You and I didn't kill Sunanda Tharoor

Last Updated: Sat, Jan 18, 2014 16:15 hrs

As I write this, hundreds of tweets and Facebook posts are being deleted in a hurry, and the media will almost certainly alter headlines such as "Who is Sunanda Pushkar? Her background and many scandals" and sentences like "Here for your reading convenience (and enjoyment) is a tweet timeline of what exactly went down."

Since Sunanda Pushkar, wife of Shashi Tharoor, allegedly committed suicide, my Facebook feed has been crowded with self-flagellation by reporters who have been claiming "We did this to her" and self-righteousness among those condemning people who made wisecracks about her spelling, grammar and actions.

I'm fairly sure most people will skip the rest of this article at this stage, and head to the comments section, where they will suggest that I must lose people I love to suicide before I write about it. And so I will make the clarification now - this is not an unsympathetic article. I feel very, very sorry for Sunanda; I feel sorrier for those whom she left behind, those who love her, and are blaming themselves for not "being there" for her.

It's tragic when anyone finds that the only course of action available to one is to commit suicide. But we need to understand that suicide is not as simple as cause-and-effect. As my friend Sandhya Menon puts it, "I find it hard to believe that people think a grown intelligent woman would kill herself over twitter jokes or media speculation. But I don't find it difficult to believe at all that if indeed she did kill herself, the woman was very ill. And to those who are saying no one is worth suicide, I want to send them links on mental illnesses."

I was one of those who made snide remarks about her spelling and grammar, on Facebook. I also said that it must be embarrassing for her ex-diplomat husband to have her accuse someone of being Pakistani. But I don't feel guilty.

There's a sense of self-importance and presumptuousness to the assumption that the media caused her death. I'm fairly sure Sunanda was not checking my Facebook page or yours. I'm fairly sure she wasn't switching from channel to channel, to see what Arnab Goswami and Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt had to say on the matter. She was, most likely, trying to sort out her marriage after confessing in public to betraying her husband's trust and hacking into his account.

I'm no expert on mental health, but I have some understanding of it.

A woman who seemed perfectly used to dealing with publicity, who has spent her life in marketing and media management, does not snap at a reporter and threaten to throw alcohol on him and declare she had done that to Arnab Goswami, unless she is going through some sort of breakdown.

A woman does not hack into her husband's very popular Twitter account, speak to news channels about her husband having a stalker who is an ISI agent and hacker, own up to the hacking and say that she is seeking divorce, and then issue a statement that she is in a happy marriage within the space of a few hours, unless she is going through some sort of breakdown.

No one did an expose or sting operation on the Tharoor-Pushkar marriage. There was no hacker. If Sunanda Pushkar were alive, we would still be laughing at her actions and her spelling-and-grammar. If the Pakistani woman she accused of stalking Shashi Tharoor had killed herself, Sunanda would have been vilified.

Sunanda has been through media hounding and jibes since she entered the public eye. It's rather thoughtless to attribute her suicide to external factors.

I say it is thoughtless, because suicide is a very disturbing phenomenon and this is a simplistic explanation. Most people need quick rationalisations for everything, with a hero, victim and villain. So, whenever there's a victim, you make yourself the hero and find a villain. Some will call her husband the villain. Some will call Mehr Tarar the villain. Some will call the media the villain. Some will call themselves the villain, thereby becoming heroes for their masochism.

We rush to blame people for driving other people to suicide. You can drive people into depression and madness and slow decay, but to take one's own life is something else. It means being in a place where you feel you have no one, and where no one values you.

All of us have felt alone at some point. Many of us have even felt the world would be better off without us. Haven't we all luxuriated in imagining people mourning us, and regretting the things they have said?

But the moment I think of killing myself, I think of the pain that would tear through my mother, my brothers, my 84-year-old great uncle who happens to be one of my best friends, the friends who would have got into their cars and driven more than 50 kilometres to see me where I am, the friends who would have got on flights to be there for me, the people whose lives would be ruined without me. Each of us has those people in our lives. I think of the pain I have felt on losing people close to me, I think of deaths that make me weep even two decades after they happened.

What an awful place Sunanda must have been in, to have a son and father and friends, and a husband who has often publicly declared his love and support for her, and yet feel there was no one she could turn to.

A few days ago, I was talking about Hanif Kureishi's book Intimacy, with another author. I told him that the book was about a man deciding whether he should walk out of an unhappy marriage, and the pain he feels when he looks at his two little children. The author I was speaking to wondered, "What could be worth leaving your children for? I mean, what could possibly be worth that?"

What could be worth leaving everyone behind forever?

I've seen Sunanda Pushkar all three times that I've met Shashi Tharoor. At a book launch in Madras, she peeped into a room where he was doing interviews. She waved at us, told him that she was off for dinner, and breezed off with a group of friends; at a literary festival, she interrupted an interview to ask him to take photographs of her with her friends, and he indulged her, smiling; at his book launch in Delhi, she was taking selfies – though they had no name at the time – with a bunch of people, and I remember Tharoor remarking that his wife was far more popular than he.

Clearly, she had friends. She was surrounded by people who loved her. If Sunanda Pushkar did commit suicide, we shouldn't be speculating on what quota of the blame lies with whom, but examining the idea of suicide.

We should be worried. We should be sad. But we should recognise that no one is guilty here. No one kills someone who commits suicide. It's a horrible thing for anyone to do to oneself and to those who love one, and we need to try and understand it. We need to figure out whether there are signs that someone is suicidal, or whether it's a moment of madness. We need to watch out for ourselves, and for those whom we love.

I have absolute confidence that this column will be misinterpreted by nearly everyone who reads it. I'd be grateful if a few people got why I don't want to lie.

Read more by the Author:

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. She sells herself and the book on