Gul Panag, Miss India 1999, is unlike any beauty or celebrity we know. She is active on Twitter.com and reads three books at a time. She climbs mountains for the thrill, goes whitewater rafting for fun, drives from Mumbai to Leh [Ladakh] for vacation, and shoots rifles to increase focus. And yet, she manages to look beautiful, the glow of adventure, wisdom and confidence lighting up her face. She’s beauty, brains, and a lot more…
How is Gul, the person?
I am fun, spirited, fearless and always ready for a challenge.
So where do books fit in? We know that you are an avid reader.
Books are an integral part of my life. There is no end to the influence they’ve had so far and continue to have on me. I think reading truly broadens one’s horizons.
You have a degree in mathematics and you are an actor. Where do they connect?
[Laughs] Not sure if they connect, but I thoroughly enjoy both.
You have changed 14 schools in your schooling. How did it feel?
Fantastic! The experience has made me flexible, understanding, adaptive, tolerant, accommodative and, above all, adventurous. It gave me the chance to meet and interact with people of different cultures, from whom I learnt a lot.
You have won several competitions in your life, the biggest being the coveted Miss India. How important is winning to you? How do you deal with failure?
Competitions are all about wanting to win; else you wouldn’t be in them. Winning gives you great confidence and boosts your self-esteem, while failure is an opportunity to look inwards, introspect and improve.
Then, what is success?
Success is relative. In life, success is more about giving things your best shot than winning. For me, career-wise, the journey from the Miss India pageant to television to films has been about utilising my abilities to the best and acquiring skills along the way. But above all, it has been about putting my best foot forward, always. If you are able to do that, you are successful, irrespective of the outcome.
A Miss India is considered to be the perfect combination of beauty and brains. What is your idea of beauty—is it just skin deep or does it go beyond the physical?
Unfortunately, there are preconceived notions of beauty that govern such things. But, for me, beauty has always been about something that emanates from within.
Since we feel emotions from within, do they affect our skin too?
Not just our skin, but our health and longevity too are totally dependent on how we feel. I have always felt wonderful and attractive when happy and the reverse when low. So, make it a point be positive and happy through everything.
Is that the secret to your beauty? Is that why your skin looks so good?
I think good skin is 80 per cent genetics and 20 per cent how you live. So I follow a healthy lifestyle—don’t do crash diets, eat balanced meals; and exercise five times a week—and it shows on my skin. Also, I don’t use much make-up when I don’t need to, and prefer using natural products. There, now my ‘secret’ is out.
You travel a lot for work and for adventure. How does it affect your skin? What do you do to protect it?
Nothing out of the ordinary. We all have basic instincts that tell us when our skin needs what. In the cold weather, we feel our skin going dry and we naturally go for a richer moisturiser and drink lots of water, because that’s what we need. I just watch out for the signs, and act accordingly.
I also make it a point to plan in advance, when I’m on the go. For instance, I drink lots of water before a flight, which keeps my skin hydrated.
Speaking of travel… it’s not expected of a celebrity to drive a 4by4 all the way to Leh, or shoot or horse ride, or run a full marathon for pleasure…
Well, I am a person, an individual first and a ‘celebrity’ later. Can’t possibly give up all the things that make me what I am just to fit into a stereotype now, can I? I have never done anything just because it’s expected of me, if I don’t want to do it from within.
Absolutely yes! Each time I finish a marathon, I feel like I can do anything and that no mountain is high enough. My self-esteem goes up several notches. I think each time the human spirit goes through something it believes to be tough, it evolves. It could be anything—putting up and working with a tough boss, enduring an illness, heartache or even driving for 18 hours straight.
Since you already do a lot of physical activity for fun, does it leave you time or the inclination to do something special to say fit?
I don’t particularly put in effort to try and stay fit. For me, exercise is as natural as brushing teeth or having bath. It’s the way I have been brought up. Every day our family did an hour of exercise together; it was part of our family togetherness time. So without trying to create a regime, I plan my day to include some amount of physical activity—a long walk, cycling, swimming or a trip to the gym or even yoga.
And how do you unwind?
Sometimes, I head out of town for a mini-break—it works like magic to help me relax. Other times, I unwind by watching movies or meeting up with friends and family.
Coming to your family, what role does family play in your life and success?
I would be nowhere without my family’s support, advice, encouragement and love. We are a very close-knit and mutually co-dependent family. And no matter where I am, I make it a point to remain in touch with all of them—my parents, brother, cousins, aunts and uncles. My family is my support structure and vice versa.
So does your adventurous spirit and ‘tough and strong core’ come from your family?
I am what I am entirely because of my parents. My parents always taught and led by example and are great role models. I was brought up to face challenges and win over them. When I was growing up, quitting is a word they never used.
I also owe a large part of how I am to my upbringing in the armed forces—being the daughter of an army officer gave me an opportunity to pick up many sports such as tennis, squash, swimming, basketball and horse-riding. It also gave me the chance to learn adventure sports like whitewater rafting, paragliding and rock climbing, which I do even today.
Obviously, you have a busy life. Do you ever feel down?
I do have my lows like everyone else. In times like that, I try and think about how fortunate I am and how kind God has been to me, and soon enough the cloud lifts.
But when things go downhill, who do you turn to—a higher power, yourself or someone else?
My friends and family, and a good run fix almost everything. I introspect, take stock and take charge of things and see how I can turn them to my advantage.
Your advice to Complete Wellbeing readers who, like you, want to develop different facets of their self and live a fulfilling life…
Learn to love yourself, be positive, laugh a lot and exercise regularly. Learning a new skill every now and then does great things for one’s outlook in life. Be content, but not lazy. And remember, no matter what, there will be a tomorrow.
- Favourite book… George Orwell’s 1984
- Favourite food… Mexican
- Favourite attire… A nice fitted dress
- Favourite person… Too many!!!
- God is… Inside us and not in a temple or church
- Health is… In your hands
- First success… Winning a 200 m heat in school
- First failure… Not coming 1st in class 5
- Happiest moment till now… Every day has so many moments. I don’t live in the past
- Motto in life… I am an incorrigible optimist. For me, every day is a new challenge, something more to be done something new to be achieved.
This was first published in the December 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.