Charles’s angels

Posted on: December 16, 2011

Nihita Biswas is 22, and Charles Sobhraj is 66. But what’s age got to do with love?

Charles crops up in the conversation as soon as we set the ball rolling. Coffee, I ask the mother and daughter, as they settle down in my hotel room in Kathmandu. Mother Shakuntala Thapa says yes, but daughter Nihita Biswas opts for milk. “I don’t drink coffee because I fear it will turn my teeth yellow like Charles’s,” she says. “I have asked him so many times to switch to herbal tea or milk, but he never listens to me,” she says with a smile.

The reference is to 66-year-old Charles Sobhraj. Biswas is his wife — they were married in jail, she says — and Thapa, his lawyer.

At 22, Biswas already sounds like a harried wife, weighed down by a husband who just won’t listen. “I call him stupid,” she says. “He trusts everyone but people have always let him down.”

Many would say it was the other way round — that people trusted Sobhraj, and he let them down. Described as a serial killer, bikini killer and serpent, he has been accused of befriending tourists — and then killing them.

But Biswas is unfazed by this. “He has always been misunderstood. I know that he is innocent. He cannot even kill a chicken, let alone a human being,” she says. “I have every reason to believe him but no reason to believe the others.”

As she reaches out for her glass of milk, she suddenly looks like the young college student that she is — in her spaghetti top and white slacks. Her dark eyes and round face hint at a Bengali connection. And that’s not surprising, for Biswas’s father was from Calcutta.

Thapa met him in Calcutta, and they were married when she was 18. The two studied law in Kathmandu. But their relationship was rocky right from the beginning and finally broke up when their son, Babu, was 25 and Biswas 15. “My husband barely stayed with us and eventually abandoned us,” Thapa says.

Biswas adds, “He has given us nothing except a surname.”

Thapa looks weary — the dark circles under her eyes speak of worry and sleepless nights. “It has been a traumatic experience for us for the past few days,” she says.

Late last month, the Nepalese Supreme Court upheld a verdict issued by the Kathmandu district court sentencing Sobhraj to a 20-year life term for the 1975 murder of US citizen Connie Jo Bronzich in Nepal. Thapa called the judges “corrupt” after the judgment — following which the mother and daughter, charged with contempt of court, had to spend a night in a police lock-up. “That was the most dreadful night ever. We wept all night,” says Thapa.

Life outside the lock-up has not been easy either. “The media alleged and my lawyer colleagues taunted me, saying that I had sold my daughter to Charles. At times, it is torturous, but I gather my strength to fight against all odds,” she says.

The daughter nods. “My mother is a pillar of strength,” Biswas says. The two are always together — Babu is mostly in India — and share a special bond. That’s why, Biswas stresses, she believed she’d stay single.

And then Sobhraj happened.

“I cannot explain my feelings for him in words. I never thought that such a man even existed. He is so unusual,” she says.

Biswas first met Sobhraj on May 5, 2008, in Kathmandu’s central jail. He was looking for an interpreter who knew English and Nepalese, and an acquaintance put her in touch with him. “We shook hands, and he addressed me as ‘Ma’am’. He looked deep into my eyes. I was awed by his aura,” she recalls.

Sobhraj gave her a long list of food that he wanted her to bring for him — chocolates, canned chicken sausages, French breads, guava juice and green vegetables. “The next day, when I met him with all this, he told me that he had not slept the night before thinking of me,” she says shyly.

Three weeks later, Sobhraj proposed to her. It was only then that Biswas informed her mother about their relationship. “When I heard she was dating Charles Sobhraj, I could not believe my ears,” laughs Thapa.

Thapa was eager to meet the man whose exploits she’d followed closely in the media in the 1970s. She met him, saw the “love in his eyes” for her daughter, and was convinced that he was the man for her. Soon, she was his lawyer.

But does she worry about the 44-year gap between the two? “My husband was just two years older and our marriage didn’t work. For a girl, it is always good to be married to someone who is older and more mature,” Thapa reasons.

Biswas has her own take on the subject. “He looks 10 times healthier than I do. And age is not a factor. All that matters is that he is loveable and caring,” she says, carelessly running her fingers through her hair.

I suddenly spot the sparkle on a finger. It’s a gold ring from Sobhraj, she says.

The two, she adds, were married on Dussehra day in 2008. “We had thesindoor ceremony — that is the most pious way of getting married in Nepal,” Biswas says.

Biswas meets Sobhraj almost thrice a week. He spends his time in jail reading books, listening to music — jazz, blues and even ghazals — doing martial arts and playing with his three kittens. “He talks about philosophy, relationships, politics — on everything. He has a great thirst for knowledge,” Biswas says.

Sobhraj, I point out, is believed to be a lady’s man. Doesn’t she fear that he’ll move on? “I don’t compare myself with the other women in his life. They are not in his life anymore because they did not deserve him. I am here because I can keep him happy.”

I am not surprised that Biswas was called a “rebel” by her teachers in Kathmandu’s St Mary’s School where she studied till Class XII. The second-year political science student says that she’ll never regret her decision to be with Sobhraj.

And the future, she holds, is not all that gloomy — despite the Supreme Court ruling. Biswas says a UN body has declared that Sobhraj was not given a fair trial.

He’ll be released one of these days, she holds, and the two will live happily ever after. “We will either live in India or in Paris,” says Biswas.

By now, our tea-time meeting has extended to dinner. Biswas bites into a piece of chicken and tells me the secret of the four Cs in her life. “Chocolates, cheese and chicken were the three Cs that ruled my life. Now there is the fourth C — and that’s Charles, of course,” she says, laughing heartily.


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