Currrent - Issue


After marrying New Zealandís cricket legend, Sukhi Turner did not lapse into celebrity wife status. Instead she launched into politics and bagged three successive innings as the Mayor of Dunedin.
                                                            By Rajesh Kumar
in Auckland and Jijo Jacob in Delhi
Sukhi Turner
  The year was 2001 and Sukhi Turner wanted a third terma as the Mayor of Dunedin, New Zealandís third largest city. Nothing unusual about it, except the fact that Sukhi was an Indian by birth, and a woman. That she was married to Glenn TurneróNew Zealandís cricket legend-did t matter much in a country where hero worship is all too rare. But then the unthinkable happened. Her possible contenders quit the race and headed for the hills. Here was a hair-tossing, footóstamping empress of confidence who proved more than a match for the others in the fray. The guys who gave up the fight were natural citizens, and of course, they were "guys" anyway. Sukhi romped homeóa flicker of 'Shining India' on the Antipodean horizon.
Breaching one s limitations and courting success is par for India s expatriate sons and daughters. But Sukhi
transcended that and became an iconic figure in her adopted country.

Could we say it was love that brought Sukhi to New Zealand? Well, of course, it is "love" that drives every Indian on an uncharted journey-love for the family, love for the progeny. Generations of Indians followed the Kafkaesque dictum "out from here" and sped
onwards to power and glory in lands far across the once forbidden seas. In Sukhi s case, the story takes a detour, but "love" is very much there though.

That is a story better left to Glenn Turner to narrate. The story of the lissome Punjabi lass called Sukhinder Kaur becoming Sukhi Turner. Story of their first meeting and the sleepless night later when images of the electric evening would flood the mind."The year was 1970. I was touring India for the first time as a member of the New Zealand Test squad. Torrential monsoon in the country gave us a truncated tour, but for me, things of importance happened on that tour. I met Sukhinder at a social function one evening during the Bombay Test. She was studying at the University, and it was pretty difficult for two young people to socialize during those days, especially for a boy and girl," recollects Glenn Turner, who would become the Wisden Cricketer of the Year the following year.

Yes, it was difficult for two young people to socialize in the India of the 70s- Indira Gandhi s India. The quintessential Indian symbol of feminine prowess, Indira, ruled the nation then. Paradoxical? Well, India is full of paradoxes but donít we love our country more for it?

Sukhi loves it too. But she also put her finger on a canker that sits ugly on Indiaís body politic: The ailment by the name doublespeak. She did that when she was in India in early 2004 to take part in the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas celebrations in New Delhi.

In a speech she made after receiving the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, she criticized the raking up of Sonia Gandhiís "Italian origin" by politicians across the aisle. Sukhi termed the practice "hypocritical and discriminatory." Says Sukhi: "On the one hand, our leaders demand that there should not be any discrimination against Indians like me who have migrated abroad and are now settled in other
countries. "On the  other,   their   raising   this   issue   in  India  seems  very
CAUGHT AT FIRST SIGHT: Husband Glenn has a keen interest in India
 as they are also following the same policy of discrimination." And Sukhi knows what she speaks. "I was brought up as a Sikh and, obviously, it was a big part of my childhood. But because we kept moving to different parts of India, I was an Indian first. I have never thought of myself as being part of a minority group. That is one of the reasons I felt brave enough to go into politics." She is the forerunner of a generation of Indians who will be truly global citizens. Thatís exactly why her berating of the Indian doublespeak gains importance.

Politics may be the art of the possible for many, but for Sukhi it was the art of the impossible. She came to New Zealand in 1973, as the happy helpmate of a celebrity cricketer, and mother of two children. That is where you put a period to the life story of an average celebrity wife.

But Sukhi, undeterred by the unfamiliar terrain, worked her way up. She started small ventures, taught Indian cooking at the polytechnic, hosted Indian meals at a local tavern and sold her own spice mix. She had come from a wellto- do Sikh family in Punjab. Her father was a pilot with the Indian Air Force and then with Air-India. Though she already had a post-graduate degree in history and political science from Bethany College, West Virginia, Sukhi went on to study economics and marketing while in New Zealand. That s when she got involved in community activities. Finally, the splash into politics came when she was elected to the Dunedin City Council in 1992. "I wanted to stand for local government because I wanted to contribute to the community," she says.
A true environmentalist, she joined the Green Party and was elected Mayor in 1995 and again in 1998 and 2001. The hat-trick win at the Mayoral elections was a tribute to her socialistic principles, strong decisions and green developmental plans. She was the first woman Mayor in a New Zealand city council, and also at 43, the youngest person ever elected Mayor.

"People in India often ask me how many Indians live in Dunedin. When I tell them just about 400 to 500 families, they find it surprising that other communities have voted me in power time and again

Mayor LEAGUE: Sukhi in official splendor
Quelling his ego, he went across to old friend Yash Chopraís house and asked for a suitable role. At a time when it was considered infra dig for film stars to appear on TV, Bachchan agreed to helm a quiz show Kaun Banega Crorepati, the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Exhibiting great personal charm and an unsuspected genial side in his interactions with the participants, Bachchan was primarily responsible for the showís record shattering success. It enthused film stars like Govinda, Madhuri Dixit and Manisha Koirala to migrate to the small screen too, albeit with noticeably less heartening results.

To paraphrase a popular KBC catchphrase, for Bachchanís career, it was a case of segueing from 'Career lock kiya jaaye?' to being thrown a lifeline. Soon thereafter, Amitabh's much-appreciated turn as the gimlet-eyed Narayan Shankar in  the  Yash
Chopra-produced Mohabbatein was like a seal of approval to his resurgent s

Pan-Indian bringing-up
I was born in Ludhiana in April 1952. My grandfather was an engineer with the Punjab government and had a farm in Poondri. I was brought up there for the next six years.

My father, who was then an air force pilot, came to take me after getting a posting in Bangalore. At the age of 11, I was sent to All Saints. I spent some time at Sophia College, Bombay, before going to the US for further studies.
Meeting Glenn
I met Glenn in 1969 in Bombay when the New Zealand team was touring India. A friend's father, who was a member of the Indian cricket board, invited me and my parents to the dinner hosted for the Kiwi team where I was introduced to Glenn. Before that, I had never met anyone from New Zealand. For me, It was quite an exotic place. Glenn too was keenly interested in Indian culture. So, the attraction was mutual. From there on, we kept in touch and I got to meet him again while I was holidaying in London.

Asking for her hand
After graduation from Bethany College, West Virginia in 1973, I came to the UK where Glenn was playing and told my father that I wanted to marry Glenn. He was cross with me. 'Nothing doing, you are coming back to India and getting into an arranged marriage,' he said. It was a struggle to convince him and finally my mother persuaded him to at least meet Glenn. Glenn was playing for Westershire in UK and I was there for holidays with a relative. My father agreed to meet him.'Iíd like your daughter to live with me in Worcestershire,' Glenn told my father matter-of-factly. 'But when are you getting married?' my father asked him. Glenn quietly took out his diary and started going through his playing schedule. He said, 'Iíve time on 23 July (1973).' And that was that. No asking for hand, no suggestion of dates or anything. And we were engaged. Three weeks later we were married in a gurdwara in South Hall.

Encounter with the Queen
The day we got married, Glenn and his teammates were invited to Buckingham Palace for a dinner. Glenn had not told anyone about our wedding because he did not want (the wedding) to affect his Test matches. He was breaking records and the news would have attracted more media attention, which he was trying to avoid. When he had an audience with Queen Elizabeth, someone let out the secret that Glenn had got married. The queen asked him why he hadnít brought his bride along. 'But she was not invited,' he said nonchalantly. I eventually got to meet the Queen many years later under entirely different circumstances. During her visit to New Zealand in 1995, as the Mayor of Dunedin I was responsible for escorting her around the city. Thatís when I told her how I had missed out on meeting her the last time. She was amused.

Soniaís foreign origins
It is discriminatory to talk about Soniaís foreign origins when she has been an Indian citizen for so many years. If people in Dunedin had felt the same way about me, I would not have been elected Mayor. In any case, I think Indians are broadminded enough. People in India often ask me how many Indians live in Dunedin. When I tell them just about 400 to 500 families, they find it surprising that other communities have voted me in power time and again. I think most Indians, if they trust you enough, will have no hesitation in choosing you to represent them. Sonia was clearly chosen by the people.
Is she going national ?
No, I donít think national politics is for me. But I would like to go for a diplomatic posting or represent New Zealand at the UN. I have always been interested in international relations and would like to be able to get into it.

Is Glenn romantic ?
Yes, a trip to the Taj and another one on the Palace on Wheels. Glenn is a southern man; he doesnít
PICTURE PERFECT: Sukhi and Glenn with their children Shaan and Natasha
like to show his feelings. Much like the marriage proposal, he doesnít show his emotions and feelings much.

Has she become a cricket fan herself ?

No, not really. But I did become well versed in cricket politics, sort of what goes on behind the crease. We often have discussions on where cricket is going and how the younger generation is taking to it.

The Turner children
Natasha, 26, is a budding documentary filmmaker and has got a chance to work on the third installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Son Shaan is younger and is working for the New Zealand Post and wants to go to Africa for aid work. Both have retained their strong connection with India.

Ever faced racism ?
I have faced the odd remark like 'Curry Muncher' by some drunken men at a cricket match. Other that that, none whatsoever. Iíve spent nine years in public office as a Mayor, but have never come across any evidence of racism or discrimination. Apart from the fact that New Zealand has its own native (nonwhite) people called the Maoris, and have strong legislation against racism and discrimination, people here are very warm hearted.

Building bridges
Glenn is involved in cricket commentaries even after retiring from Test cricket. He retains a strong cricketing connection with India. As for me, I like to bring friends over for trips to exotic Indian places. I have had talks with business people in Mumbai in forestry and education and there is likely to be a direct tourist channel between New Delhi and Dunedin.