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Days before her death, Sunanda Pushkar said this was the only man she ever truly loved

Life began to look up for Sunanda Pushkar in her second marriage. But that too would come to an end with a death under mysterious circumstances.

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In Dubai, Sunanda initially struggled to find employment but then landed a job in the tourism industry. She conceived cruises and dune packages much before they became the norm for Dubai tourists, and amassed a neat cache of corporate clients.

Sunanda then went on to start an event management company called Expressions, which organized fashion shows and model shows for product launches. These events roped in big names, such as Rhea Pillai, Hemant Trivedi, even Aishwarya Rai. Sunanda believed she was a trendsetter and that these shows only later became a staple in the glamour world. Her networking skills, which enabled her to win prime sponsors, started to get her a fair amount of attention in the industry. When the Gulf War started, she did big fundraisers for the ‘We Love Kuwait’ campaign. She also did big multi-million-dollar events for a company called Modern Pharmaceuticals.

Life had started to look good for Sunanda. Much of her contentment also stemmed from her marriage to Sujith, who, she confessed to her best friend years later and just a few days before her death, was ‘the only man I truly loved’.

Her second marriage took place in 1991, three years after her first ended, in a beautiful Shiva temple in Kochi, Sujith’s home town.

Standing there, it is surprisingly easy to imagine Sunanda taking her wedding vows with Sujith in the breathtakingly beautiful precincts, dressed in a traditional white-and-gold Kerala sari, the happy couple framed by the stone deepmalas on both sides. The ease with which one can envision this may also be due to the fact that a very similar image nearer in time already exists in our minds. The wedding had a small, select group of family and friends in attendance.

Also read: Sunanda Pushkar wanted to be in politics, family doesn’t suspect Tharoor of murder: New book

The Menons were a liberal-minded family, and neither the inter-caste alliance nor Sunanda’s previous marriage caused them any discomfort. From Sunanda’s side once again, her mother extended her steadfast support to the alliance.

Sujith, for his part, was fond of cricket, a good singer, generous to a fault, and a much-loved person. Rajesh always felt he was the best man in Sunanda’s life. The family at that time also thought that with Sujith the predictions of Sunanda’s janam patri had perhaps been proven wrong, that love had managed to conquer destiny

After Sunanda married Sujith, she became a full-time event manager. About a year after their marriage, in 1992, they had a son, Shiv. Life finally seemed to be falling into place for Sunanda, who now dedicated herself to marriage and motherhood, whilst also organizing and managing top events. In Dubai, they moved into an apartment in the Karama area. Initially Sujith worked for Eagle Star, a financial broking service in Dubai. Later he too moved into the events sector, and husband and wife put together a number of shows. But the biggest and most ambitious of them all also turned out to be their nemesis. This was a show featuring southern superstar Mammootty, and one that crashed badly. The man who partnered with Sunanda and Sujith for the show admitted that there was a string of problems with the event right from the start.

This Mammootty show flopped and they had to incur heavy losses and debts,’ says Ashish. The two parties involved lost half a million dirhams each. Their partner paid off his share and helped Sunanda and Sujith raise funds to pay off theirs. But the financial loss shattered Sunanda hugely. The collateral damage was much worse – it severely strained her relationship with Sujith.

Sunanda and his relationship had been steadily deteriorating since the show’s failure and consequent financial loss and the couple perhaps felt that a bit of distance would help them gain a better perspective of their marriage. So Sujith went to Delhi, where he started an export–import company called Quality Goods Marketing, which operated more like a trading company. He started travelling between Delhi, Mumbai and Pune on business. Being perpetually on the move, he did not set up an establishment anywhere and lived in hotels. In the meantime, Sunanda had joined an advertising company called Bozell Prime, owned by Ravi Vasandane, and was made head of the alternative marketing department. Sunanda was good at networking and the agency’s clients liked working with her, owing in part to her gregariousness and charm, coupled, of course, with her unfaltering professionalism.

She would even send money to Sujith to help him with his business operations and personal expenses, even as she juggled her roles as mother and the family’s main provider. Adding to all this was another responsibility she had taken upon herself for the past few years – that of her younger brother Ashish.

Life was beginning to take an amazing turn for Sunanda. She excelled at work and was evolving as a person and as a professional. Her only worry was Sujith’s situation. She would send him money but it would never last. Whatever businesses he started would fail. She would ask him to return to Dubai, but that was never to be.

Sunanda would often fly down to India to meet Sujith and help him with his business ventures. The couple tried their hand at many enterprises, ranging from food to films.

Back in Dubai, however, her work was being appreciated, and with Ashish and Shiv by her side and close friends like Chan and Mohie for her to rely on, life seemed to be gaining momentum.

By this time, Sujith and she were perceptibly drifting apart. But before either could take a call on the marriage and its future, Sunanda’s life once again took a dramatic turn.

– ‘It was a car accident.’

‘It was suicide. Sunanda told me that herself. He hanged himself from the ceiling fan of his hotel room.’

‘He had a brain haemorrhage and was found dead in a hotel in Karol Bagh.’

‘He was murdered by people to whom he owed a lot of money.’

‘It was an accident but made to look like a natural death. They picked him up from the road and took him to the hotel room and then called the cops.’

In March 1997, Sujith was found dead. In a hotel room in Delhi. Many years before Sunanda’s own death was to spawn multiple theories, it was Sujith’s untimely death which was shrouded in mystery and became the subject of much conjecture. No one seemed to know whether his death was due to natural causes, a murder or a suicide.

This excerpt from The Extraordinary Life and Death of Sunanda Pushkar by Sunanda Mehta has been published with permission from Macmillan India.






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