The Pushkar Syndrome

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 4:11 AM
Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor’s wife, Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor, was recently found dead in Delhi’s posh Leela Hotel. The incident happened after a public spat between Sunanda Tharoor and Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar over the latter’s alleged ‘stalking’ of Shashi  Tharoor. After the war broke out on Twitter, and between the day that Sunanda allegedly committed suicide, she gave a bunch of television interviews about what went into the making of the all-out spat. Clearly upset over the accusations of spoiling her husband’s career with her constant shenanigans, Sunanda might have decided to end her life (and I say ‘might’ because whether it was a suicide still hasn’t been proven and the needle of suspicion hangs on her influential husband Shashi Tharoor).

This is not just Sunanda’s story. Scores of women have given up their successful careers and bright lives to play accomplice to their husband’s achievements and success. Some are fortunate to have men who do not stray, but alas, some others bear the brunt of the indiscretions of their men. I am not, however, suggesting that Sunanda did the right thing by committing suicide. I mean why rid the man so easily of his crimes by ending your own life? Heard of nasty divorces and hefty alimonies, anyone? Remarriage too and living a normal life. But the larger point that I am trying to make is that women seem to get the rough end of the deal in case a marriage falls apart due to infidelities (committed by either side). If lord forbid their husbands decide to cheat on them in a ‘weak moment of temptation’, some take it so hard that it ends the way the third-time marriage fairytale ended for Mrs Tharoor.

The saga leaves no strata of women untouched. Talking about the rich and the famous – the category to which Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor belonged to – former players include Hillary Clinton (survived the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky sex scandal), Huma Abedin (wife of American politician and infamous ‘sexter’ Anthony Weiner), Elin Nordengren (Tiger Wood’s wife) and most recently Valerie Trierweiler (the French President’s wife). The list includes many more and goes on to prove that wealth and fame are no safeguards against the feeble minds of men. Further, there are more layers of women involved in this mental form of injustice. Think about the category of the bored middle class. Tired of their routine lives, they seek solace outside their home with the petty premise of jigging up their world. When their indiscretions come to light, someone has to pay the price. And this price is most often paid by the women. In the poor world, these things are more commonplace and rampant. In some cases, wife is the sole breadwinner too and still faces adultery and constant verbal & physical abuse.

So why do Sunanda’s of the world have to lose their lives? To put it narrowly, why do smart and intelligent women wrap their lives around their husband’s little finger? Why do they seek joy in their joys and sadness and in their sorrows and forget what defines them as individuals, separate from the logistics of their husband’s life? Why do they cover up their husband’s crimes (the IPL scandal in Sunanda’s case) and why do they decide to pick up fights with other women wrecking their marriage instead of first sorting out things at home? Conversely, another way to think about this is, why do men give acknowledgements in the form of ‘To the love of my life, and the life of my love, Sunanda’ on the first pages of their books (Tharoor’s Pax Indica) to their ‘beloved’ wives and then give them so much reason to worry? They are fully at fault for first leading their wives into believing that they are ‘the one’ and then letting their interest get weaned away by the endless lusts of the world.

How difficult is it to stay faithful anyway? And if for some reason, the object of your affection changes, how difficult is it to call it quits before jumping on to your next bandwagon of (flimsy) trust? Why do people not see the merits of simplifying and de-cluttering their lives? How do some women manage to stay in rotten marriages for the sake of their societal status or kids? When did the world we live in get so hostile and unbearable? And why do poor Sunanda’s have to exist and then suddenly cease to exist at a whim?

Her demise probably came down the hardest on the one person that she clearly forgot the accord some thought to - her son. To lose a mother and then face the public humiliation after the former loss of his (real) father is a bruise big enough to shade the rest of his life. Do women who choose to end their lives over men realize how much they hurt the people around them who actually love them and value them for who they are? It’s always easier to leave the path when the going gets tough and to take the easy exit out. But the path of righteousness, resistance and resilience is far more rewarding than what’s easy in the moment. History seems to suggest that once a man is proven to be a cheater, that side of his personality never seems to go away. One girlfriend after another and one wife after another, all are subject to the same callousness as the previous, disguised in the politely camouflaged excuse of ‘the charm of love wearing off’. Kings and queens and prime ministers and presidents and sportsmen (sadly these are the only people whose stories stick around long enough in public conscience) have proven by means of their lives that infidelity is an affliction - an incurable disease. Then why do women choose suicide over the drama of seeing their men break the hearts (in due course) of the women that they once picked over them?

As we lament the demise of another pretty face (and in India, it almost feels like a crime to be above average in looks – cause people then see you as a picky, narcissistic, dumb human), we also realize that women seriously need to rethink the choices that they make. Nobody asks you to leave your previous lives in the charms of that one new man who has swept you off your feet. If you are incapable of reading your man’s intentions in advance and subsequently ill-equipped to deal with the collapse of your union, please at least hold your careers and family close to you. Because when one door closes, another one can fully absorb your being (like soft cushions softening blows and shocks). If only you give them a chance.

P.S. I like Shashi Tharoor’s writings and liked his tenure at the UN. I rooted for him as he contested for the post of undersecretary. I still like his views on India and the world. But I would be lying if I say that the whole Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor episode hasn’t taken away some charm (and maybe respect, but who am I to judge) away from the old man. The situation could have been dealt with better. If it had been, then one innocent life (even if a little extra emotional and attached) could have been saved. We lament and pray in unison for the innocent departed soul.


Quite well written and argued. The whole Sunanda story was a real tragedy. A private matter between a couple blown full out in the public glare. I really do think there is more the story that meets the eye. Sunanda had been suffering from some mental depression it appears, the whole IPL saga was put on her and the Mehr Tarar issue was the last straw. It would be wrong to judge her personal actions but it was sad to see how it played out.

At the larger level, I agree with your point that women should not feel so beholden to the men in their lives and to commit suicide or land in depression because a spouse cheated is to perhaps do a disservice to your own self esteem. The best response is to carry on with your life independently in an even stronger manner. Sadly, in a patriarchal society like India, a woman's identity is literally tethered to that of her man and any form of independence is frowned upon. It is utterly frustrating and as you correctly pointed out class agnostic as well. One can only hope that stronger examples of character inspire more women to follow the lead and live their life to the fullest and not go down the sad path that Sunanda chose.

Thanks for the awesome comment. Makes me proud to be your wife. Men in India are mostly tied down by patriarchal values passed down through generations. The country needs to break free and it is essential to empower women and keep them empowered to take the country forward on the path of development (at the risk of sounding like Rahul Gandhi here... he has spoilt it forever for us :P). But larger point being, you make some very valid points. Ones that should be imbibed by all.

Thanks for the prompt read and comment :)

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