Need to send good candidates to Parliament: Gul Panag

Gul Panag with husband Rishi Attari and son Nihal. Picture credit: Gul Panag

No two days are the same for Gul Panag. For the aviator, actor, entrepreneur, politician and adventurer, life has always been jet paced.

A few days back, she was campaigning for Aam Aadmi Party's South Delhi candidate Raghav Chadha. Gul herself had contested from Chandigarh as the party's candidate in 2014.

"I have always been in touch with the public and I'm very conscious of why I am campaigning," she says.

"Your representative is accountable to you. We need to send good candidates to Parliament and I firmly believe in the candidature of Raghav Chadha and Atishi," adds Gul.

Throwing light on the ground realities, she says, "we need equitable access to health and education. Majority of the electorate does not have access to basic amenities -- like healthcare and education. If quality healthcare can break the back of the middle class, how about daily wagers? How can they get access to primary healthcare?" she asks.

The actor has always been a firm believer in how ''expenditure on public education will provide equitable opportunity". "It has to be a level playing field," she says.

As a young girl, growing up in Patiala, she believed she could fly. Now, a certified pilot, she is bracing for every impact that comes her way with confidence.

"Flying is incredible,'' says Gul, who holds a Private Pilot Licence (PPL). "I have been pursuing flying as a hobby. In fact, I wanted to do it for a long time. Since I was talking about it all the time, my husband (who is a commercial pilot) asked me to do something about it." A long story short, she enrolled in the Chimes Aviation Academy in Madhya Pradesh that has a PPL programme, completed her flying hours and came out, well, with flying colours.

"My PPL allows me to fly only without reward or remuneration. I am rated to fly VFR (Visual Flight Rules)," she informs.

A serial half-marathon runner and avid biker, Gul loves the view from her window in the sky.

"Flying de-stresses me and gives a fresh perspective of whatever I do. I fly very alternate weekend from Juhu as well as every other month at Chimes," she says. She never wanted to be a commercial pilot though. “How would I act, how would I be an entrepreneur if I am a commercial pilot?"

Recalling her flight path and the day she cleared her final test - a day check ride, she says, "Nothing comes close to the joy I felt except perhaps when I held my baby for the first time. I couldn't stop jumping. Fellow students and flying school staff were cheering. It was momentous," she recalls.


Gul Panag is ecstatic after clearing her final pilot exams. Picture credit: Gul Panag

"I have taken every opportunity to maximise my potential. When I went back to Mumbai after finishing the 250 nautical mile solo cross-country flight, I noticed I was trending on the internet. I was wondering what the big deal was about? And then, there was this message from a girl which said, 'you do not know the symbolism of what you represent'."

Gul says she had underestimated what it meant for other women.

Decades after women took control of the cockpits, there is still a sense of wonder when a woman is in the cockpit. And many women are still reluctant when it comes to pursuing flying.

"If you can ride a bike or a drive car and you are mentally sound, you can do this too. Yes, it requires more effort and dedication. I've seen many people who have enrolled for the classes but lack the will to see it through,’’ she says.

Gul seamlessly transports herself into every world that presents itself to her.

And there is no jet lag.

"If you want to do something, you have to make that extra effort. When you do what you want, you are actually making use of every opportunity that comes your way. And I think that if I don't take it up, I will be crushing the opportunity of many other women. I feel I owe it to everybody who hasn't got the opportunity that I have."

Adding to her busy schedule, she has now set up a platform for fellow hobbyists called 'Hobbyist World' to create a community for the learning, sharing and exploration of hobbies.

"I have set up a platform where I can showcase and curate various hobbies and hobbyists called Hobbyist World. The idea is to encourage people to have a work-life balance and discover something to help them live their lives to the fullest," she says.

Gul has lived life on her own terms -- be it pursuing flying, contesting elections, vrooming into her wedding on a bike or hugging motherhood at 39.

"I hail from a middle-class family. At one point I was in Africa -- when my dad was posted there -- and I was contemplating studying in a university in the US. The fee for the first year was $20,000 even after a generous scholarship and my father offered his life savings. I remember even at that time, as a 17-year-old, I didn’t think it was right to take it. Your parents work their entire life and then you take away all that they have saved."

"When there are hard days or when I am overwhelmed or when the pressure gets to me, I want to get back to that 17-year-old who had nothing but the values that her parents raised her with," she says.

As she gets set for another day in the sky, she says, "You need to do everything on your own terms.''

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