(Indian-Region specific content)
A memoir of my journey through a beauty pageant, on chasing the bright lights of Bollywood, managing expectations and growing up through life’s lessons and choices.
It was a day I would never forget for a multitude of reasons. It was the regional qualifiers of the 10th Grasim Mr. India contest to be held at a 5 star Hotel in New Delhi. I had arrived at Uncle Rajeev’s house in Faridabad, an hour’s drive from the venue, the night before.
Like the engineers at NASA before a space shuttle launch, we were discussing every minute detail about my wardrobe and my overall presentation before my proverbial “takeoff”.
“Take your T-shirt off”, he said and I did.
He glanced at me in disbelief.
“I should have known”, he said while nodding his head sarcastically. He ran up to his room to appear back moments later, with a Hair-Trimmer.
Hours later I was in a large banquet hall at the Hotel with 700 other aspirants from all walks of society. The tension in the room was palpable.
There was ramp made by adjoining many tables together. At the end of the ramp was the head table where the panel judges would sit.
The judges/ officials hadn’t arrived yet.
To break the ice, everyone began chatting and soon it got pretty loud.
All of a sudden I heard a loud authoritative voice, which cut through the noise.
“I want pin drop silence now!!!” Everyone went quiet.
His name was Mr. Anshuman Swami. For all practical purposes, he was the “Big Boss” of the proceedings hereon.
“I will not think twice before throwing anyone out of this room for acting smart. Now take your seats gentlemen so that we can get through with this thing in a cordial manner”.
One by one our names were called. The routine was same. You walk the ramp, you introduce yourself and the judges do some cross-questioning depending on what you say and you walk back to your seats.
It was my turn. I anxiously got up from my chair, got on the ramp and walked towards the judges’ table with the music blasting in the background and the eyes of everyone on me.
“Please introduce yourself”, Mr. Swami asked me.
I replied, ” Well…. I am a friendly person. I like to travel, read books and make friends”
He nodded his head and replied “Ok”. And with that he signaled that my turn was up.
I was shocked. That’s it? No cross-questions? No further dialogue? I wasn’t sure what impression (if any) I had made with the briefest introduction by my estimation so far.
I replied “Thank You” and walked back to my chair not knowing what the hell had just happened.
When the proceedings ended, one of Mr. Swami’s assistants (I would later get to know him as Tanuj Garg) announced, “Thank you everyone for coming. As you know the selection criteria is very rigorous and the competition is stiff. Only 31 Finalist will be invited to Mumbai to take part in the 10th Grasim Mr. India contest. We have your contact details. You will be informed in case you are selected as a finalist to compete for the coveted Mr. India crown in Mumbai. “
He then added, “Oh by the way, can the following boys stay back?”
Tanuj rattled a few names including my own. I guess my day wasn’t over yet.
One by one the banquet hall cleared out until the only people remaining in the room were Mr. Swami and I.
“So, Mr. Madhok, what are you doing these days? “.
He had remembered my name.
“Well, I am from Varanasi, Sir. I am studying in Melbourne, Australia at the moment.”
“What are your plans? “, he probed.
In an extremely respectful and obedient mode, I replied, “Sir after finishing my studies I will be returning back to Varanasi to help my parents with the schools they own and run.”
He interrupted me with a viscous frown on his face.
ये जूता देखा है ? इसी से मारूँगा !
(Interpretation – You see my shoe here. I am going to smack you with it)
I knew the best thing for me to do was to shut up now and not interrupt him.
Mr. Swami was in lecture session.
Our meeting lasted around 10 minutes. I came out feeling giddy. Some of the contestants who had left the banquet hall earlier were still outside in the lobby area, loitering. One of them saw me and said – “Hey brother, what’s up ?”
I wasn’t in the mood to chat up with strangers but couldn’t find a strong enough a reason to refuse their offer for a couple of chilled beers either. It had been one long and stressful day but now it was celebration time.
Two drinks down, I was buzzing. One of them finally gathered the courage and asked me what had transpired in my long, one-on-one conversation with Mr. Swami. I couldn’t really care anymore about keeping secrets.
“I am in”, I said sheepishly.
One of them said, “Hey brother, let’s stay in touch. Why don’t we exchange numbers?”
I hesitated for a moment.
It wasn’t just that I had qualified for the final to be held in Mumbai. Mr. Swami, in his conversation, explicitly stated that I was among the 4 main contenders for the crown.
And that’s not all it.
He said that by his estimates, that I (Yes, yours truly Harsh Madhok) was the odds on favorite to be Grasim Mr. India 2004
I could have been forgiven for my newfound arrogance.
They were, by all accounts, beneath me now. I had qualified for the finals in Mumbai and they hadn’t. I exchanged numbers out of courtesy. Deep inside I knew I would never see them again. In my mind, I was about to leave them behind and make a leap into the big leagues (or at least bigger by relative standards) with the Aryan Vaids and the Zulfi Syeds of the fashion world.
“Nice meeting you all.”
And with that, I politely excused myself from their company. I couldn’t keep the excitement of my entry into the Grasim Mr. India contest to myself any longer. It was time for a phone call to pour my heart out.
Being Mr.India Series 🇮🇳
Part 2 – Paying Dues
Part 3 – Meeting the Godfather