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New Delhi cheers for first Miss America of Indian descent

Indians say Nina Davuluri is the 'total package' and her next step could be a career in Bollywood. Surytapa Bhattacharya reports from New Delhi

Nina Davuluri wins the 2014 Miss America crown in New Jersey, sparking celebrations in India. Michael Loccisano / Getty Images / AFP
Nina Davuluri wins the 2014 Miss America crown in New Jersey, sparking celebrations in India. Michael Loccisano / Getty Images / AFP
NEW DELHI // India on Monday cheered Nina Davuluri, the first woman of Indian heritage to win the Miss America beauty pageant.
Ms Davuluri, 24, won judges over with her charm, looks and her talent routine, a Bollywood fusion dance, to beat out 53 other contestants.
It appeared that she won over India as well.
Kartik Mahajan, radio host in the capital, said there was jubilation across the country after Ms Davuluri was crowned Miss America.
"When somebody of Indian origin wins something abroad, everyone takes notice of it, especially when it happens in America. We tend to try and grasp and collectively take credit for something someone else has done, because it lends scrutiny to us as Indians achieving something that is noticed worldwide.
"It becomes a bigger deal when you say an Indian-American has won it. That's why it is a big deal."
Noyonika Chatterjee, a model often referred to as the Indian Naomi Campbell, said she hoped Ms Davuluri's win would shatter US stereotypes about people from Asia.
"There have always been these misconceptions of terrorism, that anyone who comes from this part of the world is a terrorist. That big barrier was broken with her win, more so than the fact that she is dark-skinned," Ms Chatterjee told The National.
"I am glad that somebody who is South Asian, who was born in America, went the unconventional way, and contested a beauty title. Her getting it is commendable."
At the Khoobsurat salon in New Delhi, Nikku Goyal, 23, and Noshi Tamang, 29, watched a television clip that showed Ms Davuluri waving to the crowds soon after she was crowned on Sunday.
"She could have a great career in Bollywood," Ms Goyal said. "That smile, those eyes, that height, [she is a] total package."
Moments after being crowned the 2014 Miss America at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Ms Davuluri, who entered the contest as Miss New York, described how delighted she was that the nearly century-old pageant saw beauty and talent of all kinds.
"I'm so happy this organisation has embraced diversity," she said. "I'm thankful there are children watching at home who can finally relate to a new Miss America."
Her pageant platform was "celebrating diversity through cultural competency".
The native of Syracuse, New York, wants to be a doctor and is applying to medical school with the help of a US$50,000 (Dh183,500) scholarship she won as part of the pageant title. Her family hails from the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and she was also the first woman of Indian heritage to win the Miss New York crown.
Ms Davuluri's victory led to some negative comments on Twitter from users upset that someone of Indian heritage had won the pageant. She brushed those aside.
"I have to rise above that," she said. "I always viewed myself as first and foremost American."
Ms Tamang said she understood some of the backlash.
"If a blonde girl won Miss India, we would all be surprised," she said. "But I realise America is more diverse. There are different races there and she deserves to win because she is the most beautiful of all contestants."
Ms Davuluri's grandmother said she cried when she saw the news on television.
"I am very, very, happy for the girl. It was her dream and it was fulfilled," said V Koteshwaramma, 89, said in the city of Vijayawada, in Andhra Pradesh, where people spent Monday celebrating the win.
She said there were numerous doctors in the family, both in the US and India, and that if her granddaughter wanted to become one, "I am sure she will do it."
Asked about her granddaughter appearing in a bikini, given the conservative attitudes about such things in India, Ms Koteshwaramma said: "I haven't seen any such thing. This must be all part of the competition."
The pageant had pitted contestants from each state, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands - in swimsuit, evening gown, talent and interview competitions.
sbhattacharya@thenational.ae
* With additional reporting by Associated Press