White was the favourite colour of the late Sunanda Pushkar,” said her eponymous friend Sunanda Mehta.
She had incidentally worn a white sari with hints of gold at the launch of her first book, 'The Extraordinary Life and Death of Sunanda Pushkar', at the India International Centre on August 20.
It was the same day when prosecutors placed their charges against Shashi Tharoor in their ongoing investigations regarding Pushkar’s death. She was found dead on January 17, 2014, at a suite of the Hotel Leela in Chanakyapuri. About the book, Mehta, a journalist for more than 25 years, said, “I wanted to put some things straight about her life,” said Mehta. Excerpts:
How did you go about your research for the book?
The first thing was to get together everything written about Sunanda Pushkar. On the Internet, I found a lot of information in the public domain which I collated. I put it all in hard-bound volumes and carrying it with me everywhere I visited for further research. I divided the material into many segments of Sunanda’s life such as her childhood, youth, life in Dubai...
I was very keen that at least 65 per cent of the book should be based on primary research. I didn’t want to repeat what was already in the public domain. Which is why I visited Canada because that part of her life was not commonly known. I also visited Chandigarh, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and of course Delhi. Additionally, in Dubai, I spoke to her son Shiv. I also interviewed her brothers.
Both of you shared the same school, Convent of Jesus and Mary in Ambala, between 1977 to 1980. You were also family friends. Can you give us a sense of her personality?
In school, she was a simple, shy and unassuming girl. Once, she came home to borrow clothes for a school fashion show and she didn’t even know how to put the basic makeup. The reality was she never needed makeup as she was naturally very beautiful. Later, when I met her in 1983, she was much more confident and also gorgeous to look at.
Sunanda Pushkar was often seen just as a wife to a prominent politician. But according to you what were the challenges she faced to establish herself?
She struggled tremendously to establish herself. In college, she did several jobs, one after another. Later, she worked as a receptionist, then in a boutique, then in a travel agency, to finally open her own company. Even after staying in Canada for five years she didn’t have enough money, so she decided to move back to Dubai. Her second husband Sujith suffered losses in his enterprise so she became the only breadwinner. Eventually, after Sujith died, she struggled a lot as a single mother. Pushkar also supported her parents and brothers.
It was really her second stint in Dubai where all her hard work came to fruition. She joined TECOM, a real estate company owned by the government. She was the only Indian employee among all the Arabs. Dubai was booming at that time with real estate and she was able to get a lot of pre-booking deals. She used to make her own investment and also get a lot of commissions on her deals.
At that time, her stars really started favouring her and she rose up to the level of a businesswoman. But whatever she gained, she achieved by the means of her own skills and ability. By the time she married Shashi Tharoor, she was already worth over 100 crores.
You felt her story needed to be told…
Yes. Her death was untimely, shocking and is still mysterious. People have all kinds of judgments and there were so many different versions of her story. I knew of her as a very simple and straightforward girl. So I thought, let me try and trace her life. At least give people the context of the person she was apart from detailing all the theories of her death. I really wanted to put across a correct and non-biased version of her life and death.
Title: The Extraordinary Life and Death of Sunanda Pushkar
Author: Sunanda Mehta
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
Price: 1599, Pages: 344