FATAL ATTRACTION: Nihita Biswas is planning a future with fiancé Charles Sobhraj (below)
Nihita Biswas may well have thought this too, but the words come from a 20-something woman in Calcutta. Theres something about him. I cant explain it, but it attracts me, she says about a convicted prisoner serving two life sentences in the citys Presidency Jail. The woman was a voluntary worker in prisons, but she stopped her work when she realised she was falling head over heels in love with him.
It is to probe this something that you are at the Presidency Jail, waiting to meet the man who floored a woman far removed from crime. The man had kidnapped a businessman for ransom and then killed him; the woman was a scholar dealing with prison reforms.
Quite like Nihita and 64-year-old convict Charles Sobhraj. He reportedly met the 20-year-old Nepalese when she applied for a job as an interpreter for his French lawyer. Sobhraj was convicted by a Kathmandu district court in 2004 on charges of killing a Canadian tourist in the city in 1975 after being arrested from a luxury Kathmandu casino when he returned to Nepal in 2003. Earlier, he was held for two decades in New Delhis Tihar prison on suspicion of theft, but was deported without charge to France in 1997. His nickname The Serpent stems from his reputation for being a talented disguise and escape artist.
But that hasnt stopped Neha, as his fiancée is nicknamed, from wanting to make him her life partner. We are planning a future after his release, she has reportedly said.
What is it that attracts women to prisoners? You ponder that as you wait at the Presidency Jail office, and a prison warden asks suggestively, You are here to meet…Vicky? The curiosity is killing.
In his eight years in prison he has reportedly built up a reputation for being a charmer. According to dancer Alokananda Ray, who conducts regular dance sessions inside Presidency Jail as part of the prisons culture therapy programme, any girl can fall for him. Of course, Ray calls him her son, as she does all the other members of her prison class, but she admits that theres something special about him.
She finds in this tall and handsome boy, traces of her childhood idol Elvis Presley. One day I was watching a documentary on Presley on television and I noted the resemblance. He has the same intense gaze. The volunteer who fell in love with him says, He looks like Jesus Christ.
Vicky — as he is called — enters the office. He is over six feet tall, and wears a pair of grey track pants and a grey T-shirt. For almost two minutes he just looks at you. He does not smile. He does not speak. Then he nods politely and in a polished baritone says, Im sorry to have kept you waiting.
Nigel Akkara (Vicky) was arrested while he was in his final year in college, doing a bachelors degree in commerce at St. Xaviers, Calcutta. He played rugby. He was articulate. But I had this bad streak in me, he smiles. I did some very bad things.
Vicky is not the rule, but he is not the exception either. Snehashis, lodged in the same jail, is known for his sensitive and sad eyes. The boy in his twenties, serving a sentence for murder, has been drawing people with what is described in prison circles as his spiritual side. I am no longer attached to anyone...I only seek the ultimate truth, he says.
Clearly, there is something about the proverbial bad boy that attracts the girls. Take a look at the number of women who have fallen for men with a criminal past — or present. Among the prominent ones is Monica Bedi, the Mumbai starlet who abandoned her respectable family life and future career to run away to Portugal with gangster Abu Salem, thinking nothing of using a fake passport, allegedly at his behest, to do so. Another Bollywood star, Mandakini, got attached to don Dawood Ibrahim and made a life with him. Actor Sanjay Dutt was in jail, but that didnt stop his then-girlfriend Rhea Pillai from having a relationship with him. Though that broke up, his criminal record didnt come in the way of his finding love, and marriage, again.
Some experts, however, believe that it is the criminal tag that is the tug for some women. If you study the psychology of women, there are several reasons they may be attracted to men who have committed crimes, says clinical psychiatrist Debashish Ray. There are those for whom the nurturing or motherly instinct would be evoked when they meet men who have committed crimes. Here the women are really connecting with these mens apparent vulnerability brought on by confinement. These women subconsciously feel that they can reform them with love and care.
West Bengal Inspector General of correctional services (prisons) B.D. Sharma observes that almost 90 per cent of people who volunteer to work for the welfare of prisoners are women. In my experience, when women come face to face with those who have been convicted, they almost always are able to overlook the prisoners criminal history and concentrate on them as human beings. This is especially so, he points out, when a particular prisoner stands out in some way or another, whether it is for his personality or physical appearance or some other attribute.
He may have a point there. Sanjay Dutt is reported to have received a deluge of female fan mails while he was still in jail. And a 17-year-old college student admits that she went gaga after she saw a cute photograph of Abu Salem, now in jail, in a newspaper. He has such a sweet, sad smile, she says.
Other explanations suggest a womans attraction to bad or dangerous men stems from their subconscious propensity for violent relationships, including violent sexual relationships. Says psychologist Ray, She may subconsciously interpret the violence with which he is associated as something which would also be a protective element when it came to her, if he loved her. Or she may subconsciously be drawn to the violent streak itself as something risky, something exciting.
In her 1992 book, Women Who Love Men Who Kill, Sheila Isenberg argues that often women who are drawn to violent or dangerous men may seek out those who are imprisoned because their confinement also makes them feel safe from violence.
But Biswas is not seeking her beaus confinement — her priority is to get Sobhraj out of prison. In television interviews, the 20-year-old maintained that her fiancé was the victim of rumours. Asked what had attracted her to him, she replied that it was his humility — the fact that he listened to her patiently though she was a nobody.
Clearly, lovers have their own rules. And for some, bad is good.