Journalist Sunanda Mehta has written the biography titled 'The Extraordinary Life and Death of Sunanda Pushkar'.
Sunanda Pushkar’s death is still a mystery, with no clear cut answers even five years after her body was found in a hotel room. Meanwhile, photographs of her husband and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor with beautiful women are getting great traction on social media.
But there is a reason to everything that happens in Delhi - India’s only divided city where each argument, each incident and each event has a counter point of view. It is almost like two sides of a coin. Anyone familiar with the Indian Capital and its deathly, deadly circuit of gossipmongers and lobbyists, will agree that every event - almost instantly - offers two versions, thereby confusing the masses.
For the records, the event needs to be big, only then it attracts eyeballs. It ranges from the midnight arrest of the once powerful lobbyist Deepak Talwar, to the death of Aarushi Talwar, to the gruesome BMW deaths - remember the newspaper article which said how Sanjeev Nanda was seeking moksha in Tihar Jail - to cricket’s spot fixing, Delhi always offered two versions. And in most of these cases, the wrong version gained more traction than the right one.
Now that Sunanda Beecha Mehta has penned a book on her namesake - The Extraordinary Life and Death of Sunanda Pushkar - there are two versions floating in the Khan Market and the lobbies of Taj Mansingh, Shangri-La, Oberoi and Claridges, the usual hub of the makers and shakers of Delhi.
The book has set the proverbial cat among the pigeons, with everyone picking up copies to read whether or not they have been named or shamed in the book.
I am told hundreds of phone calls have been made by members of this sacred and secret gang, Lutyens Delhi wants to know if they are they in, or are they out of this Pan Macmillan tome. Those heaving a sigh of relief are in majority because they have not been named, and those named are living in peace because the the book is well crafted and written with outmost care; no lawyer can touch it to create a stir.
Mehta knows what a publisher wants and how routinely writers are being told to be beautiful but not bold. She also knows how more and more publishers are seeking refuge behind the thin, red line of lawyers, law and its implications, thereby drowning truth that’s reality, and uncomfortable.
I was particularly interested in the book, having met Mehta a few times in Delhi. I did probe the Pushar death and investigated reasons leading to it and hit a blind wall, ostensibly because a lot had happened by the time details about her death had surfaced.
There was an argument and counter argument about whether she collapsed or she was killed (Bharatiya Janata Party gadfly Subramanian Swamy still maintains she was murdered with poison carried by hired killers from Dubai and Tharoor was in the know of things). By then, her medical reports went one step forward and two step backwards, and it was evidently clear that the Delhi cops had botched up the investigation, almost the same way the Uttar Pradesh Police messed up Aarushi’s death probe.
But Mehta did reach out to many before penning this one. I personally liked the chapter on Meher Tarar, the self-styled Pakistani journalist and socialite, whose alleged affair with Tharoor in Dubai caused Sunanda tremendous discomfort. The two ranted against each other on Twitter and Sunanda made some last ditch attempts to call journalists to her room to explain her state of mind and why she thought Tarar was having an affair with Tharoor.
Those journalists have not said why they were called and what was the crucial dope Sunanda had and wanted to share. As a result, nothing has been proved. Some years ago, Tarar met me at a conference in Almaty, Kazakistan and said she was unnecessarily dragged into what was a family spat. What was surprising was that she did not deny meeting Tharoor, both in Delhi and Dubai, but did not reveal the extent of her alleged relationship. Tarar was bold; she told me to prove the charges.
Of the two biggest jolts in Sunanda’s life, Tarar was one. The other was Tharoor’s connecting with the world of cricket - IPL to be precise - and her confessions to her friends that she knew some of the biggest punters in the spot-fixing rackets across Asia and how they were routinely spot-fixing matches.
Sunanda was very keen to book the Press Club of India and reveal what she told her friends would be very, very shocking details of some hi-profile people in Delhi, especially their connection with the betting syndicates and brokers routinely spot-fixing all matches.
Was she warned, was she told to remain silent? Yes, she was because she had indicated she would name someone associated with top leaders of the Congress party which was in power in January, 2014. She and Tharoor went to meet a very influential person in Gurugram before the day she was found dead. No one knows who the couple met and what transpired in the meeting.
And then she was found dead.
Mehta’s book brilliantly narrates Sunanda’s life, her times, and what drove her to death.
Mehta says she knew Sunanda during her school days - both were students of Convent of Jesus & Mary (CJM) — Ambala, where Mehta found Sunanda a very shy and unassuming person. But the Sunanda who, according to Mehta, was confident, attractive, tall, beautiful, and a magnetic person, was destined for celebrity. She had a very, very eventful life and it was this new Sunanda many did not like in Delhi (as beautifully articulated by novelist and columnist Shobhaa De).
For Delhi, she was an outsider, trying to cling on to Tharoor’s charmed circuit of powerful men and beautiful women. Sunanda did not care. But she was in trouble when she was in the media glare following the IPL controversy. She took refuge in the office of Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal the whole day while her husband handled pesky reporters at his office. But by then, the cracks had started happening. Mehta says her high-profile marriage to Tharoor (and subsequent breakdown) was driving her up the wall.
Around the same time, Delhi’s power brokers had started narrating their double-story theory. What Sunanda wanted to say went into the backdrop; what started circulating was what Delhi wanted the rest of India to know - that she was defaming Tharoor and wanted his cash.
Rest is history.
The case is still on, even as Tharoor hops in and out of courtrooms. Mehta’s brilliant, in-depth research of Sunanda’s life - where she travelled across the world to seek details - makes this tome a superb, racy read. I was interested of her life in India, in case you want to have a glimpse of Sunanda’s earlier marriages (with Sanjay Raina and Sujith Menon), her stints in Dubai and Canada, and her life as a deeply caring, generous and spontaneous mother, you must buy this one from your nearest bookstore.