Pooja Chopra, the newest Miss India World, has dedicated the crown to her mother who singlehandedly brought her up. But the 23-year-old is also grateful to other mentors, some of whom chipped in for free because she didn't have the funds.
"The last 23 years have not been kind to my mother. Bringing up two girls (Chopra and her sister) was not an easy task," Chopra told IANS in an interview over phone from Mumbai.
"For me, she is the women of substance and this title is dedicated to her because she never stopped me from doing what I wanted. Her only condition was that I should not neglect my studies."
"Being a single mother is not at all easy, she has sacrificed a lot. Yet she did her best to give us right values. Today I am here because of her faith in me. She was living this dream with me. Right now she is on cloud nine and I am glad that I have made her proud," added Chopra who won the title Sunday.
The top 20 participants of the 2009 Pantaloons Femina Miss India (PFMI) were groomed by a panel of experts, including model-turned-actor-turned-choreographer Marc Robinson, ramp walk trainer Alicia Raut and diction expert Sabira Merchant for almost a month.
"Marc Robinson played a pivotal role in my victory because there were days when I had almost given up. I was bogged down by constant pressure and bundles of expectations from everyone. It was really tough but Marc pulled me up and constantly motivated me to believe in myself," said Chopra.
Chopra was also the winner of the PFMI East contest that was held in February where she had met Robinson for the first time.
"Marc knew my capabilities ever since I won the PFMI East contest, hence he had loads of expectations from me. He just told me one thing - 'You can do it, just believe in yourself and rest will follow'," she added.
This Pune-based girl also thanked her fitness instructor, designer and grooming teacher for believing in her talent and sharing her dream.
"I didn't have adequate funds to get myself trained under the top most fitness expert of Pune - Umesh Mohite. When he told me his fees, I was disappointed and came back home.
"To my surprise, he called me back after two days and said that he knew I have the potential to make it and wanted to train me and believe me he hasn't charged me anything," Chopra said.
"Similarly my designer Priyanka Rajeev sponsored some of my dresses when I decided to participate in the Miss India contest. I have got loads of love and support from my native place and I am glad that I have made them proud," she added.
Chopra was also the winner of 2009 PFMI Miss Beautiful Smile and Beautiful Body and co-winner of the Miss Talented titles.
What does she want to do once she goes back home?
"In the past three days, I have spoken to my mother only for 30 minutes. The first thing I would do is sit and chat with my mom. Also, I owe a lot to everyone - be it my friends trainers, they have believed in me. So now it is celebration time for everyone," Chopra elucidated.
Chopra is also in no mood to sit back and relax, as her next target will be to win the Miss World title because now her dream also carries the aspirations of millions of Indians. The pageant will be held later this year in Johannesburg, South Africa.
"The coming months will involve rigorous training sessions, loads of preparations as now I am representing India. I have already pulled up my socks," she said.
How much has life changed after the win?
"Change is an understated word, life has transformed completely and I'm not at all complaining. I am enjoying every bit of attention. Imagine I was just like a girl next door till this win happened," Chopra said.
(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )