Suddenly SUNANDAhttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/suddenly-sunanda/

Suddenly SUNANDA

Dubai’s high society discovered Sunanda Pushkar after Lalit Modi’s tweet put her in the headlines.

Dubai’s high society discovered Sunanda Pushkar after Lalit Modi’s tweet put her in the headlines. Like thousands of others in the city,Shashi Tharoor’s ‘close associate’ was riding the Dubai boom,trying to make it. The city that judges you by the size of your house as well as the size of your diamond never quite noticed her. But now,the most fashionable boutiques want her as a client
She had the socialite uniform: blonde streaks,manicured nails and diamonds that glittered in the sun. Yet Dubai’s high society is only now discovering Sunanda Pushkar.

Dubai’s rich and famous gossiped at a party the day Pushkar,and her stake in the Kochi IPL team,became news. They struggled to remember her name,yet she was conversation-worthy now. They met the day after,at another soiree; they came up with a name for the whole saga. The affair would be called the “Pushkar Putsch”. Those unacquainted with her tossed her name about,fishing for information. They then pushed harder for details. Someone must have seen her,for in the small somebody world of Dubai,it’s difficult to remain anonymous.

“This is Sod’s law. Before she became a news item,I could have found her number in an instant. Girls like her are waiting to be discovered,” says Dubai’s first gossip columnist Jawahar Chodda. And now,the question du jour in the social circuit is: who is Sunanda Pushkar? From anonymity she rose to the front pages,courtesy of Minister of State for External Affairs,Shashi Tharoor.

Her friends have formed a guarded net around her,adding to the intrigue. A close friend—frequently photographed for high society magazines —Padma Corum reveals that Pushkar is “no beautician”. Pushkar never owned a spa in Dubai. But the sandy,solitary,scary Dubai of the 1990s,when it is alleged Pushkar owned a spa,was one of limited opportunities. Especially for women. “Women had spas in the backrooms or as a hobby,our husbands were out all day,this was fanciful entertainment,” says Sally Abitar,owner of Sally Spa,one of the first spas to open in the city. These were beauticians in their basements. What else were they to do?

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Pushkar arrived to the Emirates before the skyscrapers went up— over a decade ago. Her marriage had ended. A Canadian citizen,she packed her belongings and moved from Canada to the sleepy Emirate with a young son. “A single mother is a task for most,but a single mother and an Indian must have been a tricky combination,” says Sana Mansour,in her 30s,who works at HSBC. Dubai then was a daunting place for most Indians. “Everyone either thought you were a labourer’s daughter or wife and if you weren’t,you ought to be,” says Mansour.

In those days,the only socialising that happened was in Dubai’s sole shopping mall—Al Ghurair Centre in Deira. It was the centre of activity yet not much happened. Pushkar lived nearby in Karama. This was the down-trodden,unfortunate part of town. It was a miniature India with paan stalls and chai shops. “Most who lived there were embarrassed to admit to being there,” says Iman Irfan,a former resident.

By the mid-1990s,Dubai started undergoing structural changes. And how. It started with one bridge —this would connect the east and west of the town and from there,the rest just followed. Born overnight were socialites who put together a chain of acquaintances. They popularised venues and in came the tabloids. Tabloids that made the many who could afford the 10 Dirham magazine want to be a part of this world. This Dubai was the vision of the late Sheikh Maktoum: his motto was “build and they will come.” And they did. Thousands poured in from around the globe,but those who underwent the biggest changes were those from the city itself. Views from houses were blocked as a bridge was constructed bang opposite; the noise of machinery ceased to stop and the once towering 39-story World Trade Centre was dwarfed by the many buildings that went up behind it. But these changes brought prosperity and wealth unprecedented in Arabia.

Pushkar rode this wave. “She has always dabbled in property,” says a close friend. Yet she did have her 9 to 5 job. With the immense growth that came,so did opportunity. Pushkar joined TECOM,a government-owned body responsible for the management of Dubai’s business parks—Dubai Media City,Dubai Internet City,Dubai Knowledge Village and the Dubai International Academic City—in 2005. Her stint there,as sales manager,ended only in January of this year. Dubai Media City is a world unto itself. Employees live in the quarters,dinner is in the many restaurants within the confines of the IT park and socialising fit for glossy magazines,unlikely. To escape from that is a challenge: “How does a sales manager get acquainted with high society? You do the rounds,you try and make your presence felt,” says friend Malini Menon. Pushkar tried.

The social scene in Dubai revolves around spas and hairdressers; boutiques and lounges. Any socialite worth her title is a member of the Royal Mirage Spa and Club,a hedonistic retreat with Moroccan baths,or visits a chosen selection of hairdressers. It’s either Jean Paul Hair Salon or the Cutting Edge at the Aviation Club. Pushkar’s name never figured on their lists.
This is the tragedy (or test depending on your philosophical inclination) of Dubai. Almost everything in Dubai is divided into tiers — from the house you live in to the size of the diamond on your finger. And of course,the bigger,the better. Pushkar’s main area of business — in real estate — and her new up-market home are located in the Marina. This is the type of location that would have most around the globe ooh-ing and aah-ing. It’s opposite luxury yachts and has its own cornice; it’s a stones throw away from the beach and houses some of the cities finest restaurants. But in Dubai it is just another building.

To be a fixture in society,to have the most sought-after invites,to be remembered,a socialite must live in the Hills (ideally she will own a plot of land on the Palm Islands). The Hills are mansions overlooking private golf courses. It is Desperate Housewives,Wisteria Lane,in real time. Then there are those who are grudgingly remembered,but remembered no less: them,from the Ranches or the Meadows. A step below,these are socialites who may repeat a dress. A socialite’s presence on the guest list depends on where you stand in this equation: the Marina to them is just an apartment,a plot of land floating in the sky,“not big enough or spacious enough. The Burj Khalifa is a respectable address,” says Maha Jaffiri,a fixture on the social scene.

But Pushkar was climbing up. Alia Fouad,editor of Masala,a popular society magazine re-calls Pushkar. “She was seen once a fortnight,she was snapped,she’s in our magazine,” says Fouad. Would she call Pushkar a socialite? “That’s an existentialist debate but was she seen around town? Yes,” she says. But in Dubai you are only as relevant as the last party you’re seen at. For Pushkar,that was five months ago. In socialite time,that’s a lifetime. She was photographed at that party,at Padma Corum’s winter do. Since then,“Pushkar has gone underground,” says a journalist with the Gulf News.

As the story unfolds,Pushkar has knocked off Sania Mirza — and her hotly followed nuptials — from the front pages. She commands the attention and stylists at fashionable boutiques in Dubai await to dress her. Jonny K of Shoppers Lounge wants to “put her in their finest”. For nothing less would be “fit for the companion of charming but clumsy Shashi Tharoor”.