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When I was but a little girl, I remember my father mentioning Reita Faria, the first Miss India who went onto win the Miss World, in 1966. He held her up as a role model for my sister, and me as a true combination of beauty and brains. After winning the crown she went onto pursue her medical studies and became a practicing medical doctor. In retrospect I realised that he had a crush on her all right, and stumbling across this footage of Miss Faria on the Bob Hope show shot right after she won the title, I can understand why.

Check out her enormous confidence.

There she was, a slender girl in a bright saree, in front of all an all male audience of American troops, striking a graceful pose, betraying not a sliver of nervousness. She walked with a stride that the uber-sophisticated Indian models of today would die for, spoke in a clear unvarnished accent—with a lot of India and a tinge of the west ringing through it—matching the Bob Hope word for word. Daunting! Yet, she pulled it off.

If you have heard any of the latest Miss India’s speak on the world stage, you would know what I mean, catch them being able to make themselves understood across cultures while stringing together more than a few sentences in unblemished, grammatically correct vocabulary. Reita Faria made me proud to be an Indian woman—the only female of the species who can carry off the elegant saree and pit her wits among the best of intellect.

The clip raised the questions I often have when I visit India. Why is it that English language movies and series are now subtitled? Why is that children and teenagers in India speak in that particular broken Hinglish? I get that it’s the cool teen spoken lingo of today, but alarmingly that’s how much of the written word is turning out to be too.

Once upon a time it was cool to speak in good English, and perhaps this went hand in hand with the desire to explore the world outside the country perhaps, to seek out new horizons in search of quenching the wanderlust inside, to be understood across countries and cultures. 

The booming Indian economy has changed all that. Teens want to take the easy way out. Surf the comfortable middle class existence provided for by their parents and then stay on to work in the call-centre or outsourced IT companies. So they stay satisfied with calling into the homes of strangers around the world or perhaps designing the interface of the window that allows other cultures to access the outerworld—all from the comfort of their own home.

Perhaps the next elegant, well-spoken, sophisticated Miss Reita Faria will come from the larger Indian world at large? 

From among those of who are Indian at heart and yet world citizens at large. Those who embody that curious combination of questioning the future, yet living in a present spiked, with the elegance of the past?

What do you think? Do write in and tell me.

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