History is full of women who have made a name for themselves in one field or the other. Many of them are well-known, but some aren’t. Though they led inspirational and remarkable lives, somewhere, the world forgot about them. But that does not make their achievements less significant than those of the others. Reita Faria is one such woman. She made a name for herself and did her country proud at a time when girls from India had not ventured into that space.
She was the first Indian and the first Asian woman to win the Miss World title in 1966. And she was the first Miss World to qualify as a physician.
And what a furore it created when she won the title. India was not yet familiar with the idea of beauty pageants and that too pageants at the international level, and the girl went and won the title. It was the first time that an Indian had been able to do that. It made the country so incredibly proud and ecstatic.
Reita was born on 23rd August 1943 to Goan parents in British Bombay, now Mumbai.
She had a normal childhood in a close-knit family with a simple upbringing that instilled the right values. Her father worked in a mineral water factory, while her mother owned a salon in Marine Lines. She has an elder sister, Philomena. From her school days, the young Reita wanted to become a doctor to do her bit for the welfare of ailing people. Taking part in a beauty pageant was not really something she wanted to do. Her sights were set on her medical career, and she didn’t want to be distracted. But her sister wanted her to do more than just study. She wanted her to take part in the Miss World Contest, and reluctantly Reita agreed. However, though she decided to go, for Reita, it was a total fun trip. She didn’t expect to win anything, which was perhaps why she could win the title. There was no pressure, no stress, and so she could give it her best.
Before making it to Miss world, Reita took part in a few local contests and won titles. She first won the Miss Bombay title, followed by the Eve’s Weekly Miss India Contest in 1966. These titles gave her the confidence she needed to participate in a contest that would have participants from all over the world.
Unlike today’s contestants, who spend a lot of time, money and effort putting their wardrobe, jewellery, and entire look together, Reita had only a small make-up kit with her, which contained a few lipsticks when she went for the pageant. As for her clothes, she borrowed a saree and footwear from one of her friends and was all set. But then there was a glitch. Owing to her height, she could not fit into both of them and was in a fix. She had reached London by then and had only three pounds with her. Left with no choice, she decided to use that sum to buy a new costume and footwear, which she still has with her. So it is not only the money but several other things like her confidence, her presence of mind and her personality that tilted the scales in her favour.
During the Miss World contest, she won several sub-titles as well. She won the ‘Best Swimsuit’ and the ‘Best Eveningwear’ titles. For the evening wear, she chose to go Indian and wore a saree. When she finally won the much-coveted Miss World title, she beat fifty-one contestants from other countries. It wasn’t easy, and after the win, people wanted to know how she had managed to do that.
It is believed that it is the answer that she gave to a question in the final round that made the judges decide in her favour.
On being questioned why she wanted to become a doctor, Reita replied that India needed more obstetricians and gynaecologists. When one of the jury members remarked that India already had many babies, she retorted by saying that that was something the country needed to discourage.
So I guess the judges realized that there was a woman of substance out there who deserved to win.
And how did her country react?
In those days, people in India were unfamiliar with the concept of a beauty pageant. It was something that was still frowned upon. And then here came this tall and majestic looking girl who not only took part in one but actually won it !! It was quite unbelievable!
Moreover, wearing a swimsuit and that too in public was taboo. But once she won the title, everything was forgotten and how the country rejoiced and celebrated. She was all over. The newspapers and magazines were full of her pictures and news of her victory. It was unheard of; it was unprecedented.
She became a trendsetter for the young girls and Bollywood, what with her high bun hair-do and the swimsuit. She became the talk of the town and was invited to grace various events and occasions. So much adulation, so much attention could have easily gone to her head, but it did not. Despite all the hype, the lucrative modelling and acting contracts, she never lost sight of her life goal: becoming a doctor. Her sights were set on her medical career, and pushing all the hysteria aside, she picked up her books and concentrated on becoming a doctor.
She worked hard to complete her M.B.B.S degree. After that, she went to London to study at King’s College Hospital.
It was while she was in London that she met her future husband, David Powell. He was her mentor while she was at King’s, and while working together, they fell in love and decided to get married. But there was a little bit more to that. David had already seen her on television while she was being crowned Miss World and had been attracted to her. So when he met her at King’s, I am sure he didn’t want the opportunity to pass by.
This was in the year 1971. The couple got married and moved to Boston to start a life there. But after the birth of their second daughter, they decided to move to Dublin, where Reita started her medical practice. And that is where they have been since then.
The couple has two children and five grandchildren and is supremely happy.
She sometimes comes back to India to meet her extended family. She has also been invited to India to judge many beauty pageants like the Femina Miss India in 1998 and the Miss world competition. She leads a simple and happy life. She likes to cooks, takes care of her family and herself.
Her story is an example of how one does not have to stay in the limelight to find happiness. Happiness is where your heart is; your loved ones are.