A conversation between retired police officer Madhukar Zende and Charles Sobhraj, the notorious serial killer and French citizen, at a Goa restaurant in 1986 has played out in his mind several times over the years. Zende, 84, was reminded of it again after the Supreme Court of Nepal Wednesday ordered Sobhraj’s release within 15 days and deportation back to France on “humanitarian grounds”.
“A competent court has decided on the issue and I am a very small man to have any opinion on it. I am a mute spectator,” Zende told The Indian Express.
However, thanks to multiple retellings of the day when he arrested “the brash fellow”, Zende remembers even the smallest of details. After being arrested in 1971, Sobhraj fled from Delhi’s Tihar jail in 1986. Since Zende had arrested him earlier, he was tasked with tracking down Sobhraj.
Zende remembers “looking all across Goa” searching for the serial killer but to no avail. Eventually, he decided to go to the O’ Coqueiro restaurant in Goa along with his staff posing as tourists. He had information that Sobhraj frequented the café which usually attracted foreign tourists.
“While we were sitting, what caught my eyes was two men getting out of a car in a sun hat at night. That made me suspicious. On looking closely, I realised it was Charles,” Zende said. He added, “I hid or else he would have identified me. I also alerted my staff.”
“Later, I walked up to their table with my staff and said, ‘You are Charles’. He told me if I was crazy and that he didn’t know any Charles. I told him that I had arrested him earlier as well and identified him. That deflated him,” Zende said.
He added that since they didn’t have a handcuff, they used threads and rope provided by the cafe to tie his hands. “He had a revolver but we managed to get him first. We quickly bundled him in the police van and drove all night to Mumbai. Since he was a black belt and could try to escape, I asked two of my constables to sit on him.”
When asked about his personal interactions with Sobhraj, Zende recalled, “He was a brash fellow who had contempt for Indian police and courts. When I tried to question him, he told me, ‘Mind your own business. Your job was to arrest me which you have done. Now do not talk to me.’ Since he had studied law as well, he thought no end of himself.”
A few years ago, Zende was invited by O’ Coqueiro where he arrested Sobhraj. In his honour, they also have a dish called “Zende platter”, comprising tandoori chicken and lamb.
Every once in a while, when there is some development linked to Sobhraj, Zende is often contacted by the media. He lives with his son in Singapore but is in Pune currently for a family wedding.
“I walk 10 km daily and do pranayama for two hours. I have had a very contented life.” He further adds, “While people generally credit me for the arrest of Sobhraj, everyone including my team, my superiors had a part to play in it.”