Now, why does Sunanda Pushkar sound preposterous when she says it’s insulting to present her as just a proxy for good friend Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for external affairs, in the multi-million dollar IPL franchise sale? Because it’s a bit ambitious on her part to claim she’s a businesswoman in her own right when her present job profile says she is a mere sales manager at TECOM Investments, a commercial real estate company in Dubai. But you’ve got to hand it to Pushkar, for her spunk and drive that took her from a gawkish girl from small-town Jammu two decades ago, to becoming swell Sue in Dubai and Toronto, to contriving her new image as swanky Sunanda, the brassy, bold entrepreneur of the eye-popping Emirates.
The belle from Bomai, a small apple-growing hamlet in Sopore, Kashmir, was convinced she was not cut out for the idyllic life of mofussil India, as she excitedly told her pals when she landed in Dubai in the early ’90s, and like the many hick-chicks before her, she took the marriage route to escape a dreary future. The teenaged Sunanda met and married fellow Kashmiri Pandit Sanjay Raina, a hotel management graduate, while she was still studying in the Government College for Women, Srinagar, between 1986 and 1988.
But it wasn’t Raina who took her to Dubai; it was his best friend, Sujith Menon, whom she married within two years of her failed first marriage. The couple landed in Dubai in the early ’90s—Menon settled in a job with the insurance company, Eagle Star, while Sunanda worked as an accounts exec with the marketing and ad agency, Bozell Prime. Their lives would have soon settled into a mundane routine if it were not for Sunanda’s hyper hunger to rise above the plain folks. She begged her friends for invitations to glam events and then cashed in on the ’90s marketing trends of organising small-time fashion shows.
She soon catapulted into the world of event management, of the C-class variety—of starlets and bimbos—but stunned her colleagues with her insatiable ambition. She figured out the magic formula and began networking hard and fast—tying up with artists, getting sponsors, and making a small, tidy profit from the enterprise. Her skills in occasionally getting well-known sponsors made her rivals green with envy but the snide bitching barely fazed her. Says a former rival acidly, “Sunanda would claw her way to a sponsor and have him eating out of her hands, she was not a girl’s girl.”
Not surprisingly, Sunanda was leaving not just her friends behind but her husband too. Their last attempt to save the marriage in a collaborative business deal was disastrous both financially and emotionally. They staged a fashion event which turned out to be a dud, and Menon had to finally leave Dubai after falling out with his company. He, tragically, took his own life later in India.
Sunanda, though, continued to live in Dubai with her son, struggling as a small-time event manager. She moved in as a paying guest with a girlfriend in the more modest suburb of Satwa, in a pokey apartment above a supermarket, changed her name to Sue, in middle-class western-trendy, unusually adopted her father’s name Poshkar (and turned it to Pushkar), rather than the surname, Dass. Her business card read Sue P. Menon, and till today, Dubai knows her as Sue rather than the vernacular Sunanda.
By the late ’90s, Sunanda had joined the emigre rush to Canada, and moved to Toronto with her son and a new banker companion. But she hated her life in an Indian ghetto in a white town, and yearned to return to dazzling Dubai. She was back in Dubai within a few years, but this time with a Canadian citizenship and passport to boot. Her new status liberated her from the tough immigration rules and visa restrictions reserved for South Asian citizens, and she soon saw an opportunity in this new-found freedom.
By 2005, Sunanda had joined TECOM, and was poised to ride the wave of the swelling real estate boom. A famous socialite in Delhi remembers meeting her a year later in the Capital when she was introduced as the companion of another successful Kashmiri businessman living between Dubai and London. “She was soon handing out business cards as a real estate promoter,” says the social queen, “and inviting people for investment opportunities in booming Dubai. She struck me as someone on the go, but I must confess I didn’t recognise her in the pictures today, she looks quite different.”
Christa Giles, Tharoor’s wife
Sunanda-watchers in Dubai say it was around this time she adopted her new style statement—Dubai flash trash of peroxide hair streaks, heavy make-up, razzle-dazzle, seductive couture, false eyelashes, chrome nail paint, and Louis Vuitton victimhood. It was a sign of her arrival in the league of the neo-rich tycoons.
And as Sunanda orbited faster into the inner circles of the mega rich—she was now the exotic Sunanda from Kashmir—she and Tharoor met in October 2009, at a soiree hosted by Sunny Varkey, the billionaire owner of the GEMS education empire, and the evening turned electric.
It was a whirlwind affair and to Tharoor’s credit, he outed Sunanda almost immediately, especially in Delhi, as the official consort of the MoS, external affairs. Their eagerness to be accepted in the power capital was evident with their presence at every social do and event. Sure, it’s hard to make friends when you are living between two cities, but as a hostess sniffs, “Sunanda invites people she meets on a plane for an intimate dinner with the minister. It may be first class but this is not Dubai, this is Delhi, where pedigree counts, not wannabe.”
So, will Tharoor give up the chair for his lady love? It’s a 21st-century tale of love in the time of opportunity.
With her piece, Got a Girl, Named Sue, Vrinda Gopinath has proved the age-old adage that a woman’s biggest enemy is another woman. Perhaps the writer was given the brief to go hammer-and-tongs at Sunanda. Ironically, a man in her place might have been more subtle. Ms Gopinath doesn’t even make a pretence at subtlety, playing Ms Liquid Nasty to the core. Roy Skaria, Pune
Every sentence in this piece reeks of upper-class prejudice that sneers at the ambitions and social mobility of those from India’s mofussil regions. Worse, this prurient reportage takes recourse to the highly repeated pattern of a misogynist character-assassination of women in the public eye, except that a woman should do this. Her salacious and libel-worthy assault on Sunanda adds no insight to the larger public debate on the lack of transparency in ipl business dealings and partnerships. Lakshmi, Delhi
This article comes right at the bottom for its cheapness, lack of journalistic integrity and eagerness to tarnish somebody’s life and life choices where they cannot defend themselves. Criticising the suspect actions of one involving public money, law, corruption etc is one thing, and passing judgement on others’ lives in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink fashion quite another. Thrivikram Kona, Hyderabad
What’s the big deal about Sunanda changing names several times? Ismail Noor Mohammed Abdul Rehman left Bombay to make it in Hollywood but had turned into Ismail Merchant even before his flight landed in LA. Ben Kingsley likewise was Krishna Pandit Bhanji once; Jitendra was Ravi Kapoor. Why, even Outlook darling Arundhati is Susanna back home. Vijay S. Jodha, Noida, UP
More than half the nris the world over have westernised names on their business cards because they make for easy recall while business networking. The Chinese, Egyptians, Thais and pretty much anybody in a profession requiring interaction with western clients do it all the time. S.B. Rao, Washington
Grow up, Outlook. Suraj, Brea
For a moment I thought I was reading Stardust. Cheap and obnoxious, that’s what this piece of yellow journalism is. Kiran Bagachi, Mumbai
The writer of this piece should seek employment in Stardust or Screen forthwith. Prasanth, Melbourne
Why blame Sue? As long as there are suckers like Tharoor around, people will use them. I was in the Bata at Connaught Place once when Shashi Tharoor came to buy shoes. This was just a few days after his Lok Sabha victory and he had about 10 sidekicks in tow, throwing their weight around. All the attendants in the shop abandoned customers like me and gravitated towards him, bringing one pair after another even as each of the sidekicks rendered an opinion on the suitability or otherwise of the pair. Finally, one hour, 10 advisors and seven attendants later, the man bought one pair for Rs 1,300 and left. Jasbir, New Delhi
This piece said more about the person who authored it than Sunanda. The Rs 70 crore being quoted does not exist yet and there’s no point talking about “stake” or “million-dollar deal”. The franchisee doesn’t generate any revenue and no stakeholder gets any money for 5-6 years at least or more. Unnikrishnan, Luands, Angola
That Tharoor had a lot of lady admirers who envied Sunanda, we all know. That someone should be so incensed as to pen down such vitriol comes as a surprise. A.S. Raghunath, Delhi
Tharoor’s dalliances are no business of ours. His lifestyle and financial derring-do are. S. Soundararajan, Portsmouth, UK
Wow, does Shobha De have competition? Wonder what Sunanda’s done to earn such unmitigated vilification? Sarvesh Srivastava, Gurgaon
Is it any wonder that Shobha De has pasted this article on her blog? K.R. Chandran, Hyderabad
Interesting how one woman has floored the high and mighty of ipl with one googly. Perhaps Sunanda should be appointed the next bcci chief or ipl commissioner. She’ll market Indian cricket internationally much better than the worthies currently in charge of it. She can start ipl in Abu Dhabi, the US and anywhere else that she wants. Tharoor and Modi can spend the rest of their lives wondering what hit them. Sanjay Ranade, Pune
The Outlook article has all that makes me despise the prejudiced patriarchal structures in large parts of India. It would be interesting to investigate the writer’s, and indeed the magazine’s, motives in all this. Chutney, Delhi
Why do men—even the most seasoned of them—fall from grace for women? Pankaj Bhatia, on e-mail
The lady’s past sounds a lot more interesting than the minister’s future. Ashok Lal, Mumbai
After reading Sunanda Pushkar’s interview in Tehelka, my faith in Outlook as a reliable and solid magazine is shaken. How can the writer of this piece get away with telling lies and reporting gossip so lightheartedly? Sunanda says her second husband died in an auto accident while this article says he took his life. The least you could have done was to get your facts right. Ananya Bhattacharyya, Bethesda, US
What a vindictive and hate-filled piece. Many people have multiple relationships in their lifetime. What gives us the right to judge them? And what is wrong with being ambitious or aspiring for a particular lifestyle? Shashi Tharoor’s personal life is no business of anyone’s. And if Tharoor has extended Lalit Modi a favour sometime, it’s only fair that he ask for one in return. Ashwin, Jersey City, US
Sloppy, sexist, outrageous and disgusting. Ridhima Malhotra, New Delhi
What bitchiness. Expected better from Outlook. Ajit Harsinghani, Pune
Outlook could have spared a thought for Sunanda’s parents and adolescent son. Responsible journalism is also about showing kindness to people. Dr Biliangady, on e-mail
Simply appalled. Vijay, Los Angeles
Cheap and low blow. Bindu Tandon, Mumbai
Terribly vindictive, and way below the belt. D. Thomas, Delhi
Why are people hysterically appalled at finding a lifetime devoted to relentless money-chasing and motivated networking being attached to a ‘woman’? They belong to the army of full-blown feminists who want the whole wide world to believe that deceit, aggression, philandering, material hunger, familial indifference and other such attributes are incontrovertibly male-centric. Sumant Bhattacharya, Gurgaon
I was shocked and disgusted at the unprofessional and malicious article slandering Sunanda Pushkar (Got a Girl, Named Sue, Apr 26). The article is clearly biased and reflects Ms Gopinath’s intent to tarnish Sunanda’s reputation and put her in bad light. Sunanda is one of my best friends and I’ve known her for over 20 years, since 1989. Her husband Sujit Menon was also a dear friend. Here are a few facts. I’ve always known her as Sunanda Pushkar, not Poskar. She did not change her name to Sue; her close friends have called her that since early 1990. She did not adopt a new style; she always had a great one. She is a good person, loving, intelligent, smart and hardworking and does not deserve to be depicted as the vamp or slut she has been made out to be. The comments about her leaving her friends and husband behind, her hyper hunger, eagerness to be accepted, insatiable ambition etc are outrageous. It is unjust to print inaccurate information without proper investigation. This amounts to ruining someone’s reputation and life with unsubstantiated comments as well as ruining one’s own professional reputation.
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