Kudos to Tharoors for showing equal partnership
The masala Twitter war between Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor and the Pakistani journalist she accused of having an affair with her husband erupted around the same time French president Francois Hollande’s affair with actress Julie Gayet was revealed by Closer magazine. It got me thinking about certain civilisations’ preoccupations with the sexuality and sex lives of their politicians—and India’s lack of it.
Think about it: in the late 90s, the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair was making global news, enticing passionate headlines and arguments, and almost had him impeached. The Indian prime minister around the time was an old single man with an ‘adopted’ daughter whose parentage was a matter of speculation—but the media didn’t particularly care, neither did the people.
Let alone sex life, implying activity, we don’t even like to acknowledge that our politicians, like us, are sexual beings. Perhaps it is because, at the media explosion in the dotcom age, Rajiv Gandhi was long gone and most of our political leaders since have been octogenarian men, and that aspect of their lives is best left unimagined—no dishy Kennedys or Obama for us. Sure, there is the odd paternity suit and sting operation CD, but surprisingly, even now, references to Rahul Gandhi’s (alleged) Colombian girlfriend are few and far between. What proportion of this silence from the media is fear of or complicity with our politicians?
Or is it because we tend to deify the people we look up to, and would rather revere unidimensional gods than multidimensional men? A friend tells me that evidence of Jinnah’s non-Muslim wife, and his smoking and drinking have been removed in the official telling of Pakistan’s history; like the Father of Our Nation, he was retrospectively idealised. (This also explains why, in the South, the transition from movie star to politician appears effortless, a seemingly illogical transference of heroic attributes and popularity.) Note the way our female politicians drape their sarees, with not a sliver of sexy stomach on show—this when quite a few are former actresses. What the so deified politicians and their audiences don’t acknowledge is that these constructs breed hypocrisy, because they are people—people with flaws, sex lives et al.
Leaders of liberal democracies sans dynastic politics—America, Australia, Britain, France—are not valued in isolation, but alongside their partners and families, and for conduct in their personal lives. Despite our family-centric society, whereas Michelle, together with her husband and as an individual, is in the public eye, Mrs Manmohan Singh shuffles quietly behind, nary a Femina article about her. It’s also noteworthy that, despite their far-right politics, many of our politicians have unconventional (if not downright sleazy though perhaps not Gaddafi-extreme) love-sex lives, much like men and women in power the world over, and details long suppressed about Gandhi’s strange sexual practices are now being outed in books.
Whatever its cause, into this a-gendered pseudo-genteel environment entered Sunanda Pushkar, as the third wife of one of our most suave new-breed politicians, who was also her third husband. With her looks and flashy dressing; public persona, PDA and personality; and businesses and dodgy mysterious past, she straddled many worlds. In Delhi circles, I am told, but I speak as a media consumer—they loved her, hated her, you couldn’t ignore her. Together, Sunanda and Shashi made an ‘It’ couple, a veritable first in this generation’s political class.
And then came reports of her failing marriage, and the Twitter war with Mehr Tarar: Juvenile? Dirty linen in public? Unnecessary? Her death soon after, fodder for a generation of conspiracy theorists. Natural-Unnatural? Murder? Suicide? Mistake! What about those bruises? Is this the birth of our very own Marilyn Monroe death conspiracy?
Despite Sunanda’s turbulent stardom and sad end, I think there was more about her and Shashi to admire than we give them credit for. ‘She behaved more like a flashy Bollywood trophy wife than an ambitious politician’s well-behaved, soberly-dressed spouse,’ writes Shobha De. In many ways, by refusing to be, or let his wife be, typecast by her past, Sunanda was an interesting multidimensional female protagonist, and Shashi an inspiring,
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