This is Charles Sobhraj. The se­rial killer? You could put it that way...

Mandate - - Contents - By Nairita Mukher­jee

The pre­lude it­self hooks you on and you can­not help but flip the pages to read more. Alas, had this been just a novel, then there’d per­haps be a con­vinc­ing end to this story that started at the Chan­nel 4 of­fice in Char­lotte Street, Lon­don, way back in 1997. How­ever, things aren’t that sim­ple. Ac­cord­ing to Dhondy, Charles Sobhraj con­tacted him. Sobhraj, born Hotc­hand Bhaw­nani Gur­mukh Sobhraj, on April 1944, the il­le­git­i­mate son of a Viet­namese peas­ant girl and a wealthy In­dian mer­chant living in Saigon, was Asia’s pre­mier se­rial slayer. It is dif­fi­cult to dis­cern what he’s most guilty of—a charm­ing wom­an­is­ing per­sona or the fact that he is charged with the mur­der of ten (if not more) in­no­cent back­pack­ers on the hip­pie trail. By ’97 he was al­ready fa­mous, Thomas Thomp­son’s book Ser­pen­tine had al­ready re­leased in 1979, fol­lowed by Julie Clarke and Richard Neville’s The Life and Se­ri­ous Crimes of Charles Sobhraj (1980) and Shadow of the Co­bra (1989). Yet he chose Dhondy to tell his story, for rea­sons un­charted.

In an in­ter­view with Bri­tish GQ, Dhondy de­scribed what Charles and he had as ‘ac­quain­tance­ship’, sim­ply be­cause he was in­trigued to see where the story might lead. “It was some ho­tel on the M20 junc­tion, Sobhraj was there with two large Bel­gians in leather jack­ets. So­braj said, ‘ We’re here to set up an an­tique fur­ni­ture shop.’” Sobhraj wanted Dhondy to lease the shop as a Bri­tish cit­i­zen. ‘“You’ll get £100,000 if you do this for us,’ said Sobhraj, ‘ be­cause we’re not sell­ing fur­ni­ture. It’s a front for sell­ing arms. We’re go­ing to laun­der the money through the an­tiques job,’” Dhondy was quoted in the ar­ti­cle. Of course, he turned down the of­fer, but he was con­vinced that Sobhraj was al­ready in­volved in trad­ing of il­le­gal arms.

The two kept in touch since and were on good terms too, un­til the re­lease of The Bikini Mur­ders. Dhondy has spo­ken about sev­eral in­stances when Sobhraj got in touch

Far­rukh Dhondy may be many things, but noth­ing kept him in the

lime­light more than the story of his al­liance with Charles Sobhraj. To­day, he finds him­self un­der the me­dia radar again as Bol­ly­wood grap­ples to fic­tion­alise the se­rial killer. Man­date speaks to the sharpas-a-whip au­thor and he re­sponds,

with his tongue firmly in cheek.

with him about lit­tle things, be it re­gard­ing emails with coded ref­er­ences to red mer­cury, a Rus­sian iso­tope or a bizarre in­stance when he called him at 2am from a Lon­don casino, ask­ing him to get him out of the car park since he didn’t have a cent on him. He lent him some money and “it’s any­one’s guess whether he paid me back,” Dhondy had said at his book launch in Ben­galuru.

Sobhraj, who is be­lieved to be an un­usu­ally se­cre­tive char­ac­ter ob­sessed with pre­vent­ing any­one from ex­ploit­ing his life for fi­nan­cial gains, wasn’t amused with the re­lease of The Bikini Mur­ders and threat­ened to sue the writer. There was a fall­out, Sobhraj de­scribed Dhondy as a ‘petty mid­dle­man’ and Dhondy called his threat an at­tempt at ‘extortion and black­mail’ as re­ported by DNA. Re­cently enough, Dhondy re­ceived a sim­i­lar threat when DAR Mo­tion Pic­tures bought the rights of his book, soon to be adapted into a film, while Prawaal Ra­man’s Main Aur Charles, based on Amod Kant’s ac­count (the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer on Sobhraj’s case), is slated to re­lease early next year. As Dhondy finds him­self in the me­dia line of fire once again, quite un­wit­tingly, we spoke to the cel­e­brated au­thor about his book, movies and Sobhraj.

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