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Maureen Wadia on the fringe benefits of the Mrs. India title

NO ONE really admits to watching beauty pageants. We've all heard the "It's demeaning" and "I have the 9 o' clock news to watch" defences from people who, while surfing channels, casually, just by accident of course, happen to linger on in the ones telecasting tiny waists, dazzling smiles and declarations of world peace. But what if they knew the women strutting their stuff on the ramp and by the pool were married? Would your middle-class primary school teacher be appalled?

Maureen Wadia doesn't think so. "And even if they are shocked, they have to get over it," she says, resolutely. Editor and Publisher of Gladrags India magazine, and the force behind the Mega Model and Manhunt Contest, Mrs. Wadia repeatedly declares that there couldn't have been a more fitting person to conduct the Mrs. India pageant year after year.

Mammoth role

"I have been a true partner to my husband, standing by him throughout his career," she says. "I realise the mammoth role of a married woman, and that without her, the life of her husband, children and in-laws would be quite chaotic." But by magnanimously offering to shoulder the entire gamut of responsibilities, weren't most women just ruling out any prospect of an equitable sharing of responsibilities within a family? Looking quite incredulous, Maureen says she never felt the need for "someone to pitch in because a married woman can handle everything all by herself." She instituted Mrs. India as a platform for women, who, after years of marriage and even bearing children, "have maintained themselves". Asked how winning this pageant really made any difference to someone who might not want to pursue modelling, Maureen says: "I want to show these women that in spite of being the rock for their families to lean on, they have to take care of themselves — not just be attractive, but emotionally strong too.I too did what all us Indian married women do. I set aside my career and put family first."

The most popular Mrs. India, Aditi Govitrikar, was a doctor-cum-wife-cum-model who went on to win the Mrs. World title too. Since then, Maureen says that the number of applications she receives for the contest has only been increasing, with more women detectives, cops and professionals. Since the age limit is 50 years, there is supposedly even a participant who has been married for 21 years and is the mother of 10!

Pre-empting the question about a swimsuit round, Maureen places her hand on her heart, promising that there would be no such round on stage, but that only she would privately judge the participants in swim wear, "so that they don't feel awkward".

With permission

As the finalists from Bangalore walk into the room, Maureen asks them how many have the "permission" of their husbands. Every single manicured hand goes up. And they're proud about it too. Maureen keeps insisting that having a Mrs. India for a wife would make the husbands a little less grumpy when they get home from work. One lady even grabs the mike from Maureen to announce her husband's vow to take over the household chores for... hold your breath... a whole year if she won the Mrs. India title! As a parting shot, Maureen says, looks accusingly at every man in the room: "You men... you men have the better part of every deal. We women give you 51 percent, all we ask for is 49 percent," she says, hugging the participants close to her, sure that her Mrs. India will make every Indian man volunteer to scrub the dishes every night. May luck be with her.


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