BENGALURU: Mehr Tarar. She was the real trouble. Everything else that was exploding around them was a mere spin-off from the core issue that had turned Sunanda from a feisty, vivacious and confident woman into a suspicious, cantankerous, antagonistic wife scrambling for proof of her husband’s infidelity.
A graduate of West Virginia University, Tarar, a Lahore- based journalist and single mother to a son, had first met Tharoor in April 2013 at a social gathering and had remained in touch with him on email and Twitter. Mehr was apparently working on a book on Kashmir, which led to her exchanging frequent posts and mails with the minister, whose books she admired and who she hoped would help her meet the right people for her project.
Sunanda, however, instinctively believed that there was more to this relationship than what met the eye. In June 2013, she accused Tharoor of spending three nights with Tarar in Dubai, where he had gone for a conference. Later, many news websites also threw up visuals of Tharoor with Tarar at a social event in Dubai. While Tharoor, of course, denied that there was any liaison between him and Tarar, Sunanda was beside herself with anger at the supposed betrayal.
The same month, at Sunanda’s birthday party – the last before her death – on 27 June, Mehr’s shadow loomed large over the celebrations. Sunanda had by then quit being discreet about what was clearly tormenting her all the time. Just a couple of months earlier, the journalist Vrinda Gopinath had met a politician who told her that Sunanda had been saying her marriage was over and that she had been asked by the Congress party leaders to wait until the elections were over in May 2014, before taking any drastic steps.
Amongst Sunanda’s many friends at her birthday party that year was her journalist friend Nalini Singh. Nalini made sure she attended the event as she had missed Sunanda’s birthday party the previous year in Dubai. Sunanda had threatened to never talk to her if she missed the next one. As Nalini walked into the party at the Tharoors’ Lodhi Estate residence, she spotted Sunanda looking gorgeous in fitted jeans, a white shirt, a long tilak on her forehead and a rudraksh mala around her neck.
Nalini also noticed that she seemed much slimmer than before. She knew Sunanda had just returned from a visit to a spiritual leader in Bengaluru. ‘Now where did you find this ridiculous Baba?’ she had teasingly asked Sunanda.
‘Don’t say anything against him. He is the last word. Can’t you see I have lost two kilos too?’ Sunanda had replied.
‘I can see that you are looking outrageously gorgeous. What could have happened in one week?’
At this Sunanda sobered down.
‘I have lupus,’ she revealed. ‘I have only two years left. It’s terminal.’
‘If people who have lupus look gorgeous, you really have the right symptoms,’ replied Nalini in jest, not quite sure if Sunanda was serious or just pulling her leg.
By then the party started getting crowded and Sunanda was pulled in different directions by her friends. But she soon found her way back to Nalini. She caught hold of her arm and said, ‘Did you find out about Mehr, like I asked you to – did you?’ Sunanda had confided in Nalini some days back about her suspicions regarding Tharoor and Mehr.
‘I’ll tell you tomorrow morning about it,’ replied Nalini softly, reluctant to discuss the issue at the party. But Sunanda had decided to throw caution to the wind and began to loudly blurt out that she was certain there was something going on between the two. ‘I just know they were together in Dubai. You forget Dubai is my city. Nothing happens there without me knowing. This Mehr Tarar was there at that time with him. The receptionist of the hotel told me.’
Excerpted from The Extraordinary Life And Death of Sunanda Pushkar by Sunanda Mehta, with permission from Pan Macmillan India