'I was always told that one day your beauty will fade.'
'Hence, what's important is how you make people feel and how you treat them.'
'Are you kind? Do you have good intentions?'
'If that quality is there in you, no matter what you do or where you are in your life, people will always remember you.'
Perseverance is the key to success and that's what Divita Rai believes.
When she did not win Miss Diva 2021, she didn't give up.
She worked even harder and gave the beauty pageant another shot this year.
Her efforts paid off and the 24 year old was crowned Miss Diva Universe 2022.
Divita will now represent India at the Miss Universe pageant.
"I don't want to live with regrets. I don't want to look back and say, 'I could have or I should have or I didn't try. I feel everybody deserves a second chance, and that's the reason I tried again," Divita tells Anita Aikara/Rediff.com
She started at 18 and it's been a good five years of struggle trying to make her mark in the fashion world.
Divita was just three when her mother and grandmother dressed her up like a mini Miss India for a fancy dress competition.
"Even though it was all play and pretend," she recalls, "they very meticulously handcrafted the sash and the crown out of paper."
"Do not ever give up," is Divita's advice to other young women.
"If I had given up last year, I wouldn't have been here talking to you," says the Miss Diva Universe 2022.
"It's really important that no matter how hard it gets, try and recognise why you are here in the first place and give it your best shot."
From architect to a beauty queen, how has the journey been?
It has very been challenging to balance the two.
Architecture is a taxing course and you have to put in late nights.
But then, I dreamt for something for so long, and that it made it worth the struggle.
Architecture or modelling: What do you love more?
It's a mix of the two. I don't want to limit myself.
I want to grab every opportunity that comes my way because the experience helps me grow as a person.
At the same time, while the beauty pageant has been a dream, it's very important that I do not let go of my education.
Do you think it's possible to pursue both passions?
Definitely! I think balance is key.
Some days I'll have to prioritise one over the other, but it's possible.
You have lived in several cities across India due to your father's job. How did that mould you as a person?
Because I travelled so much, I had to prove myself again and again.
I had to introduce myself to my teachers every time I joined a new school and make new friends as well.
But it helped me adapt to different situations.
I learnt more about Indian culture, and became very sensitive and appreciative of the people and the diversity around me.
Tell me about your dad who inspires you in many ways.
My father Dilip Rai was born into a poor family. He struggled to get himself out of that situation and used his education to get a stable job and provide for his family.
Listening to the stories about the challenges he faced would make me emotional.
My father studied in Coorg and did his engineering at NIT (National Institute of Technology), Surathkal. A lot of hard work went into it.
He would narrate stories of how he didn't have enough money to go for his job interviews and had to borrow from friends.
He used to work for Indian Oil and is retired now. That's how I ended up living in different cities during my childhood.
Throughout my growing up years, my father kept emphasising that education is important, not just in an academic sense, but also because it gives you exposure to a lot of opportunities.
You become more aware about what is possible and what's not with your life.
It's because of him that I advocate about the need for education, especially among young girls. It will give them the confidence to take charge of their own lives.
What are the steps you'd like to take to make education accessible to all, especially young girls?
The first step is to create awareness.
The schooling systems are developing, but there's still a large chunk of India's population that doesn't have access to education.
People need to be made aware of this problem.
There are others who are aware, but don't have access to technology.
One needs to get enough funding to campaign about the cause.
What triggered your interest in modeling?
When I was young, I'd watch beauty pageants on television. My interest in modelling sparked from there.
Doing my growing up years, I was told not to limit myself.
My parents had a conservative upbringing, but they recognised how it limits a child. So they gave my brother and me the option to dream big and not have any limitations.
When I told them that I wanted to pursue modeling, they said, 'Okay, go for it. But make sure you work hard, stick to your core values and make a name for yourself.'
Has the pageant transformed you in any way?
It is only when you put yourself through these pressurising circumstances do you realise your strength.
I've definitely grown as a person in terms of the confidence. Winning the title makes me believe that I have a voice and people view me as a certain person with calibre.
How does Sushmita Sen inspire you?
It's the honesty and conviction with which she lives her life.
She's so authentic and true to who she is.
She doesn't compare her career trajectory or timelines with anyone else's.
For me, that's very inspiring.
What would you consider your most beautiful asset?
I am very simple and humble.
I think that's got to do with my upbringing.
I was always told that one day your beauty will fade.
Hence, what's important is how you make people feel and how you treat them.
Are you kind? Do you have good intentions?
If that quality is there in you, no matter what you do or where you are in your life, people will always remember you.
Kindness is so important, especially in today's day and age.
Was it challenging to become a beauty queen?
For me, the challenge was to gain confidence.
I dreamt a certain impossible dream.
Nobody in my family was ever related to this industry.
So just figuring out how to navigate through this space and how to hold my own was challenging, especially after years of going for auditions and not making it.
I did not understand how to go about achieving my dream and that started to affect my confidence.
But then I told myself, 'You have one life and one dream. You can't give up.'
How do you stay fit?
I eat healthy.
At the same time, it's important to have like a good mindset and not take life too seriously.
The moment you start to panic and pressurise yourself, it starts to affect your body. A stressful mind leads to a stressful body.
It's important to breathe easy, enjoy every moment and take life as it is.
A message for young women?
Do not ever give up.
If I had given up last year, I wouldn't have been here talking to you.
It's really important that no matter how hard it gets, try and recognise why you are here in the first place and give it your best shot.