Ajay Chowdhury

The ‘other’ Ajay Chowdhury

I first heard about my notorious namesake in the mid-eighties when I was studying in Philadelphia. My classmate Darius asked me, “So have you heard about this other guy with your name who has been murdering people in India?” I hadn’t and in those pre-Google days, there was no quick and easy way for me to find out more. 

Twenty years later I was interviewing for a job at Disney. By now the internet was a thing and the recruiter had obviously done his research. The interview went well and at the end, he looked mildly uncomfortable and said, semi-joking, “So, you’re not that Ajay Chowdhury, are you? The serial killer?” I was confused for a moment then remembered Darius’ comment. I briefly contemplated saying, “Yes, I did kill a bunch of people when I was eighteen but that was just a youthful indiscretion,” but decided that it would be off-brand for Disney (this was before they owned the Avengers who think nothing of destroying entire cities in their quest to kill one villain) and just said, “No, that wasn’t me.” He noted something down and I didn’t get the job.

I went home and Googled ‘Ajay Chowdhury’ and discovered that my alter-ego wasn’t a serial killer but had procured victims for the real murderer – Charles Sobhraj. My initial reaction was mild chagrin – if someone infamous was going to share my name, I’d much prefer they were the real deal – the cold-blooded killer, the cold-eyed nightmare in the dark. The disappointment then metamorphosed into something I couldn’t quite place – and this is what has stayed with me since the first time I learned about my nefarious namesake. While the name Chowdhury is common (it means landlord, like Patel), my particular spelling is less so and I hadn’t come across anyone with the same spelling who wasn’t a relative. But to now discover that someone with exactly the same name had been terrorising tourists across Asia when I had been in my teens – well, that felt odd. Of course, there was no logical reason why it should – it was just a name, after all – but it led to some disquiet. 

I tried to find out more about him, but all I uncovered on the internet was a blurry picture of a chap with a neat black beard and a tie and the fact that he was Sobhraj’s second in command. Nothing about his background, where he was from, what had become of him or anything at all that made him a real person. So, there he rested, a wraith in a nightmare, perhaps some manifestation of my dark side.

A few years ago, I got a strange request on Facebook, it said “Ajay Chowdhury wants to be your friend”. At first, I thought it was a glitch of some sort. Then for a fleeting frisson I wondered if he had looked me up! I clicked on the profile to discover that it wasn’t my murderous doppelganger but another high-profile namesake – he runs the James Bond Fan Club. I met up with him for a coffee and discovered we were both intrigued by Sobhraj’s accomplice, although he seemed to have taken it far more in his stride than I had.

Last year I waited with anticipation to watch The Serpent and devoured it over just a few days when it finally aired. And there he was – very different to whom I’d expected. I had imagined a serious, slippery sort, luring tourists into his and Charles’ trap. Instead, as played by Amesh Edireweera he was this ebullient, fun loving, sexy guy who was out to have a good time and got trapped by Sobhraj’s sorcery. Initially, I wasn’t sure whether I liked this portrayal more or less than my vision but as the episodes progressed, I figured if I had to lend my name to the sidekick of a killer, I could choose worse than this one.

And Ajay Chowdhury might still be out there somewhere. Was he spotted in Germany in the mid-seventies as many articles suggest? Did he watch The Serpent and relive the terrible crimes he committed? Sobhraj is still alive in a Nepali jail, how often did Ajay think about the man who had defined his life? Most serial killers work alone – so what happens to the link between two people who had taken so many lives over so short a time? 

It still makes me shiver.