Monday, June 17 2019


Jay & Jagi Panda

With a love story out of a Bollywood fi lm, Jagi and Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda have now completed seventeen years of companionship. Coming from two different corners of the country, the couple met in undue circumstances only to start a life together fi lled with love, joy and success. Priyanka Chakrabarti unfolds the journey of the perfect match. Photographs by Naveesh Tejpal.
It was the year 1992, a few months after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. An international fl ight going from New Delhi to Paris via London had to make an unscheduled emergency landing at Ankara, Turkey, due to a bomb threat. A young man and woman found themselves bound together for almost eight hours, under precarious circumstances and the very real fear of terrorism. A spark of interest was ignited, a “lovely chat” ensued, but neither thought to save the other’s number once the ordeal was over.
Three days later, however, fate brought them face-to-face again at Heathrow Airport, London. The coincidence was too much to overlook and so they met over coffee and proceed to keep in touch. And thus began a love story that lasted seventeen years, still counting.
This is not a movie script but the real life story of Indian Member of Parliament Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda and his entrepreneur wife Jagi. Although the Odisha-based power-couple insist it was not love at fi rst sight, their fi rst meeting did prove to be magical. “I suppose it has something to do with the deep connection that we share and it was apparent from the moment we laid eyes on each other the very fi rst time,” Jagi explains when we meet the charming couple at their stately Delhi home.
Jagi belongs to a Punjabi family but she grew up in Hyderabad. She was an airhostess with the Indian Airlines and later had a stint in the modelling industry. “I left Indian Airlines to be a full-time model. My fi rst television commercial was Palmolive,” she recalls.
On the other hand, Jay had an absolutely different journey. Hailing from a business family of Odisha, he jetted off to US for his degree. He later returned to be a politician. “It was mostly accidental, though of course I had to take a conscious step.
On returning to India after several years abroad, it was very frustrating for me to deal with the system here. I started assisting the late Biju Patnaik and after his death, his son Naveen when the latter founded the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). I had initially expected it to be a part-time affair, but soon I realised that it took up more and more of my time,” explains Jay.
“I was an outsider to politics, so it has been diffi cult, but of course I have learned and adapted,” he goes on. “Nonetheless, I have not and will not adapt to such an extent that I get comfortable with the existing realities. I still continue to have an outsider’s mindset because so many changes are required in the existing system; but I am an optimist and I believe that things will improve gradually.” Being an idealist, Jay says he doesn’t forget to appreciate the fact that ours is a democratic nation and we have the liberty to self-rectify the fl aws in our system unlike authoritarian countries. He has big hopes for his home state.
“Odisha has enormous potential in a variety of sectors that needs to be given the right platform for development. One area that remains relatively untouched is tourism; Odisha has a spectacular 500-kilometre coastline, many ancient architectural wonders, forests, mountains, lakes, wildlife, and cultural events. All this needs to be tapped productively,” he says.
On her part, Jagi – who always wanted to be independent – currently runs a couple of businesses in Odisha. “Fourteen years ago, I started up with a fi bre-optic business that provides communication services. I am also into broadcast media; I run four television channels there, OTV (Odisha TV), Tarang, Tarang Music and Prarthana. Moreover, we are also planning to launch a full-fl edged movie channel, Tarang Movies,” says she.
Despite her varied business interests and vibrant and varied career graph, Jagi still wants to explore more. “Last year, I did a fi lmmaking course from New York Film Academy. Being a movie buff, I want to make my own fi lm some time – a commercial fi lm with a parallel script. I have many ideas brewing; I am just waiting for it to be channelised into a good script with good treatment,” she says.
While she independently takes care of her huge enterprises, Jagi shares the challenges that she faced in her journey so far: “Today’s challenges are different from when we were only three people in a start-up company. We have successfully grown over fi fteen years, during which my biggest pride has been the development of a professional team that runs the company.
New challenges include growth in new markets, adapting to new technologies and regulatory environments, raising capital beyond the three rounds of private equity that we have already raised (lately India has been a tough place, with very high interest rates, and a stagnant stock market), but I remain confi dent, since we continue to have some of the best performance numbers in our industry.”
Initially, her business was just a sheer challenge, but now Jagi’s inspiration comes from seeing the results and “the feeling of being part of a team who have committed themselves to the same goal. Success in business has enabled me to indulge in another passion, which is to help provide higher education to underprivileged girls and that is a new source of inspiration for me to try for bigger and better things.”
With their tall bearing and elegant style sensibilities, the couple not only look great together but also share a great mental and emotional compatibility. “We have many common and separate set of interests that work beautifully for us. We have a fetish for fi tness, healthy eating, reading, watching movies and trying out adventure sports. In fact, we often go for bungee-jumping together! I like playing the piano while Jay is a licensed pilot for both aircraft and helicopters,” adds Jagi, who plays the perfect hostess during the ATELIER shoot.
Shuffling between Odisha and New Delhi, the Pandas manage to spend only half a month together due to their business schedules. “We try to make time for activities together and we speak every day on the phone when we are apart. We also try to combine some trips together and extend work-related visits by a couple of days to relax and unwind,” shares Jagi. They are both movie buffs and avid readers. “A Fish Called Wanda, The Deer Hunter, Zindegi Na Milegi Dobara, Delhi Belly and Deewar are few of my favourite movies,” says Jay. “And my favourites are: A Fish Called Wanda, Zindegi Na Milegi Doobara and Shawshank Redemption,” adds Jagi.
Talk about their favourite books and pat comes the answer: “Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, On China by Henry Kissinger and India: A Portrait by Patrick French,” says Jay. Their Siamese cat strolls by and Jagi picks her up before sharing her own love for historical books and biographies: “Just recently, I read the biography of Che Guevara and liked it very much.”
The couple got married in 1994 and continue to respect each other, warts and all, even years later. “There are so many things that we love about each other, including our abilities in different areas, the fact that we take an interest in each other’s goals without interfering and that we know we can absolutely rely on each other,” explain the charismatic duo.
So who is the more romantic one in the relationship? “Well, we both are, but Jagi might have a slight edge,” winks Jay. Despite the years gone by, their chemistry seems intact, and perhaps it has grown. We take their leave just as they share a gentle glance at one another. Words are unnecessary when two hearts have learnt the art of ceaseless communication.
Though the powercouple live apart many days a month, they make time for activities together and speak every day. “We also sometimes extend work-related visits by a couple of days to relax and unwind.”
“There are so many things that we love about each other, including our abilities in different areas, the fact that we take an interest in each other’s goals and that we know we can absolutely rely on each other.”


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