Coffee with Gul Panag

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For someone who could never attract the attention of a single girl in college, getting to meet some of the most glamorous women within a span of a few of months can be a bit taxing for the heart of a 40-year-old man. 
However, of the many I had the pleasure of meeting recently, the one 
who stood out for me is certainly Gul Panag, who, I had met in Mumbai in the December of 2012. The reason she stands out for me is because she has elements other than just glamour, which bring dynamism and vibrancy to her demeanour. She has an opinion, doesn’t shy away from voicing it…oops tweeting it, has a sense of humour and most importantly her heart beats for Punjab.

Gul, who was in Chandigarh recently, agreed for coffee and an honest talk.

Can you share something about your earlier days?
My first school was in Bassi Pathana near Fathegarh Sahib where I was staying with my grandparents. My growing up years coincided with peak militancy days in Punjab and Bhindrawale was the most common name in the villages. I remember my secular credentials taking a beating because of the atmosphere and a visit to the Golden Temple post-Operation Blue Star. Since I had visited the Golden Temple before the operation also, the destruction had left a lasting impression, even though I was only five. Mercifully, my secularism was restored after my father, on his return from a Russian posting, realised that this grassroots upbringing and schooling was yielding contrary results. He immediately pulled me out of the village scene and brought me to Chandigarh. However, the Punjabiyat that I have today is an assimilation of factors from those three years spent in my native village Mahadiyan.
What do you think of Punjabi men?
Well, they can start by being a bit more chivalrous towards women. In modern times it would be nice if the Punjabi male partook a role more than being just a breadwinner. The bigger flipside is that they are not educating themselves. Alternatively, they have hooked themselves on drugs. The argument that cross-border smuggling is responsible for drug addiction has limited validity, as you don’t have to consume them (drugs) just because they are available. However, having said that, I am married to a Punjabi man. And as I mentioned earlier, my parochialism, which became part of me during my growing up years, in a way assured that I married a Punjabi even though I dated men from other religions and cultures.
Your view about Punjabi women?
Even though it appears that more girls are studying than boys, unfortunately Punjab carries this load of being retrograde towards women. Maybe it is because of this very reason that the girls are coming out in huge numbers to study. However, I feel that girls and women are equally complacent and to be blamed for their condition. The woman is shy to bring a girl into the society because of the treatment meted out to her. She has to stand up and treat the girl child at par with her sons.
As a woman from Punjab, your message for young Punjabi girls, especially those aspiring to get into the glamour world.
Go chase your dreams. Empower yourself for that’s the only way forward. Punjab’s hopes are on you as the guys are messed up and lying in some field doped out. They are no longer capable of supporting you. As for the glamour part, sometimes I wonder why? But if you compare apples to apples, Punjabi women have all the tick marks to qualify in the glamour world, in the Indian context. And unfortunately there is a societal bend towards pretty-looking faces. I see no harm in using one’s looks to progress because a psychological edge does exist. My only advise is don’t make this a life and death issue by trying to become a Katrina Kaif. If it works, it’s great. If it doesn’t, use your education. Good looks and education is a lethal combination.
I see that you tweet a lot.
I didn’t realise the power of social media till one online agency that evaluates influence informed me about how influential I was on twitter. They did an analysis on the kind of people who follow me as opposed to typical film stars. My followers are independent opinion makers, lawyers, doctors who, in turn, have their own circles. Because of the quality of followers, the influence is immense. It is the same with someone having five times the number. For example teenagers don’t yield much influence but a superstar can have many of them as his or her followers.
On gizmos taking over our lives.
Use gizmos to make your life productive and efficient. Don’t become a slave to them. I don’t take gizmos to my bedroom and on the dining table.
You are a fitness freak. Some tips to remain fit.
I am writing a book on fitness. It is about my approach to nutrition and fitness. It brings a perspective that why are we becoming a nation of unfit people. My philosophy is that I don’t go by the weighing scale since I believe in being structurally fit. I have a pair of jeans from when I was 18. I, from time to time, try those on. If I’m fitting into them, I think I am doing fine.
I heard you are taking some exams?
Yes, I am in Chandigarh to take my final-year exams in MA Political Science. After completing my post graduation I am interested in a PhD. The reason I want to pursue education is that it lends credibility to your voice about issues one is passionate about. But frankly, the Indian education system needs an urgent overhaul. It’s all about how well you reproduce what you have crammed.
We bid goodbye. And yes, education and good looks is a lethal combination!

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