Curious case of Sunanda Pushkar

Updated: Sep 04, 2019, 07:46 IST | Mayank Shekhar |

What did this socialite-businessperson teach us with her life (and death), that over-ambition/expectation is a serious bitch

The twin portrait of Pushkar that emerges from Mehta's book, repeated perhaps more than once, was that she was "uncontained", and that "each person who knew her saw in her something no one else did." File pic
The twin portrait of Pushkar that emerges from Mehta's book, repeated perhaps more than once, was that she was "uncontained", and that "each person who knew her saw in her something no one else did." File pic

Mayank ShekharNetworking, I've noticed, is a personality type. You either have it. Or can't. At any rate, I suppose it can't be learnt (only honed), at major-league business, or law schools. This is where many hope to study.

Only so networking becomes natural, by dint of knowing people (classmates), who will inevitably know other people, at a workplace — once they graduate to major-league companies — creating a web of contacts/relationships that makes doing business a whole lot easier for the assured insider. Most fancy-designations in business, I reckon, essentially involve brokering (deals).

How do the rest navigate? Rely on inherent charm, I guess — being at the right place, at the right time, in anticipation of the catch, once the ball eventually comes their way.
As it clearly did for real-estate agent Sunanda Pushkar — in June, 2009, when she first met Shashi Tharoor, "during a lavish party at a luxurious Emirates Hills villa, owned by the Dubai-based Malayali businessman Sunny Varkey."

Tharoor was on his first overseas trip as minister of state for external affairs. "It was apparently attraction at first sight, despite Tharoor being already married at the time." There's little light thrown in Sunanda Mehta's marvelously researched, recent book, The Extraordinary Life And Death Of Sunanda Pushkar, on how that night's attraction escalated rather swiftly from talking, dating/affair, possibly a business-relationship, into marriage — third time for both Tharoor, and Pushkar. Never mind what followed.

That's because Mehta didn't have access to Tharoor (although, to be fair, the politician didn't bar anyone from among Pushkar's friends and family from speaking to the author, while many did seek his permission).

That apart, Mehta's account is essentially the lesser known story of how Pushkar, from a small-town cantonment girl — making her way as a housewife in Hrishikesh first, a widow in Dubai later, a single woman in Canada thereafter, to a heavyweight broker back in Dubai — got to that Emirates Hills villa in the first place, before moving in to the ill-fated Lutyens' Delhi.

The author knew Pushkar well during middle-school in Ambala. As a reader, this made me feel a little queasy. "Ambulance chaser," is the first thought that came to my mind during the book's first few pages. It is to Mehta's credit that she possesses journalistic acumen to allow this friendship/acquaintanceship only to imbue this narrative with much-needed empathy, rather than moral judgment, which Pushkar anyway must've been a life-long victim of.

The ups and downs in her life, that involve riches to complete bankruptcy to riches again, moving up jobs — car-sales, bar-tending onwards — is the sort of potboiler that an average screenwriter might find hard to fit into a feature, without descending into a Madhur Bhandarkar type, ground-breaking B-grade!

The public only knew Pushkar for her high-profile marriage (to author-diplomat turned politician Tharoor), for three and half years; and her mysterious death in a hotel-room, after a Twitter spat, and calls made to journalists for a press-conference to expose an allegedly murky IPL cricket deal on the very day she passed away. That she died due to poisoning/drug-overdose is established. Whether the death was suicidal, accidental, or homicidal, is something the police may never conclusively prove, by the looks of how they've botched up the investigation.

Should we care about her story beyond that? You would, only if you saw within it larger symptoms of the 'celebrity', 'gilded' age, with a guide to exactly where over-ambition among a world of equally exalted Type-As could drive you to — Suite No. 345 in Chanakyapuri's Hotel Leela Palace on January 17, 2014, in Pushkar's unfortunate case. The most immediate collateral damage was Pushkar's only son, who she raised as a single mother, often leaving him behind at friends' or relatives', while she figured out ways to climb, socially; or fend for both.

The twin portrait of Pushkar that emerges from Mehta's book, repeated perhaps more than once, was she was "uncontained", and that "each person who knew her saw in her something no one else did." A seductive charmer, she apparently felt an incorrigible urge to attract those around her into complete submission, and lost interest in them only once they were floored — whether at a party, or after. There's a series of more serious male partners, several of whom have been named, some remain anonymous, all of them momentarily devoted to the deeply individualistic diva.

This may sound like a garrulously self-aware, air-kissing character, inside a Shobhaa De novel. At the same time, you sense someone forming progressively strong bonds among strangers in new places, who're ever-willing to further her life and career, in exchange for nothing but her friendship.

And then when she falls in love, more specifically, marry — you watch her disintegrating inside a cage, of commitments, and expectations, once the excitement wears off. This is also a personality type. The sort you need to read Mehta's book to understand better; and observe outside it, to appreciate more.

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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