Tharoor on pitch, she enjoys game

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By ANANYA SENGUPTA AND RASHEED KIDWAI
  • Published 13.04.10
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April 12: She was first noticed two months ago at Congress minister Jitin Prasada’s wedding, with Shashi Tharoor’s arm thrown protectively around her.

Sunanda Pushkar wore “a red sari and a low-neck blouse”, a guest said, recalling in mirth that some people were a little “shocked”, considering “the Congress culture”.

Today, as her name surfaced as a stakeholder in the Kochi IPL franchise — amid suggestions that the army officer’s daughter from Jammu was engaged to India’s junior foreign minister — some Delhiites’ minds went back to a T20 match played here last month.

As business chamber Ficci took on the foreign ministry across 22 yards on March 7, Sunanda had kept cheering the 54-year-old Tharoor’s efforts with the bat. She had been introduced as Tharoor’s “friend from Canada”, a source who watched the game said.

“The ministry team needed 112 runs to win. Tharoor was keen to play and said he wanted a bat before the game was over. So he got one of the ministry guys to retire. He played well and his team won,” the source said.

“He (Tharoor) wasn’t satisfied. He insisted that we play a 10-over game and we did. His lady friend was clapping away… the ministry won both the matches.”

Sources said Sunanda, in her forties, had a 13-year-old son from her first husband and ran a spa in Dubai, where she also held an executive’s post with an infrastructure company owned by the emirate’s government.

Earlier, she had worked with an advertising firm called Buzell and a travel agency in Dubai, and even for an IT company in Toronto, in between trying her hand at event management, sources said.

But she had needed no reference to her wide range of interests — healthcare, cricket, travel, IT, advertising — to wow the guests at Prasada’s wedding on February 16.

“She entered the venue with Tharoor’s arm around her,” a guest recalled.

“People who normally wouldn’t walk up to the minister did so just to find out who she was. But neither Tharoor nor she enlightened them. She rarely spoke but succeeded in hogging the limelight. Tharoor looked at ease.”

Tharoor, back in Delhi today from his Guwahati trip, was silent on his Twitter account about the marriage speculation, choosing instead to tweet about his experiences in the Northeast.

His associates denied he had any marriage plans; perhaps understandably so since the minister is yet to be legally divorced from his second wife Christa Giles, a Canadian working with the UN.

“Shashi Tharoor is not getting married to anyone. He is a married man,” said Jacob Joseph, officer on special duty to the minister.

Filmmaker Shekhar Kapoor, a friend, too denied the marriage rumours but did hint about a woman in Tharoor’s life. “No, shashi tharoor is not getting married and the lady in his life is not a beautician, the press has got it wrong yet again,” his tweet said.

Sunanda’s friends in Dubai, New Delhi and elsewhere, who spoke to The Telegraph, said they had received text messages from her giving a probable date for her marriage with Tharoor, by when his divorce proceedings are expected to be complete.

They said that if a wedding at all was being planned — a note of caution has crept in after the IPL controversy — it could be held on June 26-27, coinciding with Sunanda’s birthday. The likely venue is New Delhi, they added.

Sunanda’s friends said she had married Sujit Menon, a dealer in fire-fighting equipment. The couple shifted to Dubai, where Sujit organised a Malayalam superstar’s “nite” that turned out to be a financial disaster for him.

A disillusioned Sujit returned home to Kerala alone and later met a tragic end in Delhi. Sunanda moved to Toronto for a while.

Tharoor has a Dubai link too. In 2007, he became chairman of the Dubai-based Afras Ventures. He gave up the post before contesting the polls.