Catholic rituals at home, helped Reita Faria steer clear of Hollywood, glamour

April 07 2019

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Religious rituals practised in a typical Catholic home and the legacy of her Goan heritage kept Asia's first Miss World Reita Faria away from the glamorous lure of Hollywood and on course of her pursuit to become a doctor.

Now based in Ireland and a grandmother of five, the 75-year-old Faria, now Reita Powell rues the lack of "niceties of life", which she claims plagues the world of glamour.

Reita's tryst with the 1966 Miss World title began on a lark, as she describes it, while she was six months away from qualifying as a doctor and the trip to London, where the contest was held, promised nothing more than a foreign holiday and a stamp on her un-inked passport.

"I was six months from qualifying as a doctor and I was wasn't too keen on that sort of distraction. But my sister reassured me that I would be back in Bombay within a week's time from the contest and that would be the end of that. It would, at least, mean a trip to London," Reita told IANS on the phone from her home in Dublin.

Reita won the title at a time when most women of her age in India had either not heard of the pageant or were loathe to participate in the Miss India contest whose winner made it to the global round. Today, apart from a host of winners, Indian participants feature high up at the pageant.

Born in Bombay (as the city was known then), Reita grew up in Matunga in a home where Catholic rituals were a part of everyday life, something she believes, helped her steer away from the path of glamour, which several title-holders are eventually known to have trod on.

"I think my Goan heritage meant that we were brought up in a very Catholic home and I think that that played a bigger part. It wasn't so much a rigour, as it was the teachings. All through my life, I was educated by nuns and obviously religion was a big aspect. We went to mass everyday and we had all the rituals of the Catholic faith," she explained.

Asked what made her walk the less trodden path - for a Miss World title winner - instead of continuing with medicine as a profession, she said: "I think that was what I was looking for, to do something for others more than as a gratification of money or things of life that. I just wanted to help people who were sick."

Asked to comment as to whether the journey from a beauty pageant winner to glamour and filmdom had become a stereotype now in comparison with her journey, Reita said: "These girls are very attractive girls obviously and if that's the life they choose... It's not really the contest that has become stereotyped, it is the whole world which has changed. The niceties of life seem to be just discarded. So I do not know if it is the publicity, the press, which does this".

After she won the contest, offers from Hollywood did pour in for Reita, especially when she was touring war-torn Vietnam with Hollywood actor and comic Bob Hope.

"When I went with Bob Hope to Vietnam, there were a lot of offers from Hollywood. But again, it wasn't my scene. I did not like to be in the limelight all the time. I wanted to spend my life doing something I would enjoy, rather than doing something for the sake of making money out of it," she said.

For Reita, her memories of Goa were all about visiting her grandfather on vacations, a routine which faded away when she was admitted to a boarding school in Panchgani, in Maharashta.

"My last recollection was to get over (to Goa) quickly for his funeral, when he was dying. We arrived just as the cortege was leaving. And that was it," she said.

While she is settled in Ireland, the swimsuit which helped her win the swimsuit round at the contest and the costume she wore in the pageant are soon to feature in the upcoming Moda Goa Museum and Research Centre, conceived by fashion designer Wendell Rodricks.

Reita believes life has given her the "whole package" and she is blessed for this.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan.n@ians.in )

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  • Ians