Manya Singh's story seems like the plot of a blockbuster movie -- leaving home at 14, washing dishes, begging for money, working at eateries and finally the ultimate recognition at 20. The story of the newly-crowned VLCC Femina Miss India 2020 runner-up is that of resolve despite strong opposition from family. This daughter of an auto rickshaw driver, who didn’t know what beauty queens were till Manya became one, is today an inspiration for millions of young girls.

“I always had faith in myself that I will do something big in my life. I ran away from home when I was 14. My family was against modelling as a profession and they had no idea what beauty pageants or beauty queens are,” said the 20 year-old in an interview with Opoyi, soon after being crowned the runner-up.

Originally from Uttar Pradesh, Manya says her family always told her that if she wanted to study, she must fund her own education. “There is this common belief in UP that parents will spend minimum on education of girls and try and save for dowry. My father told me that he has no money and I have to take care of my studies. So that is when was I left home", said Manya, who now lives in Mumbai.

Narrating her early hardships, Manya recalls how she had to beg for money in order to eat. “After I left home, I remember taking a train with no clue where I was going and what I was going to do. I remember there was a time when I was so hungry that I asked one of the passengers for some money to buy food. He gave me Re 1 and told me to go back as it was s not good for girls of my age to roam around without parents. I still have that Re 1 with me,” she said.

Manya later took up odd jobs at call centres and eateries to survive and eventually to fund her education. “I took up the job of dishwashing and cleaning in a Pizza Hut outlet and alongside I completed my Class 12 education. In Mumbai, I slowly and gradually learnt how to behave publically. I then took up a job at a call centre because I always knew that I wanted to do something that is big. Not something like a doctor or an engineer, for sure,” she said.

Sharing how her mother played a big role in helping her fulfil her dreams, she added, “I wanted to do something for my family too as I have seen my mother suffering. She never did anything for herself. But she always had this belief in me that I will never do anything wrong.”

Asked whether she faced any language issues , she said that she comes from a background where they don’t understand English. “So I started working at call centres. Not only did I get money, it helped me hone my language skills and work on my personality too," said Manya who completed her graduation in Banking and Insurance in 2016 from a Mumbai college, with scholarship.

It was during this time that she started trying for Miss India auditions. “I got rejected many times because I was underage,” she said. Manya was determined to become a beauty queen, more so after she saw photos of Priyadarshini Chatterjee, who won the  Femina Miss World crown in 2016.

“I was like I have to do the same and I want to be on that stage,” said Manya.

So is she happy now with her life?

'In a sense, yes but there is a lot more to do. I can’t relax now. I have a crown on my head and that is my responsibility. I represent all those girls who didn’t get enough support from their families. I remember my father told me that you will spend your life in heels but you will get nothing and that statement stuck in my heart. That very moment, I decided that I have to prove everyone wrong,” she said.

Recalling her post-win call to parents, she said, “my parents are very emotional and when I called them for the first time with a crown on my head, they started crying,”

Her next wish? To buy a home for her parents in Mumbai.