Mumbai: Pantaloons Femina Miss India World 2009 Pooja Chopra would have made her father proud, if only he hadn't disowned her at birth. He wanted a son.
When Pooja was barely 20-days-old, her mother Neera Chopra was asked to either abandon her baby or leave her husband; all because Pooja was a girl. She chose to leave with Pooja and her elder daughter Shubhra.
"When I was leaving something in my heart told me that this child will make me proud," said Neera.
Pooja dazzled India with her beauty and confidence, but the 23-year-old wouldn't have been on that stage if it weren't for her mother's support Neera.
"I knew my mom and dad had separated, but only in class VI did I understand that it was because of me. My mother chose me over her married life," said Pooja.
But what followed were tough times for Neera and her daughters. Neera had to take up a job and take tuitions to get by, and even then it was a constant struggle.
"Sometimes when my daughter had high fever I would save the doctor's Rs 40 or Rs 50 fee and give them ginger tea or make them drink water - so I could give them stationary for school instead," recalled Neera.
Little Pooja learnt from her sister Shubhra not to make demands they couldn't afford.
"Shubhra made me understand that mama works from 6 am to 8 pm to earn for us, so if you ask her for this too she will come home at 11 pm, do you want that?," she said.
"My girls really understood, even when their uniforms became short we would undo the hem and iron it out so it wouldn't look odd," said Neera.
Even in college Pooja had to earn her pocket money through modelling assignments. This eventually led her to the Miss India pageant. Pooja said it was the culmination of her mother's hard work.
"God tested her for many years, now he said hats off to you lady and all happiness is yours," said Pooja.
"I haven't regretted my decision for a minute, I'm so happy now, I can't stop smiling," said the proud mother.