Tuesday, December 06, 2011
A whirlwind called Shashi
COLUMN: Spouse's Turn
Sunanda talks about what it means to be married to Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, best-selling author, and a star on the lecture circuit
Photo: Courtesy, People Magazine
By Shevlin Sebastian
It was in August, 2008, that Sunanda Pushkar met Shashi Tharoor for the first time. There was a function at the Guruvar Awards in Delhi. “Shashi is a patron,” says Sunanda. “I was introduced through a mutual friend, Sanjay Bahal.”
And what struck Sunanda was how relaxed he looked. “Shashi was wearing a multi-coloured kurta,” she says. Thereafter, they remained in touch mostly through SMSs and e-mails. “He is big on e-mails and I am not,” she says. “I would give short replies, and he would laugh and say, 'Why can't you give a long reply'. And I would say, 'I don't have the time.'”
Meanwhile, a month later, they were in New York at the same time. And Sunanda took Shashi to the Cafe Spice restaurant, which serves dosas and thalis. “New York is Shashi’s city because of his 34-year stint in the United Nations,” she says. “So he would go to ‘high-funda’ restaurants, having meals with Presidents, Prime Ministers, ministers, ambassadors, and diplomats.”
They bonded over lunch. It was a time when Shashi was thinking about taking the plunge into politics. “I told him all intelligent people should join politics,” she says. “I was the only one who was encouraging him. Because everybody else was telling him that he was mad, to join Indian politics.”
They went their different ways. Sunanda was busy with her real estate work in Dubai, while Shashi was travelling incessantly. And it would be exactly two years after they met that they tied the knot: on August 22, 2010.
So what is it about Shashi that she likes the most? “His intelligence,” she says immediately. “He gives brilliant speeches, and is never at a loss for words. Afterwards, he takes questions from the audience and answers them easily. I have seen presidents and prime ministers speak. I have attended so many seminars and conferences. But I have never met a man who is so confident and at ease on the stage.”
Secondly, she likes his kind heart. “Shashi was in the UN peacekeeping mission and he would tell me about the genocide that he has witnessed in places like Bosnia, Rwanda, and Kosovo,” says Sunanda. “I have seen a lot of horrors myself, since I am from Kashmir, and I could see that it had really affected him.”
She feels that his one major drawback is his impatience. “But I think impatience can be good,” says Sunanda. “As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, ‘We have been voted to power by the youth, who are impatient for change’. Impatience is good, but maybe, at times, it is not so good.”
What has been a revelation for Sunanda is the intense traveling that she has to do.
“We are unable to have a normal, regular life,” she says. “We are always moving about, within and outside India. He is speaking for India in foreign countries so often. He is talking on the lecture circuit. Then when Parliament is functioning, he is busy with that, and don’t forget his work for the Thiruvananthapuram constituency.”
Astonishingly, in the past one-and-a-half years, they have had only one dinner alone, at a five-star hotel in Chennai. “But even then, there were people, like N. Ravi, the owner of ‘The Hindu’ group, who came up to have a chat,” says Sunanda. “My friends ask me how do I manage, but I knew that, by marrying Shashi, I would not be having a normal life. We are always invited to dinner or we invite people ourselves.”
But Sunanda also keeps herself busy, with her work on behalf of the Chandran Tharoor Foundation, named in honour of Shashi’s father. She is setting up numerous public toilets in Thiruvananthapuram.
Asked whether Shashi, the public figure, behaves differently at home, Sunanda laughs and says, “He is exactly the same, inside or out. I tell him that he will fall into problems if he is so open. You have to be very careful about what you say. You are in politics. But he will never listen. He is too much like himself outside, which is why he gets into trouble so often.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)