Two women have dominated the headlines over the last couple of weeks. One of them is Valerie Trierweiler, the now former First Lady of France, whose first public appearance post her separation with François Hollande at a charity event in Mumbai created quite a stir. The other is Sunanda Pushkar, the tragically deceased wife of Union Minister Shashi Tharoor, who graced the columns of Page Three while she lived and was splashed all over the front pages after being found dead in a five-star hotel room days after she had ‘outed’ what she believed was an affair between her husband and Pakistani journalist, Mehr Tarar.
But while their stories played out many thousands of miles apart, the parallels between the two women are all too apparent.
Both had been married twice before, had kids from their second marriages (three sons for Valerie and one for Sunanda), before finding love a third time around. Both were strong, independent women who took pride in being successful professionals, Valerie as a senior journalist for Paris Match and a television presenter and Sunanda as a businesswoman (her declared assets included several flats in Dubai valued at`93 crores; and that was just part of her wealth). Both resented being perceived as arm candy for their powerful husbands. When Paris Match put Valerie on the cover calling her Hollande’s ‘charming asset’ she tweeted her outrage “Bravo Paris Match for its sexism. My thoughts go out to all angry women”. Sunanda, for her part, ascribed the IPL scandal in which she became embroiled as an emblem of the sexism and misogyny of the Indian media.
Both wanted a strong identity for themselves in public life. When Hollande was elected President, Valerie declared that she was not going to be une potiche (French for trophy wife) and would have her own agenda in the ‘Madame Wing’ of the Élysée Palace. Sunanda, too, didn’t believe in mincing her words while going against the declared position of the Congress party on such contentious issues as Section 370, which she maintained discriminated against Kashmiri women, both Hindu and Muslim, on property rights.
Unfortunately, the central irony of the lives of these women was that despite their best efforts to project themselves as public entities in their own right, both found fame only because of the men they married/lived with. It is hard to believe that national TV channels would have interviewed Sunanda Pushkar and sought her views on political issues if she hadn’t been married to Shashi Tharoor but was just another attractive, successful, late entrant on the Delhi social scene. And certainly, Valerie Trierweiler would not have been invited to Mumbai to promote a charity if she was just another French journalist and not the partner of the President of France.
Another striking parallel is how both suffered, albeit in different ways, because of Twitter. Valerie sent out that now-infamous tweet, supporting a rebel candidate in a French election against François’ previous partner, Ségolène Royal, because of her pathological jealousy of her former love rival. Ségolène lost the election but Valerie lost in the court of public opinion, and many now believe that may have marked the beginning of the end of her relationship with the President.
Sunanda’s indiscretion on Twitter was even more explosive. She sent out a series of messages on her husband’s Twitter account to ‘expose’ his alleged affair with a Pakistani journalist, Mehr Tarar, whom she dubbed an ‘ISI agent’. Tarar responded in kind. Tharoor hastened to clarify that his account had been hacked. Sunanda was having none of that. She gave interviews to insist that she had sent out the tweets in question. And a messy situation got messier and messier.
Sadly, both Sunanda and Valerie found their private lives unravelling in a spectacularly public fashion around the same time. But while in Valerie’s case, it was Closer magazine that revealed that her partner had been cheating on her with a French actress, Julie Gayet, Sunanda’s privacy was invaded by Sunanda herself. And while Valerie survived her heartbreak despite being rushed to hospital after ‘taking one pill too many’ (according to some reports in the French media), Sunanda was found dead in the Leela Hotel of what was described (as I write this) as a possible drug overdose.
What lessons can we draw from the lives of these two women, who lived, loved, rose and then fell dramatically in the public gaze?
Well, first off, don’t hitch your wagon to a man, no matter how much you love him (as Valerie insisted to the end that she did) or how much he worships you as Tharoor clearly did). Relying on or revelling in the status you derive from a relationship is a dangerous business, no matter how glamorous and desirable it may seem at the time. So, don’t sacrifice your career for a ‘job’ from which you can be fired at any time without any due cause.
And secondly, remember that it’s called ‘private life’ for a reason. It is not supposed to be for public consumption. Because while people may express faux sympathy for you, once your back is turned they will be pointing and laughing. Until, of course, the laughter turns into tears.
From HT Brunch, February 2
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