This is my tribute to Sunanda Pushkar. It appeared in Mumbai Mirror today....
G'bye Darlin’ - we will miss you!
Sunanda Pushkar – loved by many, misunderstood by most.
Sunanda was the original ‘Kashmir ki Kali’ - an exotic saffron flower, with an alarmingly short shelf-life. A delicate and beautiful flower has been cruelly crushed. But the fragrance will always linger on.
“Hello Darlin’…” was Sunanda Pushkar’s favourite greeting. Everybody was her ‘Darlin’… total strangers included. Her hugs were freely distributed to one and all. But there was nothing fake about either her spontaneity or exuberance. Unfortunately, most people didn’t get it – or get her. They predictably stopped at her OTT appearance - yes - the fake eyelashes, peroxided fat hair, Bollywood style make up and blingy ensembles. It was easy to label someone like Sunanda – an outsider with dodgy antecedents - Sue, the Queen of the Souks. The Bottle Blond Bombshell from Dubai. The brassy Gulf socialite. And, in her final and most tragic avatar – the Dilliwalley Ministersaab ki badnaam Biwi.”
So, who was the real Sunanda? The essential Sunanda? I doubt anybody bothered to find out. Worse, I suspect she herself didn’t have a clue. Sunanda was a creature of the moment. A woman who had clawed and scratched her way to where she was ( inside Delhi Durbar) at the time of her death. Appropriately enough, her end came in opulent surroundings. Her body was discovered under a fluffy duvet, in a sprawling suite of one of the most luxurious hotels in Asia. It can be accurately ( if cynically) said that Sunanda Pushkar went in style. A style this simple, middle-class daughter of a retired army officer, had craved all her life. It is a fascinating saga of struggle, ambition and betrayal. It is indeed hard to believe that Sunanda, who passionately loved life, could have taken her own.
It would be easy to say Sunanda married the wrong man. I would say, she married the wrong city. Delhi didn’t know what to do with Sunanda . While she rapidly became a Page 3 fixture, the local babus and netas , accustomed to wives who shrewdly chose staid behenji -hood over tinsel celebrity-hood in order to fit into the Capital, were totally thrown by Sunanda’s starry persona. She behaved more like a flashy Bollywood trophy wife than an ambitious politician’s well behaved, soberly dressed spouse. That her husband happened to be chummy with Sonia G. meant more trouble from jealous rivals jostling to get into Madam’s good books.Sunanda’s outspokenness on sensitive issues ( Kashmir) didn’t help. In any case, discretion was not an attribute anybody associated with the free spirited, spontaneous Sunanda. And perhaps, it was this lack of propriety and restraint that eventually did her in. But then Sunanda would not have been Sunanda had she been a typical Dilli biwi – leading a miserable life in private and smiling in public. Sunanda was way too honest for such hypocrisy. But, as pundits point out, being upfront is never an option in politics.
How well did I know Sunanda? Let me put it this way : You may meet someone two thousand times and not know the person at all. Or you can meet a stranger once, twice, maybe twenty times, and connect instantly. The very first time I met Sunanda, I was struck by her genuine warmth and complete lack of guile or bitterness. I had written a satirical piece (“ Su-shi on a platter””) in the Sunday Times, which had been a far from flattering portrait of the power couple. She had read it… and came up to me to say, “ Darlin’…that was fun!But now that we have finally met, let’s be friends.” That was it! I was instantly charmed… disarmed. And friends we did become. As I got to know her better, I felt increasingly protective – like an older sister who needed to drill some sense into a madcap sibling as she went about her life in a way that alarmed me. It was her candour. Her lack of judgement. Her transparency. Her recklessness. I knew all these marvelous qualities would eventually get her into trouble… destroy her. As they tragically did. During our last long meeting in Jaipur a few months ago, she spoke at length about what she was going through, including her illness, and her deep anxiety about the future. It was as if she had sensed time was running out. After all, Sunanda was a woman who knew too much. The sort of damaging information she was privy to, would have made a lot of powerful people very uncomfortable had she chosen to go public with it. She felt she had nothing to lose by spilling the beans and telling the truth. By now, Sunanda had realized she had become dispensable and inconvenient. She had instinctively guessed she was also a monumental embarrassment , a liability, within political circles, given the critical timing (election year). Then came those tweets! And the public humiliation she was subjected to. All these were desperate cries for help that went largely ignored. Instead, she found herself being portrayed as an out of control, neurotic harridan. A woman scorned. An emotionally unstable creature indulging in theatrics. A hysterical, insecure bimbette making a fool of herself. She was mocked for her incoherence, her bad grammar, her lack of intellectual sophistication. Instead of making fun of her, why didn’t her tormentors recognize her many skills? Did they know what a great cook she was? Had they ever watched her dance sensuously… uninhibitedly under the stars? Did they not recognize her generous spirit and giving nature?Of course, they didn’t! Sadly, all of us imagined she would survive this latest round, just as she had so many equally awful scandals in the past. Unfortunately, the script had changed. This one had a terrible ending. A vibrant, vivacious woman was compelled to give up on herself. Give up on life.
Sunanda Pushkar was like the delicious and delicate Gushtaba, a Kashmiri speciality that is served as the last dish after a 36-course banquet. Chef Om Takoo said in an article, “ It signifies the end…. a full stop.”
Sunanda’s life was indeed a moveable feast.The full stop should have come later. Much, much later.
Darlin’… relax …. dance, sing, laugh, flirt… just be yourself… you no longer have anything to fear…. you are free and safe, at last… the angels will look after you now.
And I refuse to accept that 140 characters killed Sunanda Pushkar...