Atelier Diva: Work, Play, Love
May 11, 2022
Love in the time of Politics
January 10, 2022 COMMENT comment
Love in the Time of Politics
By Vandana Rana
It's a mellow autumn afternoon in Delhi as Sunanda Tharoor emerges from the dining room of her ministerial home on Lodi Road, New Delhi, in a short, close-fit red and white kurta with salwar and dupatta, her hair blowing about her face in elegant curls. She has just had lunch with her husband of two years, Shashi Tharoor, recently appointed Minister of State for Human Resource Development, who follows her out in a dapper suit, and seems mildly amused at the attention she's receiving from the Diva team for the cover shoot. The rooms are richly furnished – abundant photo frames of the two of them and their families jostle for space with crystalware on ornate tables, Anjolie Ela Menon vies with MF Husain on the walls. Books are everywhere, overwhelming the bookshelves, peeking out of bedside tables, growing out of the dressers, pouring on to the bed as if they own the place.

Sunanda is talkative and charming, breezing about
the rooms, giving instructions to her Man Friday on housekeeping and decor. The Kashmir-born Canadian has all the looks of a film star though she's just beginning to realise the amount of patience they must have for makeup and hairstyling. "I have no fascination for photos at all; I don't even want to look back at all my pictures. All those are Shashi's doing," says the former real-estate professional, pointing to the various frames on the walls. But she is careful of what he thinks; she dresses to please him and is the fashion expert between the two of them. "If I were to leave things to him, you'd have a first-class disaster. The first time I saw him, he was wearing a flowery kurta just to please someone who had gifted it to him. I'd never allow that now. Wow, now that I think of it, I fell in love with him in spite of that kurta. This must be the real thing then," she laughs.

Their 'real thing' has made quite some real headlines, and not all of them have been flattering. Now famous (or infamous, depending on your stance) for their public display of affection, Sunanda first began appearing in the media in 2009, when as a Dubai-based entrepreneur and single mother of a teenaged son, she began dating Shashi, himself a father of two sons based in the US and then new to Indian politics after three decades abroad in international diplomacy. Her involvement with an IPL team – she was accused of being given free equity in the Kochi team worth Rs 70 crores – led to Shashi's resignation as Minister of State for External Affairs in 2010, a few months before the two of them got married. "I never had shares to begin with," Sunanda tells Diva. "I only lost money over this whole affair. I should have gone public about my side of the story, the way I did about Narendra Modi's comment," she says. The Gujarat Chief Minister's recent off - colour remark about Sunanda being Shashi's "50-crore girlfriend" sparked off another round of controversy in the press; within days, BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi advised the Congress to make 'love guru' Shashi the 'minister of love affairs' in the newly shuffled Cabinet. Shashi responded to Modi with a Tweet on his wife being priceless, and in an interview to the Economic Times, talked about how bitter he feels that his wife's name was being dragged through mud due to the IPL controversy.

"I hate cricket, I detest cricket," says the woman in the eye of the storm. "I only went to cheer for KKR because Shahrukh (Khan) is my brand ambassador… and I am friends with Gautam Gambhir. That's my only connection with cricket," says Sunanda, "besides my son. He's 19 and writes about cricket." Unlike Shashi's sons, who write for the love of writing, she says her son Shiv "writes for money". "He's an ambitious devil. He wants to own his own private plane. I think he has many of my traits." Sunanda is unabashed about her love of all things material. "I enjoy making money. Clothes, fashion, jewellery – whatever I like, I buy. I love cars; I had a Range Rover, which Shashi made me sell. He had promised he'd buy me a car when I moved to India. Get this, he got me a Swift Dzire," she pouts in mock indignation. She's not very vocal about their 'love story'. "Actually, there is no love story," she says. "I liked him as a human being. He spoke well and I think he fell in love with me. I had no patience – I was busy as there was a boom going on in Dubai's real estate. Then we had a crash. But the market recovered so beautifully, I love Dubai," the 50-year-old goes off wistfully.

The controversies surrounding their relationship notwithstanding, Sunanda asserts that she's Shashi's political advisor in equal measure. "A definite strength I have is that, having worked my way up all alone, I can connect to everyone, from the bottom of the pyramid right to the top. That comes in handy in reaching out to the people who have elected him and to those who look up to him," she says. Sadly, it did not come in handy when she was pawed by male Congress supporters at a crowded rally in Thiruvananthapuram. News cameras caught a visibly disturbed Sunanda lashing out to hit a young boy, who later confessed to having groped her. Despite identifying him, Sunanda did not press charges. "These men just want to get their hands on some woman," she tells us. "It doesn't matter who she is. They didn't leave even Preity Zinta. It's just disgusting." Though outspoken herself, it 'drives her crazy' how even more open Shashi is. "For a politician, speaking his heart is barely the best policy. While I love his honesty, I feel he should be more politically correct at times. Oh, but you know what really drives me crazy? His Twitter! My husband is the star of Twitter in India, and I can't stand that thing," she grimaces.

We ask her what keeps their relationship rocking. "The springs in our mattress?" she laughs. "I'm kidding. I think the one thing that keeps our relationship rocking is passion. Whether it's a passion for life, for adventure, for new experiences, or even for each other; that's what keeps the flame burning." Things have changed much for her after marriage, of course. "My worries, my priorities, why my whole life has changed!" she exclaims, chatting about how, instead of a boardroom, she now heads for the kitchen every morning; about the Chandran Tharoor Foundation she runs, and its present campaign to construct toilets in government schools for girl children. She’s also been spotted at various Page-Three events about town. "It's a whole new world but it is truly fulfilling. The only bit of Dubai I miss from my heart is my son Shiv," she muses. Sunanda, whose name means 'pleasing or delightful', smiles easily for the camera, walking and posing for the photographer, making small talk with the new staff on their property now that her husband's a minister. Her eyes shine with the confidence of a woman who's aware of her beauty and its effects on those around her. We invite her to glance into the monitor and see her pictures. She shakes her head: "As long as Shashi's happy with them, I don't care." In politics and passion, she's using the winning card of surrender.
Life mantra
'If your presence can't add value to my life, your absence will make no difference.'
Cooking. Especially rogan ghosh.
Holiday destination
Italy. I could go back all the time. I love the place.
Latest luxury buy
A fabulous pair of earrings designed by Farah Ali Khan.
Most precious gift
A poem Shashi wrote for me. No more details (smiles).
Favourite fashion
I am proud of Manish Malhotra for helping Kashmiri artisans. I love Versace for their jeans, and Armani for their excellent business suits. Sangeeta Ranka of Diva Collections in Delhi understands exactly what I want. I also wear a lot of JJ Valaya and Shantanu & Nikhil.
Favourite trend
The Patiala salwar definitely. It is the most comfortable thing ever.
Wardrobe must-have
My shawls.
Most expensive possessions
My villas and apartments in Dubai.
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