Posts Tagged ‘Sunanda’s death mystery

It was a birthday party with a difference. The bungalow at 97, Lodhi Estate, in Lutyens’s Delhi, was lit up, and the menu included some of the most delectable dishes of Kashmir. The capital’s Who’s Who was there – except for one. The birthday girl.

Five months after Sunanda Pushkar, 52, was found dead in a hotel room in Delhi, her husband, member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, had thrown a party in her memory. Many of the guests there that June evening couldn’t believe that the vivacious woman was no more.

They have trouble believing the rumours and reports now doing the rounds of the city. Earlier this week, the Delhi police termed the death on January 17, 2014 – so far widely seen as suspected suicide or accidental death – a possible murder by poisoning. A special investigation team has been formed to probe the death.

The stories about her unresolved death refuse to die down. Senior cops reveal that the autopsy report had shown that she had 15 injury marks on her body, caused in the 12 hours before she died. A puncture mark between the index and middle fingers of her right hand indicated the possible use of a syringe.

Was poison, as the police hint, injected into her body? And could the death have been related to a controversy that broke out during the Indian Premier League (IPL) of 2010? A section of the media had then alleged that Tharoor had used his influence as Union minister to get Pushkar sweat equity worth Rs 700 million in a cricket franchise, Rendezvous Sports World, which had bid for the Kochi team. Questions were raised as to whether Pushkar was acting as a proxy for him, speculation that Tharoor dismissed. But the controversy ultimately resulted in his resignation as a minister in the United Progressive Alliance government.

The city which thrives on salacious whispers came up with a host of theories. Some held that Pushkar, who thought her twice-divorced husband was in a relationship, had threatened to spill the beans about the IPL fracas.

“What she would have revealed about the IPL controversy or something else would have hurt a lot of politicians in India,” claims BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who has been taking considerable interest in getting the mystery of her death solved. “I suspect that was the major cause of her murder,” says Swamy, who met her for the first and last time three days before her death at a function in Thiruvananthapuram.

The police are checking whether there are any Dubai links to her death. Police sources say that four people – two from Pakistan and two from Dubai – were staying in the same hotel where Pushkar was found dead around the same time on fake passports. The sources say the police are probing the role, if any, of the Dubai underworld, which controls illegal betting and match-fixing in cricket.

But there are enough reasons to back the suicide theory, too. Three of Sunanda’s close aides confirm that she was depressed for the past few months before her death. “Anybody who spoke to her could sense that,” a cousin from Jammu says.

Pushkar, clearly, was troubled about her marriage. “Every marriage has some problem or another. That Sue was not keeping well aggravated her anxiety,” a male friend stresses.

Bollywood actor-producer, and a regular at Delhi parties, Nasser Abdulla, says that Sunanda had revealed to him that she suffered from lupus, an autoimmune disease. He had urged her to go for a 10-day vipassana (meditation) course. “I had told her that meditation helps someone who’s ailing and disturbed,” he says.

Part of her depression could have emanated from her worries about her marriage. There was speculation about Tharoor’s relationship with a Pakistani journalist, Mehr Tarar. Tharoor and Pushkar issued a joint statement saying that they were together and happy. It also said that Pushkar had been hospitalised after an illness and was seeking rest.

A day before she died, however, Pushkar posted a series of personal messages, supposedly sent by Tarar to Tharoor, on his Twitter account.

In an earlier TV interview, she had said that her husband wasted a lot of time on Twitter. “Twitter is my sautan (husband’s second wife),” she had joked.

To most spectators, it seemed that the marriage was unravelling. And that surprised their friends, for theirs was a whirlwind romance. The two had met in July 2009 in Dubai, where Pushkar, who ran a real estate company, was based. Tharoor, a former UN under secretary-general, had by then moved to the Gulf with his then wife.

“They were like teenagers in love. The two were inseparable,” a former Tharoor aide says.

Emotional and spirited, she was intelligent, complex and sensitive. “She had many grey areas to her life too,” a friends says.

Another friend recalls that Pushkar loved Hindi film songs. Her favourite was the old Lata Mangeshkar classic from Guide, Piya tose naina laage re. “She danced to this once at a private party,” the friend recollects.

The two were married in August 2010. In a media interview earlier, Tharoor had admitted that he was in a rush to get married to her because he didn’t want any more controversies regarding their relationship.

Friends of the couple say that Tharoor was completely besotted. Even though he was married at that point of time, he wanted Sunanda’s company, they say.

“She was vivacious and intelligent. One of the other reasons why Tharoor got attracted to her was that she was well connected in Dubai,” a male friend of Sunanda says.

“But She too enjoyed the power and luxury of being the wife of a senior politician and a former union minister,” he adds.

A close friend of Sunanda believes that they complemented each other – though there were differences. For Tharoor, always good with words, romance was all about reciting poetry for her. For Sunanda, romance meant togetherness, the friend says.

Tharoor is soft-spoken in public; Pushkar was known to be vocal and impulsive. She slapped a man who had groped her when she arrived with Tharoor at the Thiruvananthapuram airport to attend a literature festival in October 2012.

“She was not a dainty lily, she knew what to do at the right time and she always did it,” a friend says.

But one of Tharoor’s former aides says while suave and sophisticated, he was also hot-tempered. Media reports quoting their domestic help say that in the last few months the couple often fought – sometimes physically.

A cousin, who fondly called her Pinky, stresses that Pushkar was outgoing. The daughter of an army officer from Kashmir lived a life that seemed to belong to the pages of a fast-paced novel. After graduating from a Srinagar college, she worked as a restaurant hostess in a Srinagar hotel. She married a Kashmiri Pandit, Sanjay Raina, in 1986 but was divorced in 1988. She later married Sujith Menon, a financial consultant, and had a son, Shiv. Menon died in an accident.

“She was a Kashmiri at heart even after being in different parts of the world for so long. She often spoke of her Kashmir days,” a friend says.

She was also a good cook. “She loved feeding her guests. She knew how to connect to them,” says Sanjoy Roy, managing director of the production company, Teamwork Productions, who was one of the guests at her posthumous birthday party. “We badly missed her that day.”

Birthdays, for Tharoor and Pushkar, were special. Four years before he marked June 27 with lights and gushtaba at his Delhi residence, they had another memorable birthday.

“It was on her birthday that I proposed to her in Kasauli,” Tharoor had said in an earlier TV interview.