe from an online video into Braille. 

“When we finally finished it, I was touched by how grateful she was at the end. It really meant a lot knowing that, even though I have to spend an hour doing a monotonous task, I made her happy,” Varun said.

The joy that others experience through acts of kindness motivates Varun to continue helping others.

“Volunteering in general is something that makes me proud, knowing that I’m helping my community in a meaningful way. I like seeing other people happy … I feel better when other people feel better,” Varun said.

This desire to come to the aid of others also leads Varun to act as a mediator between his friends when they become engaged in heated debate. Instead of immediately jumping into a conversation, Varun waits until the moment emerges for him to set aside his own opinions and defuse the situation.

“His words carry a lot of power. He doesn’t say much until he finds his opening and goes, ‘Okay, this is where I can step in and bring [a conversation] back to reality,’” close friend Nicky Kriplani (12) said.

Upper school instrumental music teacher Dr. David Hart has known Varun since middle school and admires Varun’s drive and willingness to confront his insecurities.

“I was always impressed with his ability to take something that wasn’t comfortable to him and then grow past that and get over it. In middle school, we always needed trombone players in our ensembles. He picked an instrument that I don’t think is the easiest to learn, and he jumped into it,” Dr. Hart said.

As Varun grew older, he strove to become a better player and to create a better jazz band environment. He began to occasionally meet with Dr. Hart to voice his concerns about his playing. Dr. Hart admires Varun’s self-confidence and that he is willing to confront his fears.

“I think it’s still nerve wracking for him to play on his own, but it just feels like yet another challenge for him that he’s willing to give it a go. And I’m always so impressed by that because not everyone’s good at confronting their fears and the things that they feel like they’re not best at,” Dr. Hart said. “But one of Varun’s amazing attributes is that he does face them. And not only does he face them, he does it with his friends, they laugh about it, they have a good time.”

For Varun, the jazz band has been a welcoming environment that allows for self-expression. This musical environment has allowed Varun to conquer his reticence and communicate himself.

“I’m not a very outgoing person, so music is a way for me to speak out in a different way — through music instead of words. I think it’s a way for me to conquer my shyness,” Varun said. “Although I’m not the most confident in my playing skill, compared to speaking, music has been a mouthpiece for me to convey my own thoughts.”

In the future, Dr. Hart hopes that Varun will continue to tackle any difficulties with the same calm and confident tactics that he has always employed.

“Continue to keep taking those chances, and putting yourself in situations that are not always that easy. [I hope] Varun brings the same spirit that he’s always had into those situations of giving it a go. And trusting that, that he’s, he’s able to do it, and even if he makes a mistake, that that’s okay. It’s all part of learning. And to keep being a humble, great friend, and building and bringing out others around you, because I think he’s great at that,” he said.