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The first Indian to win the Miss World title

December 12, 2006
In Dublin, Ireland, lives India's first-ever Miss World.

A native of Mumbai, Reita Faria was crowned Miss World 1966, 40 years ago.

Rediff India Abroad Managing Editor (Features) Arthur J Pais flew to the Irish capital recently to meet the lady who was once the prettiest woman on the planet.

The cabbie didn't have to be told the complete address. Just as we were giving him the name of the street in one of the most coveted locations in Dublin, he asked eagerly, "I bet you are going to Miss World's home?"

He wouldn't call her by her married name. Just Miss Reita Faria. As he dropped us at the sprawling house Reita Faria Powell shares with her husband, endocrinologist David Powell, the taxi driver asked a bit sheepishly, "Do you mind if I wait for a second? I want to see how she looks in real life."

And there was Reita Faria Powell, looking years younger than her early 60s, with a radiant smile, offering her hand in warm welcome.

The first Indian to be crowned Miss World 40 years ago, the Mumbai-raised Reita was one of the best known Indians worldwide in her times.

Aishwarya Rai would claim the same crown in 1994 but, in the mid 1960s, Faria was much more than a celebrity.

"We knew three Indians in Ireland at the time, and Reita Faria was one of them," John Cunningham, a lawyer in Killarney, some 150 miles from Dublin, said when he heard my wife and I were visiting Faria -- who added her husband's last name to hers in 1971, the year they married. "The other two were Mahatma Gandhi and Sabu, star of the hit movie Elephant Boy."

"Reita has always been very special to us," the lawyer continued. "She became one of our own in no time. For many years, she was our only Miss World."

Many of her admirers salute Reita's steadfast mind, having read how she spurned a glamorous life for the pursuit of medicine, giving that up to nurture her two daughters. Anyone over the age of 40, it seems, knows of Reita Faria Powell. Many remember seeing her on television, during reruns of the Bob Hope show in South Vietnam, staged soon after she won the Miss World crown in 1966.

As recently as a month ago at the Ryder Cup golf tournament, the Powells got a warm welcome at a five-star hotel, thanks to the memories of Reita Faria.

Last year, when the Powells were skiing in the Italian Alps, a group of English people looked at them intensely. After chatting a bit, they said to Faria's husband, 'We don't want you to be embarrassed, but was your wife very famous?'

Image: Reita Faria at her home in Dublin with the Miss World 1966 trophy

Photograph: Arthur J Pais
Also read: The first Miss India


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