A special Deepavali for Miss Universe Singapore

Miss Mohanaprabha beat nine other contestants to be crowned Miss Universe Singapore 2019 during the finals at Zouk on Oct 17. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
Miss Mohanaprabha beat nine other contestants to be crowned Miss Universe Singapore 2019 during the finals at Zouk on Oct 17. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

She is looking forward to meeting relatives for the first time since winning the pageant crown

Deepavali today will be special for Miss Mohanaprabha, the newly crowned Miss Universe Singapore 2019.

The 24-year-old, who finished in the top five in last year's competition, said she could not have succeeded without the support of her family.

"This year, my extended family members are all gathering and planning a big Deepavali celebration. I'll be meeting my relatives for the first time since winning the Miss Universe Singapore finals. I am so excited to meet all of them, especially my grandmothers," she said.

The biomedical science graduate from PSB Academy described Deepavali as "a celebration of relationships".

She beat nine other contestants to be crowned Miss Universe Singapore during the finals held at Zouk on Oct 17, and will be competing against 80 others for the Miss Universe 2019 title in the US on Dec 8.

Miss Mohanaprabha - statuesque at 1.76m tall - was determined to do better this year and had worked hard on her weaknesses.

"My strengths are my catwalking and stage presence," she said.

But she had to improve in the question-and-answer segment.

"I read the newspapers daily and took time to comprehend what was happening around the world.

"Over time, I started to form my own opinions about world affairs and engaged in meaningful conversations with others."

Miss Mohanaprabha said her triumph is a boost for minority representation, racial equality and cultural diversity. She added that no one was discriminated against during the competition.

"At no point in the competition did I feel that I could not win just because I am an Indian," she said.

But still, more can be done to embrace diversity here, she added.

"I cannot accept casual racist remarks from a person I barely know. We live in a multicultural society and we should embrace diversity. We should look beyond race and treat people equally."

The middle child, who has two brothers, grew up in a conservative household.

Her father, Mr Viraya Thamrai Selvam, a 60-year-old project officer at SP PowerGrid, was the family's sole breadwinner until her older brother Rajprabu, 32, started working as a programmer at TDS Technology nine months ago.

Her mother, Madam Tamil Selvi, is a housewife.

Her brother Kirtan, a 23-year-old personal trainer, helped her tone up her body for the competition.

"Initially my brother did not take me seriously," she said.

"But after the first few sessions, he saw that I was determined to get what I wanted."

Her father's reaction, however, left a deep impression on her.

"My brother said that when my name was announced as winner, my father slapped his back hard and screamed in joy. He then broke down in tears," she said.

"Until then, we had only ever seen a non-emotive and strong father who always pushed us to do more."

"After all the years of me trying to spread my wings and fly, he finally saw me in the sky," she said.

Her mother did not attend the finals and learnt about Miss Mohanaprabha's win from relatives.

Miss Mohanaprabha actually wanted to take up modelling at the age of 16 but her father told her to focus on her studies.

She initially enrolled in a diploma in chemical and pharmaceutical technology course at Nanyang Polytechnic, but after a year, switched to biomedical science at Republic Polytechnic.

After receiving her diploma in 2017, she signed up for the degree programme at PSB Academy.

At 22, she joined a modelling agency. Her father did not stop her this time.

"He was letting me grow out of his shadow and do what I liked," she said.

Weeks before winning the pageant, Miss Mohanaprabha obtained her bachelor's degree.

"Just like how my pageant was a second try, I had to clear modules which I had previously failed. So it was an extremely stressful period. I had to focus on my last exam and, at the same time, prepare for the pageant."

She learnt that failure is not the end. "We should never give up. We must try as many times as we can to achieve our dreams," she said.

She now wants to pursue a career in the fashion industry.

"But if that does not work out, I want to become a medical technologist," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 27, 2019, with the headline 'A special Deepavali for Miss Universe Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe