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An incredible journey

India at Miss Universe. Well, it has been an incredible journey, not least for Sushmita Sen who heralded the arrival of the Indian beauty on world stage by grabbing the prestigious crown in 1994. In an exclusive for HindustanTimes.com, she talks about what it means to conquer the Universe. "Winning a beauty contest has more to do with responsibility than glamour", says Sushmita.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2003 12:24 IST

India at Miss Universe. Well, it has been an incredible journey, not least for Sushmita Sen who heralded the arrival of the Indian beauty on world stage by grabbing the prestigious crown in 1994. In an exclusive for HindustanTimes.com, she talks about what it means to conquer the Universe.

"Winning a beauty contest has more to do with responsibility than glamour. I have never taken up cudgels against those who criticise pageants, not because I do not feel strongly about the issue but because I wanted to avoid any controversy.

Having won the Miss Universe Contest in 1994, it is easy for me to say that the title turned my life upside down. My goals, priorities and plans - everything changed that fateful day in Manila. While I had never expected to be crowned the most beautiful girl in the world, I was sure in my heart that someday, somehow I would do my country proud. In fact I was very moved by Rakesh Sharma's experience as the first Indian in space and distinctly remember quoting him in press conferences at the time. Hearing him say that India appeared 'Sare Jahan Se Accha' in reply to Mrs Indira Gandhi's question, sent goose pimples through my flesh. The desire to give back something to my country hardened into resolve that very moment.

Let me say once again that holding a title like Miss Universe, Miss World or any other, entails grave responsibilities that one must be committed to fulfill. It may come as surprise to many that after becoming Miss Universe, I appeared for so many charitable causes that it was often difficult to keep track. But of one thing I was sure - what I was doing would probably touch many people's lives in a positive way.

Critics say pageants are fixed. What rubbish! There are girls who prepare months on end for what will be the most important day of their lives. Is all that effort a sham too? Believe me, success has not come easy for Lara Dutta, Priyanka Chopra and others. Miss Universe poses an extreme physical and mental challenge for the contestants. Were this not so, it wouldn't have taken another Indian girl six years to regain the title.

Honestly, I think Indian girls have come of age. Given the right opportunities, there's nothing they can't achieve. And there's nothing to stop them from winning many more Miss Universe titles. Nothing except perhaps a little more understanding.

Miss Universe as a pageant is different from Miss World as the former places more emphasis on personality. To look good is only half the battle won; you must also be attentive and intelligent. I still think it was my presence of mind that helped me steal a march over the other girls in 1994. We probably need to improve our performance on this front.

Indian contestants today have the advantage of being forewarned and forearmed. In our time, we scarcely had any knowledge of how the selection process worked. But after Lara and myself let the floodgates open, there is no dearth of information and our girls should benefit from it.

While I feel that winning such events enriches our culture, one must also strike a note of caution. Charity work is an end in itself; it is not the means for free publicity. Any ulterior motive to garner mileage for an eventual career in public life perverts the spirit of the Miss Universe title.

The thought of entering films never once crossed my mind in all my tenure as Miss Universe. If winning the title has taught me one thing, it is this - devote your heart and soul to the cause of social good for a year. Then, and only then think about starting afresh with whatever you want to do."

(As told to HindustanTimes.com)

List of Indian participants at Miss Universe

First Published: Jun 16, 2003 12:15 IST