My Friend Anissia Was All That a Young Girl Wants to Grow Up to Be
Gul Panag (L) and Anissia Batra.
Gul Panag (L) and Anissia Batra.(Photo: Gul Panag / Altered by The Quint)

My Friend Anissia Was All That a Young Girl Wants to Grow Up to Be

I first met Anissia the day I joined The Lawrence School, Lovedale. She was sitting by a window in our dormitory, playing cards. I had been hearing about her for a while though, from her father, the then Colonel Batra, who picked me up everyday to go horse-riding in Wellington, before I started school at Lovedale.

Anissia (smiling, centre), Gul (extreme right, wearing black)
Anissia (smiling, centre), Gul (extreme right, wearing black)
(Photo Courtesy: Gul Panag)

I was fascinated by her name – it was so unique – and by all that her father (whom I called Uncle) had told me about Anissia on our morning drives to the stables. Anissia was of course already ‘cooler’ by virtue of studying in Lovedale, while I went to the relatively modest Kendriya Vidyalaya at Wellington.

On my first day, Anissia met me with warmth and a big grin, and showed me around.

I was grateful to know someone – in a place that was soon beginning to look less and less like Mallory Towers and St Clare’s – that I’d read about in Enid Blyton’s books.

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Two Girls, One Dream

Anis, as we all called her, was a complete tom boy, replete with a ‘boy cut’. She was fun to be around and very clear-headed, frank and outspoken – traits that didn’t go away as we grew older.

Anissia would say things as she saw them, in fact, she’d sometimes say things that even I’d hold back from.

Soon we discovered many things in common, including, but not limited to, both of us being Capricorns. Our dislike for the 6:30 AM morning PT (physical training) for starters, which started with a double, or a single run around the school chapel. We figured, a short-cut through the hedge served us better. One day, much to our horror, we found our PT teacher, Mr Bhopiah, waiting on the other side of the hedge – where he let us have it, and have it good!

Anissia (second from left, dancing), Gul (dancing next to her - face hidden)
Anissia (second from left, dancing), Gul (dancing next to her - face hidden)
(Photo Courtesy: Gul Panag)

We both wanted to join Air India (it was the only airline to fly international back then) as cabin attendants, and travel the world. We spent much of our study time – including the class 10 board prep leave – discussing the plan. My cousin Simran, who at the time worked with Air India, would send me post cards from all over the world, and we’d spend hours discussing how we’d be ‘high fliers’ too.

Anissia and I planned to finish school and join Government College for Girls or GCG, as it was known, in Chandigarh, our hometown.

What we’d wear to college, what bike we’d ride, where all we’d go for gedis – everything was planned in detail. The plan was to finish our graduation and then join Air India.

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Anissia & Her Dream Job

We both had paternal grandfathers who were a big influence on us, and we’d write letters to them every fortnight. Her grandfather even sent her self-addressed, stamped envelopes, to make it easy for her!

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Leaving school meant losing touch with a lot of batch mates, but both our fathers being in the Army meant we’d always know where to reach each other.

Anissia and I kept in regular touch while she was in Delhi, our Chandigarh college plans having gone a little awry. I was, by this time, also living in Delhi, after my Miss India stint, dabbling in many things. But Anis was steadfast in her plan to fly in the skies, chiding me for having ditched her (she did that every time we met, including the last time, in Goa, in December).

Gul (third from left), Anissia (extreme right)
Gul (third from left), Anissia (extreme right)
(Photo Courtesy: Gul Panag)

She was no longer a tomboy in her 20s, but still as outspoken and level headed. In fact, we ( batchmates) were amazed at her transformation. Anissia now had long hair, and looked absolutely stunning. And she had her dream job. In fact, she had the coolest things anyone would want in their 20s – from make-up, to pretty clothes to CDs – not to mention, all the incredible places she holidayed in, often taking a friend along on her 'buddy' tickets.

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Won’t Rest Until Anissia Gets Justice

We attended the weddings of our school friends together, and each other’s too. Anissia was the first one to confirm her attendance at mine, despite her hectic schedule. We kept in touch over the last three decades, aided massively by our batch WhatsApp group in recent times. A little over a week ago, a discussion was underway on this very WhatsApp group, to plan a cycling trip to Europe that Anissia was keen on.

Anissia (beneath first red line), Gul (beneath second red line) at Anissia’s wedding.
Anissia (beneath first red line), Gul (beneath second red line) at Anissia’s wedding.
(Photo Courtesy: Gul Panag)

In recent years I’d begun to realise just how similar we were, and I saw us spending more time together, drawn by all that we had in common. Anissia was very aware, politically and socially. Her Facebook wall always had an incisive comment on what was happening around us, and she never shied away from calling out things that didn’t seem right; she was both practical and honest.

Anissia (extreme right), Gul (to Anissia’s left)
Anissia (extreme right), Gul (to Anissia’s left)
(Photo Courtesy: Gul Panag)
Anissia was everything a young girl wants to grow up to be – independent, successful, strong, and glamorous . 

She did not deserve this end. And I can say this for our entire Lawrence Lovedale batch of 1996 – and all those who loved her – that we will not rest till she gets justice.

May god bless Anis’ soul.

(Gul Panag is an actor, pilot, politician, entrepreneur, and a lot more. She tweets @GulPanag. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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