In Conversation with Sunanda Mehta

Held on the 14th of September, the monthly Book Club meeting yielded Sunanda Mehta, a journalist and writer, in conversation with Mohini Khot about her new book, ‘The Extraordinary Life and Death of Sunanda Pushkar’. 

Sunanda Mehta is a senior journalist with over 25 years of experience. Beginning her career with magazines such as Femina, Savvy and Society, she went on to become the founding editor of the Pune magazine Citadel. She moved to the Indian Express next and worked there for over two decades. 

From 2010 to 2017, she was Resident Editor of the newspaper's Pune edition. A former Chevening fellow, she has also been a visiting lecturer at the Savitribai Phule Pune University. Mehta divides her time between Pune and Mumbai. "The Extraordinary Life and Death of Sunanda Pushkar" is her first book, which is a posthumous biography, making an attempt to unravel the labyrinthine woman Sunanda Pushkar was. The book endeavored to visualize Ms. Pushkar as a woman, not the publicity scandal of her husband, politician and former diplomat, Shashi Tharoor. She is also Pushkar's former school mate and family friend. 

Sunanda Pushkar herself was a woman embroiled in public scandals for a majority of her socialite career, flitting from the IPL controversy in 2010, to the infidelity scandal on Twitter involving Shashi Tharoor the woos of a Pakistani journalist. The largest one that gripped the nation was the nature of her unfortunate death, that made her out to be either a damsel snuffed out, or a temptress driven to suicide. The book endeavours to discover the essence of who Mrs. Pushkar was, rather than the speculative fiction written about her.

After a brief introduction to the facilitator, Mrs. Mohini Khot, the program kicked off. Mrs. Khot introduced Mrs. Sunanda Mehta, and alluded to the copies of the books displayed.

She then invited Mrs. Mehta to elucidate on her working history, and the way the writing of “The Extraordinary Life and Death of Sunanda Pushkar” came about.

The effort to maintain objectivity was the immediate setback that Mrs. Mehta admittedly faced, with the subject itself of Mrs. Pushkar and the situation surrounding her death being so controversial and public.

One of the main objectives of the writing of the book was to be non-judgemental, and the rave reviews of a number of journalists and readers testify to that effort.

A subject that quickly arose was that of the judgement meted out to Mrs. Pushkar by Delhi, on the account of the 3-4 years she ever actually spent there, on the arm of Shashi Tharoor, her politician and writer husband at the time of her death.

A woman who had lived her entire life on her own whims was caught in a cycle of trying to prove her worth to the socialites of Delhi, only punctuated by the marriage to Mr. Tharoor, whose social circles greatly differed from what Sunanda Pushkar ought to have fit into.

A statement quoted by Mrs. Mehta in her discussion perfectly summed up the phenomenon by stating, 

“Delhi will not forgive a politician’s wife with an identity of her own.”

This was only the beginning of the discussion, and it soon spiralled into deeper subjects like the subject of Mrs. Pushkar’s wealth, the last days of her life, and the subsequent debt her son was left with.

The discussion between the two women was then followed by an interaction with the audience, all who threw questions one after another.

Even with some debatable subjects that truly tested the objectivity of Mrs. Mehta’s narrative, she took them head-on with ease and composure. 

The program was a success by any means, with a crowd so large many had to be turned away at the door past seating capacity, and that even after it was over, many stayed splintered into smaller groups embroiled in deep conversations and debates.