The personal empowerment pageant Miss MalaysiaIndian Global 2019 was held last month, and we now have a new queen, Sumittra Gunalan. 

The 23 year old public relations consultant speaks candidly to Varnam about how the pageant organisers and the workshops she attended helped her reach a state of openness. Thanks to the pageant, Sumittra now breathes positivity into all areas of her life.

Varnam (V): Congratulations on your win! How does it feel to be the twentieth Miss MalaysiaIndian Global?

Sumittra (S): Thank you! To be honest, it really hasn’t sunk in yet. Life has been moving so fast since my win. It does feel surreal, but at the same time, I am so grateful for this title and the platform. It is going to be an interesting year, there is plenty to take on. I’m excited!

V: Were you aware that this was not a beauty pageant, but a personal empowerment pageant when you auditioned?

S: Not at all! A friend of mine sent me the link for the pageant audition. I did some research and learnt that this was not your average beauty pageant. It is one that focuses on personal empowerment and community service. That instantly drew me in! My research didn’t prepare me for the change that I saw in myself when I sat through the workshops. That’s when the impact of the program was really unearthed for me.

V: Which was your favourite workshop throughout the pageant?

S: The one workshop that stood out for me was the talk by Jeevan Sahadevan. He’s a professional business coach, and he spoke to us about our ambitions and how to manifest them into reality. He gave us some really good pointers, the one that stood out to me was the 7 values to determine your success and how to plan your financial portfolio.

Beyond that, was the energy in the room during Mr Jeevan’s sessions that was unforgettable. The moment we started talking about our ambitions, everyone was getting excited. And let me tell you, it was so empowering to sit in a room filled with like-minded young Indian women, all ready to take on their dreams with confidence!

And let me tell you, it was so empowering to sit in a room filled with like-minded young Indian women, all ready to take on their dreams!

It left me thinking, “Wow, I’m not the only one planning my life this way and now I have these girls to share it with!” It was truly empowering to see women uplift each other to work toward their dreams.

V: Do you now feel like you have a better understanding of yourself, as a result of the pageant?

S: Yes, definitely. In fact, when I entered the pageant, I was so sure that I knew who I was. As I attended each clinic and workshop, it was almost as it I was being reconstructed. My mindset towards many things changed.

At one point, I was left confused! It was then that Mrs Pushparani Thilaganathan (Mrs Rani), the founder of Miss MalaysiaIndian Global, told me that confusion is the best place to be. She said, “Confusion allows you to be accepting to change, and open to new ideas and challenges,” Sure enough, as I looked back to how I kept saying that I knew myself so well, that was my fear talking and it created a barrier from taking on new challenges.

“Confusion allows you to be accepting to change, and open to new ideas and challenges,”

Right now, I have been left in a state of true openness. Understanding who I am as a person is an ongoing process. I am not going to say that I’ve arrived, because it really is a journey. Miss MalaysiaIndian Global definitely kick-started it!

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V: Tell us a little about the sisterhood of Miss MalaysiaIndian Global.

S: Where do I begin? (laughs) It is something else. I am the kind of person who needs time to feel comfortable around new people. With these ladies, we really connected during the Community and Environment Awareness program, over a four day weekend in Penang. This was life changing. It became second nature to showcase who I am as a person, and I didn’t have to have my guard up.

Post competition, our friendship has not changed. I am deeply grateful to have met these incredible women, and it’s going to be a wonderful year working with together.

The Miss MalaysiaIndian Global team themselves made this possible, they work extra hard to make sure that all of us contestants feel included. It really is a safe space to be who you are and to share what you feel.

The Miss MalaysiaIndian Global team themselves made this possible, they work extra hard to make sure that all of us contestants feel included, and it really is a safe space to be who you are.

V: The Miss MalaysiaIndian Global finale this year was something else, being the twentieth year of the pageant. Share with us your experience on that day!

S: On the day of the finale, I remember starting off the day telling myself to be calm, and to be present. I knew that by the end of the night, no matter what the outcome, I would be grateful for the whole experience and what it has taught me. I told myself to just calm down and take it all in.

V: And we hear that the organising team was very helpful backstage as well..

S: Oh yes! They really helped us keep our nerves in check. I was the first contestant to walk the stage, and just before I did, Mrs Sandhya, who is part of the organising team, was calming me down. She said, “Don’t worry, if there is anything on your mind right now, just tell me okay? I’m here,” And thanks to all these small gestures, all of us contestants were able to stay composed throughout the night.

Even while standing on stage, I didn’t feel the nerves. I owe this to Mrs Rani. She always taught us to be grateful, and it was with her voice in my mind, that I walked confidently onto the stage that night. At one point, my dress got stuck to my shoe, but I didn’t let that fluster me. I kept telling myself, “You’re here! Appreciate this! Soak it all in.”

V: We know that it is way too soon to ask about your community service project, but tell us about a cause that is close to your heart.

S: Mental health is a cause that is close to my heart. There is a slight lack of awareness in our community when it comes to the topic. However, people are slowly talking more about it, which is good, but I’d like to do my part in spreading this cause to the masses.

Mental health is a taboo and because of that, it often gets overlooked. Ultimately, your mental well being is what is going to get you through the day. Of course, it is still undecided if our community service project will revolve around the topic of mental health.

Sumittra pictured with her friends and family after winning the title. Image credit: Sumittra Gunalan
V: Do you feel a pressure going into your reign seeing how all the women of Miss MalaysiaIndian Global have touched hearts and changed lives over the years?

S: I would much rather use the word inspire! There is not too much pressure, weirdly enough. Seeing the queens from the past 20 years on stage with the founder, Mrs Rani, only inspires me to do my best during my reign.

It gives me this drive and it shows me the kind of woman I can be. So, instead of comparing my reign with theirs, I want to do Miss MalaysiaIndian Global proud, however much it may be, while putting the Sumittra stamp on it.

V: That’s beautiful. What is one thing you want to achieve during your reign?

S: I actually have two things! Firstly, my personal growth. I want to develop myself as much as possible. Taking on this role for the year, it is going to put me in so many uncomfortable and unexpected situations. I want to see myself be a stronger woman mentally, intellectually and emotionally take on these challenges. At the same time, I would like to represent the association to the best of my ability.

I also want to be able to impact our community for the better. It doesn’t matter how small or big my impact may be, I just want to contribute something. A small deed goes a long way, but with this platform I can surely do more. I want to inspire young Malaysian Indian girls, show them that their dreams are valid and success is possible!

Miss MalaysiaIndian Global is decades of effort, love and commitment to the women of our community. I really cannot wait to dive in and see what I can do this year.

Team Varnam wishes Miss MalaysiaIndian Global 2019, Sumittra Gunalan, the very best for her reign, may she inspire and empower like the many queens before her.