Today, I welcome on the blog Mehroo Turel, former Miss India contest not once but twice and who represented India at the Miss Asia Pacific in the 90s. An accomplished woman, Mehroo is now settled in Hong Kong with her husband and children. Hope you enjoy our conversation that was done via e-mail.
It was in 1992 that a young, 17-year-old girl, hailing from the Dadar Parsi Colony, not only walked the ramp but was ranked among the Top 10 finalists. Meet Mehroo Mistry now Mehroo Turel, who was ranked fourth in the Miss India contest in 1992, the year that saw Madhu Sapre crowned with glory and she repeated her feat in 1994, where she participated in the competition with the likes of Aishwarya Rai and Sushmita Sen in the competition. The girl from Dadar represented India for the Miss Asia Pacific in 1992.
Former Miss India and Miss Asia Pacific, celebrated blogger and entrepreneur, how does one introduce Mehroo Turel? A tough one as this interview tries to decipher the person behind this image.
Today, Mehroo Turel is nestled with her husband in Hong Kong along with her two kids and as she speaks to me about those days in the fashion industry, the now entrepreneur reminisces about her days as a model in the era which I call, ‘the best for the modelling industry’, how it was like to live in what was known as ‘Bombay’, blogging and of course, her community the Parsis, who contributed immensely to India’s advancement.
The top finalist, ranked at No.4 in Miss India contest in 1992 and No.6 in 1994, Mehroo is first quizzed on whether she doesn’t miss the arc light and glitz of the modelling industry. This is what she has to say, “Surprising but no I don’t miss it. I believe that every stage in life has its own purpose and priorities. It was fun doing the contest all those years ago, gave me instant fame and popularity, but for the present I am very happy doing what I am.”
It’s wishful thinking for her bevy of admirers, including me, on one day grabbing an offer to walk the ramp as a show stopper. Mehroo says: “yes! It would be fun, wouldn’t it? Specially to show off in front of my boys!”
Her precious pictures and portfolio from the days of modelling and Miss India is something that would make any child proud of their mother. She gives an insight, “ I remember when I first showed my old file where I have kept a small collection of my past ads, shoots and magazine articles to my elder son, he couldn’t believe it. “Are you serious Mummy? Is that you? Were you really Miss India No. 6?”
It’s something that made her children proud and excited, at the same time. How did Miss India happen for Mehroo and what’s the story, I am curious to know. The former Miss India candidly says, “It didn’t happen, as in no one approached me for it. I applied to an ad in Femina and got shortlisted. Simple!” As good as she gets.
Mehroo leads us briefly into the preparation of Miss India and Miss Asia Pacific, a brief peek into what went behind the scenes during the 90s. She says: “I wish I had more to talk about the ‘preparation’ or the ‘grooming’ but unfortunately there wasn’t much done in those days. I do remember getting some tips from established models like Lubna Adams (if I am not mistaken) on walking the ramp, poise and posture.”
She harks back to the past which I am sure seems only yesterday to her as she narrates the episode in her life. Mehroo recollects, “And I think one round – Western casual, was sponsored by some boutique who lent us clothes for that evening. We had to prepare and organise for everything else ourselves – our gowns for the Western formal and Indian rounds, our jewellery, accessories, make-up, shoes, everything. My parents had to spend quite a bit for the same but they were happy to support me.”
The Miss Asia Pacific pageant happened to her much before the Miss India contest in 1994, two years back. She remembers her tryst with destiny in 1992, “Asia-Pacific happened two years before the Miss India 1994. I remember being called to Mrs. Vimla Patil’s office in Times of India and was asked if I was ok to go Philippines by myself. I said yes and then that’s about it. Every single thing from the visa to the costumes to getting there was a headache for me.”
You can check out the whole Miss Asia Pacific contest to get a detailed peak on Mehroo’s blog: http://frommissindiatomotherhood.blogspot.hk/2012/08/miss-asia-pacific-1992-part-1.html
For a 17-year-old whose claim to fame must have not been a child’s play at all, ushering into adulthood, straight from teens. The school mates and people in her locality must have serenaded her. Mehroo humbly terms it as, “Yes must be luck, I never took “You are so beautiful” as a compliment but when people would say “You are great example of beauty with brains” I loved it! I think it’s this combination plus support from my parents which helped me achieved success in a short time.”
In 1994, Mehroo brushed shoulders with faces like Aishwarya Rai, Miss World 1994 and the latter’s arch rival, Miss Universe Sushmita Sen who went on to carve their niche in the Hindi film industry. She was ranked just after Shweta Menon at No.6 in that year’s Miss India contest. There was also Madhu Sapre in the beauty pageant.
It was a mix of models, Mehroo says. In her own words: “I think we were a good mix of professional models, city and small town girls. Aishwarya Rai was already popular as a model and hence a familiar name and face to everyone. Even the judges knew her! We were sure that she was going to win the contest. Sushmita Sen was quite aloof but very determined to win.
There were some girls who were really serious about the contest and some like me who wanted to have a good time. While I did interact with some girls, I never had a chance to interact personally with Aishwarya or Sushmita. I did know Aishwarya briefly before the contest as we had done some modelling assignments together.”
Mehroo harks back to the precious days not shying to give me a peek into the competition. She recalls, “But I wonder if anyone remembers the girl who stood third in the contest – Francesca Hart? Despite standing third, she was completely invisible under the Aishwarya Rai-Sushmita Sen limelight. I later heard that her conservative parents refused to send her to the Asia-Pacific contest which was why Shweta Menon who was No. 5 was sent.”
It was a moment of pride for India to make its presence felt at the global contests with Aishwarya and Sushmita taking the pie. Mehroo says in a very honest manner, “It was nice to see both the winners go and win the International pageants. Shocking actually as we won both the contests in the same year! Yes I did feel a pang of jealously wishing I had put in more effort, but I am never the one who hold regrets for too long and I moved on with my life.”
Not one to live with regrets, that’s the mark of Mehroo Turel, who is a winner in her own way. The humility, candidness of thought and the fact that she is a grounded ‘Bombay Girl’ is echoed through this interview.
She believes that her stint as a model and ‘Miss India’ played an important role in her life and defines who she is today. Mehroo believes, “Modelling and the contest built a lot of confidence in the self, improved my poise, posture and style, exposed me to the real world quite early in life besides giving me financial independence. I think these qualities helped me as I started building my career after my MBA. Interviews, role plays, group discussions became easier and even people management came naturally to me. I guess some of these traits would have passed on to this motherhood phase too, though I think the skills required in this job are very different.”
It was during the contest in Manilla that a young Mehroo shared the room with Miss USA and became friends with Miss Canada. It was both fun and exciting times for a 17-year-old, far away from the family cocoon and parents, to be on her own and exploring a whole new world.
She wilfully gives an inside view, “To start with, Miss USA was a whole foot taller than me so I never liked walking close to her! We never really had anything in common so didn’t gel. I actually befriended Ms. Canada.”
It’s something interesting coming from Mehroo, sharing the moments to be cherished with her ‘friend’ Miss Canada. She recalls, “Once we were chatting and giggling so much at a restaurant that she fell off her chair! We also got close when we went on an island trip together in a privately chartered helicopter. I felt like a VIP! I don’t think either of us was competitive.”
An obvious question one is tempted to ask to the former Miss India contestant what does she speaks to her contemporaries now, reminiscing on the glory days. This is what Mehroo has to tell, “No I am not in touch with anyone, but it would be nice if we had been.”
Much before the pageant, Mehroo has modelled for a number of brands and commercials. She says modelling was hard work before the contest happened. As one would imagine and keen to know, how the model scene evolved during those days, the ‘former beauty queen’ gets into flash back moments and takes us to those lanes of struggle in Maximum City. She narrates, “Modelling before the contest was hard work. I had portfolios made and did rounds of various ad agencies and professional photographers handing out my photo prints. No ‘e-mailing’ in those days so everything had to be done using leg work. I must have covered almost all agencies in South Bombay up to Dadar and a few in North Mumbai. My mum was my official chauffeur! She used to wait under the building in the car and I used to run up and around the building handing out photos. Each print cost me money, so I did not like giving more than 3-4 photos per agency! Those were the days! After the contest it was a lot easier.”
As one would imagine that it was an era where e-mailing was alien, one has to struggle and almost depleting the energy to make things happen. Determination can be a big energy boost, unlike Red Bull. Ranked at No.4 in 1992, I ask whether it was a tough call to leave the world of fashion and modelling. Mehroo says “My modelling career peaked from 1991-1996. “After I started doing my MBA, I couldn’t cope up with the assignments and started refusing them. Slowly the offers started dwindling. I didn’t mind actually as I was quite tired of ‘posing’ by then and wanted to do something more intellectual,” she says with a twinge of honesty and intellect.
What would be the view of the former Miss India on the fashion industry today as one saw the kind of poise and charm displayed way back in the 90s? Mehroo says, “I really can’t comment much on this as I am not in touch with that world at all.”
She doesn’t bat an eyelid and flinch for a second telling, “Even as a model, it wasn’t something that I really enjoyed. Yes it was fun and gave good money for not so much work, but it was a brainless job.”
Mehroo gets candid when she shares with us, “Sometimes I wanted to shout out and tell my photographer to do a frame differently; sometimes I wanted to change the script of the ad. I felt like a mannequin being asked to do different things by different people and never allowed to think. Maybe that has changed today. I hope models have more ‘say’ in their work now.” It’s a priceless advice that newbies in towns must learn, one would say, from Mehroo.
It’s only natural to ask Mehroo if ever the thought crossed her mind to start a modelling school, if not now, may be in the distant future. In her ubiquitous style, she replies, “Nah! Not my thing. Kindergarten YES!”
For someone who was born, bred and brought up in the city of dreams, ‘Bombay’, it must be bliss living in the city that reverberates with cosmopolitan culture, wide roads, her abode ‘Dadar Parsi Colony’ and historic buildings. She takes us back to the innocent days in the city that never sleeps that saw her growing up from a child to a teen and adult. The Bombay Girl terms those days as ‘wonderful.’
Mehroo reminisces, “The colony was heaven. It was the only place where I could get away with wearing anything I liked and doing crazy things like riding my motorbike! I used to love cycling and practiced hard before any school or inter-school competition within the colony. Later, I started riding a bike at the age of 14. I learnt quickly from my father and uncle. Dad bought me my own Kawasaki Bajaj when I was 15 and I was the rage in the colony, zipping up and down the quiet lanes with my friends as pillion riders! I have had a couple of falls but that did not deter me from riding and once I had a licence, I rode all over the city.”
It couldn’t get bigger and better than that with the adrenaline rush. Imagine Mehroo riding high on her Kawasaki with full power and she says, “I felt so powerful and independent, not the same feeling you get when you drive a car. The colony was a haven where I always felt safe. I had my school there and my college wasn’t too far either so I was quite spoilt never having to travel and enjoying the lush green and the fresh air. Five Gardens is an icon in the colony and as a child, I played on its really tall but rusty slides and creaky swings, then that gave way to endless evenings walking my dogs or having nonsensical conversations with friends sitting on the railings, eating pani-puri and ragda-chaat. Even today, I use that area for my walks whenever I head back home for holidays. I think the colony really grew on me ‘cause’ I got married there too!”
‘Bombay’ is now Mumbai and a city that never ceases to move in jet speed like the super fast trains and doesn’t shy away in its transformation. Who better than someone who lived in the city and crossed the seas? For sure, there are certain aspects that she misses a lot in the city. Her words shows the love that she has for her city. For Mehroo, ‘Bombay has had a massive transformation, one that is visible every time I visit. I think it is much more noticeable because I don’t live there so that when I visit I stand back for a minute and say “Whoa, when and how did that happen?” It has become much more crowded and polluted and unfortunately the same has happened to my colony too.’
It’s something that gnaws her, “I feel sad to see a new building or a new construction every time I visit. Once I could have crossed the colony roads shutting my eyes as we barely had any traffic, now one has to watch every step, even the footpaths are missing in some places! Once I am home in Dadar, I do not like to move out, as the city outside the colony is even worse. Terrible traffic jams, noise and people’s rage is visible everywhere.”
One’s roots matters the most and Mehroo is not saying the contrary in our conversation. She affirms: “The only reason I come home every year, maybe even twice a year, is to visit my family and to show and teach my children their family and culture. It is difficult to teach a child about one’s religion and culture when one is away from it. That’s one and then I do like to go to my favourite haunts like the colony library, the agiary (fire temple) Dadar TT circle, Matunga market, Udipi joints to eat dosas. Fortunately, I have managed to stay in touch with my school friends with whom I have spent more than 10 years of my school life and together, we re-live memories when we meet.”
A crazy city that doesn’t limit itself to limits and local trains, Horns OK Taxis and fast life defines Mumbai. There was Bombay and now there is Mumbai.
Mehroo is a great fan of ‘South Bombay and loves the ‘historical British buildings’ which is a preserved identity and rich heritage as well as ‘the openness of space interspersed with gardens – something that North Bombay lacks. Nariman Point sitting by the rocks, Worli sea face having vegetable toast sandwich, Marine Drive and even Shivaji park beach where mum used to take us as kids for a bit of swim and sand castle building! Street foods are what I miss, especially the chaats –bhel, sev puri, the makkai-butta (corn), chutney-cheese sandwich, dabeli (lots of somethings put inside a bread roll), chana-sing, kala-khatta ice lollies and all the unhealthy cheap roadside snacks one can think of!’
In this e-mail conversation about the city, one would say that destiny played a part in her life between professing a love for Taj Mahal Hotel and where she found herself working at a later stage. She exclaims, “Oh and before I forget I used to love going to the Taj (Taj Mahal hotel) for random reasons. I needed to use the loo or visit the bookshop, I was using any random reason to confidently give my car to the valet and then walk in with a sense of purpose. There was nowhere to go obviously but I enjoyed the cool, plush interiors, all the important looking people dressed in suits and sarees floating around and I just sat in the lobby area for some time lost in my thoughts. Who knew that I would be working for this hotel one day! As a TAS (Tata Administrative Service Officer), I used to be in Sales and Marketing when I started off and loved showing off the property to potential clients. The old wing of Taj – The Heritage Wing fascinated me the most, with every room different from the other. It has character that no other hotel can match. In fact I was working at the Taj when I quit my job (or rather took a sabbatical) in 2006 when my son was 2 years old.”
Like they say, a place that we love is window to the soul where we get a sense of comfort and peace. Mumbai is one place where I share a bond, if I may call it so, with Mehroo. For someone who experienced the city in its unique charm during the earlier days-I am much a late comer here-Mehroo shares some unique moments and what it felt like to stay in the city as a localite.
“I used to drive almost everywhere in the city and during my modelling days felt safe coming back home by myself. Bombay has a vast network of roads and ‘gullies’ and I was proud of knowing most of them, the short-cuts, the high traffic lanes, the dockyard road, everything! Nowadays, it is all flyovers everywhere. Our politicians seem to think that that is the answer to our ever increasing traffic. To an extent yes if you take them, but if one has to go under them to reach a destination one is doomed to an hour of sitting in mid-traffic without moving a muscle!,” she places her argument in the right place.”
One couldn’t agree more with Mehroo who confesses, “I still haven’t used the famous Worli-Bandra sea link yet.” Travelling in local trains is something everyone be it a new entrant in the city or locals, should indulge to experience the real ‘Bombay’ or ‘Mumbai for that matter.
She was one of your fellow commuters in the life line in the city and that’s what she has to say. “Oh and yes I did travel by local trains too when parking used to be a problem. That was quite an experience when I first started. I always used ladies compartment and second class too. It was fun being lifted in and out of the coach even before the train halted, with a sea of determined working ladies crushing you to death or nauseating you to their varied smells! I didn’t mind though and soon became one of them. My above average height compared to Indian standard always helped! ” she quips.
From Miss India to Motherhood, Mehroo today is brand name and celebrated blogger who always put humongous effort in her writing space. Veering between dollops of humor and humility, she muses, “Brand name and celebrated blogger’ – WOW that’s a bit too much I would say, but thank you! For starters, I am now just ‘Mehroo Turel’. I used to be Mehroo Mistry Turel in my corporate working life. The ‘Mistry’ or ‘mystery’ went away when I got my son’s passport done and that meant changing my surname officially in mine too.”
The Mistry’ or ‘mystery’ remains, one would think but love how she plays with words, injecting fun in our entertaining conversation. She continues, “Within 3 months of me quitting my job, we moved to Hong Kong where I had my second child. I wish I had started blogging then, as I had so much to say and so much to ask, which I did using mommy forums. Since I was staying away from home, I started writing lengthy emails to my immediately family letting them know what we were up to, our life, the kids, just talk in general.”
Her writings earned her accolades and praise from the family. She lets us in the secret, “My mum-in-law once complimented me saying that “Mehroo, you write so well, I feel like I am there with you.” I was too busy, though, to think of anything else. From Hong Kong we moved to UK and then luck brought us back here. In early 2012, my boys were 8 and 4 years old and were well-settled into their routine and I felt like I was ready to do something more. Going back to work was out of question and I was just so happy doing what I did.”
Her blog took shape when someone prodded to translate her thoughts into words. She lets the cat out of the bag, “It was when a friend happened to mention about writing a blog. He was quite fascinated about the whole Miss India story and said that others would like to know too. I started researching, wrote a few things when I could. If you see my first couple of posts – they are quite short and precise. I wasn’t sure how much to say, how much not too, it being a public forum. I read about blogging, followed some bloggers with similar purpose, learnt the software to be used and then finally one fine day I launched my blog! Well, nothing happened instantly ‘cause’ no one knew about the blog. For a while, I only ran it through family members. Soon, the compliments came pouring in – after all they were family J Then gaining confidence I put it up on my facebook page and that started it all!” I kinda agree and I am sure, all of you will, how her blog made our day.
Hailing from a Parsi family, the rich culture reverberates in Maximum City where the community contributed a lot. From Dadabhai Naoroji to Madame Bhikaiji Cama and Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, Parsis are known to be close-knit and I narrate to Mehroo an anecdote at the Parsi colony where I witnessed the unique community life. She takes pride, “Honestly, I love being a Parsi. My upbringing has been in a traditional Parsi home following rituals and traditions that have been passing down over generations. I studied in a Parsi school- The J.B. Vachha school, which for a very long time, gave admission to Parsis only but then opened its doors to all communities. We had some lovely Parsi teachers whom we remember with a lot of affection and respect and who were passionate about imbibing the right values and education to students. We even had Parsi prayers recited on special occasions on the school loudspeaker. Living in a Parsi colony gives one a sense of connection to the roots and culture that one often doesn’t experience living outside it.”
Mehroo shares the common linkage between Parsis and Gujrati as a language. “We speak in Gujarati which is our acquired language after we fled persecution in Iran and landed in Gujarat. We have a beautiful fire temple within the colony and I get a lot of peace and solace going there. When we were in school, I used to describe the interiors to my non-Parsi friends who couldn’t go inside. When we learnt history in school, I was proud of the fact that I belonged to the same community that had given birth to such philanthropists and with more existing in the society that trend continues. In fact, I pride myself on working with the Tata group and was in awe of Mr. Ratan Tata on the few occasions when we met,” she says.
Everyone be it in the media, political lounge or conversation been debating on the community which is dwindling. Who better than a Parsi, proud of her roots and rightly so, to air her views! Mehroo reflects, “There are lots of opinions about this sensitive question regarding increasing our tribe. Yes, our community is dwindling due to a lot of inter-caste marriages, unmarried youngsters and childless couples. I don’t think we can enforce a rule nor do we have any magic power to increase our tribe. I have married within the community and I try my best to inculcate the same culture and tradition in my children, who I hope would continue the tradition over the next generations. I am not sure how many years we are going to last but I believe that till we do, we should retain our ‘uniqueness’. After all, what’s the point in retaining a community if you have to dilute it any way,” she brings a fresh element to the fore.
The Parsi culture is vibrant in the city through its food, history, culture and café, of course the Nowroze celebration in the household. Mehroo gives us a first-hand account of celebration in her home which is delightful. The vibrant lady on what I feel is the finest community in India, “We have certain rituals and customs that we follow at home. Like lighting an oil diya at all times in our prayer area, doing chawk or rangoli outside our homes every day and wearing our sacred ‘sudreh’ (muslin vest) and ‘kusti’ (sacred woollen thread) at all times after our Navjote (Initiation into the Zoroastrian religion) is done.”
The unique Parsi dishes which many of us-I am one of them-are fortunate to taste in the home of our Parsis friends is a delightful story that Mehroo spells about her rich culture and tradition. “Besides, we have our own customary food that we prepare on certain occasions. While most are an infusion of Indian culture after having lived for so many years on this soil, they still have a typical flavour that one can only find in Parsi cuisine. ‘Dhansak’, for instance, is a brown rice and lentils dish that is probably the most popular outside the community too. Normally, one would have this every Sunday as it is quite filling and it’s customary to get a good afternoon’s nap post this! Others include ‘dhan dal’ which is white rice and yellow dal with ‘patio’ which could be fish or prawn curry, eaten on happy occasions like birthdays and New Year, etc. There are several others dishes like ‘khichri sauce’, ‘mutton pulao’, ‘patra ni machhi’ and one loves going for Parsi weddings or Navjotes to savour these delicacies without going through the effort of making them!,” she tells.
Mehroo has kept the tradition alive at home, “I try and replicate these dishes at home, too, though I learnt cooking at a much later stage in life and I think I can dish out a decent meal. Parsis are also very fond of sweets and ‘lagan nu custard’ and ‘caramel custard’ are the common favourites. These, I avoid making at home as I strive to promote healthy eating habits for my family.”
Nowroze-the Festival of Spring is considered to be one of the most important in the Parsi calendar on March 21. “It has significance for me personally as well as I had accepted my then boyfriend-now husband’s marriage proposal on that day!” she fondly remembers.
“We also have our Parsi New Year in the month of August. Typically, I like to make ‘sev’ (vermicelli) or ‘ravo’ (semolina) in the morning, followed by a thorough cleaning of the house, wearing new clothes and visiting the fire temple,” Mehroo says.
It makes for family time for Mehroo who says, “Evenings are generally entertaining with, either a dinner plan or a community event. These are the days that I most miss living in my home town, as it is just not the same when one is celebrating outside. When I was in school, we used to get the day or the whole week off and there would be a general feeling of happiness and cheer in the whole colony as fresh flowers were bought and homes decorated in traditional ways. We do have an active Zoroastrian community in Hong Kong and try to take our children there if the day falls on a public holiday.”
Mehroo Turel has carved her own niche, balancing career and family life, keeping the tradition by staying connected to her roots. Today, she is busy with her creative venture, Summer and you can check it on Facebook. A woman of substance and rooted, who has chartered her own course in life, be it as Miss India, entrepreneur, mother and wife. A winner in her own way, that’s Mehroo Turel.
Post script: I stumbled on Mehroo’s blog in 2013 and was hooked to her writings. She became a blog friend and absolutely love her posts on Miss India contest. Check it here and it’s in three parts. It’s been a long time that I wanted to feature her in the blog interviews. We were in touch via e-mail and dropping a line on her blog. It took me a long time and I reverted back with the questions after a couple of months. At that time, Mehroo was in holiday and when she sent the answers, it was totally worth it. I am grateful to her for giving me her time, sending the super awesome answers. It was a delight reading the incredible answers and as we spoke, I agree on that, it would have been great for a one-to-one with lot more details. Superb answers by Mehroo. She has also given me some fabulous pictures which I am glad to put here. The pictures belongs to Mehroo and it can’t be reproduced without her permission. It is a long interview but totally worth it. At the end, you will love reading it.
Initially, I was planning to do a Q& A format but it would have been an injustice to Mehroo for making such a superb effort in sharing her experience and taking the time. I discussed with her and must say that I appreciate how she respects my craft, giving me the freedom to present her. A thorough professional she is.