In her book 'The Extraordinary Life and Death of Sunanda Pushkar', Sunanda Mehta brings to life one of the most complicated women of our times, going deep into her past, bringing us the early, shy Sunanda and then the coquettish woman we all saw marrying Tharoor in a gold-bordered sari in a Kerala temple.
An angel who briefly flapped her wings in the earthly realm or a high-strung hysterical much-too-human version of womanhood. Any woman could be either or perhaps both simultaneously. And it is this trait that jerkily comes together in a brand new detailing of Sunanda Pushkar’s life.
No one really knows where Pushkar came from, taken up as we are by the way she went. Murder or suicide, that is also up for debate. Whatever is the real story of this woman who suddenly hogged the limelight upon marrying a politician in 2010? With Shashi Tharoor for a third husband – she was his third wife – Sunanda was planted slam-dunk in the middle of judgmental Dilli.
After her death in a hotel room out of the blue in January 2014, just when she had been publicly going to pieces and planning an impromptu press conference, multiple theories began to swirl about in the thick winter fog. A biography was begging to be written and a movie too may be around the corner. For now the book is out, penned by Sunanda Mehta, a journalist and former classmate – The Extraordinary Life and Death of Sunanda Pushkar. The book first and foremost excises ‘Tharoor’ from her name in the title. This is the quintessential Sunanda, beyond and before her glam marriage that made her a known name in this country. This is the real Sunanda.
Mehta brings to life one of the most complicated women of our times, going deep into her past, bringing us the early, shy Sunanda and then the coquettish woman we all saw marrying Tharoor in a gold-bordered sari in a Kerala temple. Her friends, her foes, her food, her fondness for her son, whom she per force had to leave behind hither and thither as she went forth as the hunter and gatherer of her family, are all in here.
She was, in the end, a heartbroken woman, incoherent with ill-health, lack of food and suspicions about the other women in her husband’s life. In Mehta’s portrayal, Pushkar is all too easily believable as a large-hearted but an
out-of-control force, a misguided missile homing in on all the wrong targets.
Did she die because her husband’s secrets had to be shielded or because she carelessly mixed drinks and drugs? And does her death matter at all in the face of the breathless life she led?
Pushkar was, and still is, both loved and hated; the gossip columns accorded her a page 3 status but the wannabe tag never really left her. She came out of nowhere, wooed a married man, and settled down in the capital city as if she belonged here.
Mehta asks: ‘Did she go in peace or pain? No one will ever know. And maybe few even want to, now. On January 17, 2019, five years to the day since Sunanda’s death, there was a deafening silence on the subject. Not one media report. Not one question asked about the investigation…’
This silence perhaps is a direct result of the mixed reactions and ambivalence Pushkar evoked in everyone. But, as Mehta insistently brings to our notice, a life did end, and it is vital to know who she was more than how and why she went.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.