Madhukar Zende: More Than Just The Man Who Caught Charles Sohbraj

Photo: Sanket Wankhade

“All my life I just wanted to help as many people as I could, because of the uniform I wore…..”

Inspector Madhukar Zende, one of the most respected former Assistant Commissioners of Mumbai Police. A name that would send shivers down the spine of the criminals of Mumbai, while putting a smile on the faces of citizens of the city.

Working for the police force for almost 40 years, Zende in his time has put people like Charles Sohbraj, Haji Mastan and Karim Lala behind bars. Despite spending a great deal of his life in Mumbai, Zende has made his native town Pune, his home after retirement.

During the interview a lot of layers were shed on why he became a policeman and how catching Charles Sohbraj ( was on the Interpol most wanted list )  wasn’t his biggest achievement. An honest police officer whose body of work impressed former PM Rajiv Gandhi so much that, he stopped his convoy mid-way in Mumbai to meet Zende.

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The septuagenarian’s dynamic personality engulfs the quaint apartment he solely resides in.

he briskness of his walk and the firm handshake are clear indicators of how powerful he was, once upon a time. Probably, the matted grey hair being the only giveaway of his age. Zende goes on to bring file after file, each bursting with magazine and newspaper clippings. Each headline labelling him as the man who achieved the almost impossible, capturing Charles Sohbraj in India.

One of the most wanted criminals of those times, Sohbraj had managed to escape prisons of various countries. Yet, this particular success as a police officer is not what he considers the highlight of his career that spanned almost four decades.

All of 20, Zende was studying radio engineering in Wadia College when he decided to join the police force. A well-built apprentice with an aim to “help people”, Zende soon surpassed the 10-year detection officer stage well before time and was soon selected for the next stage.

“I vividly remember, when I started off I was placed at the Esplanade Police station in Mumbai. I knew no one in the city and stayed in a small dormitory on Pickett road. I would place newspapers on the cot and go to sleep,” reminisces Zende.

Starting off in an unknown city, Zende managed to garner the respect of police offers and Mumbai citizens including the likes of Haji Mastan and Dawood Ibrahim. “I was at a store in Mumbai when a man walked up to me and introduced himself as Haji Mastan’s driver. The driver recalled how on one occasion when he was driving Mastan, he recognised me and instructed him to avoid overtaking me.

Despite the fear, Haji Mastan had respect for me said the driver. Once while I was working at my station, Dawood came in to introduce himself, and I acknowledged him and continued with my work,” recounts ACP Zende.

Discipline and honesty being crucial qualities to Zende as a policeman, he drew his inspiration from Aravind Patwardhan and Robert Peel. “Mr Peel was the one who created the police force in 1829.

He coined the term Bobby policemen and I have tried my best to follow the protocol he created,” explains Zende. The police officer did not believe in only fulfilling his duties by solving crimes handed to him, but he went on to help the citizens in as many ways as he could. The proof lies in the never ending tales he narrates about his stint as a public servant.

“I remember I was travelling by bus one day and saw an elephant run amok on the streets of Mumbai. I got off and seeing a sugarcane stall close by, I pulled the cart and tried drawing the elephant’s attention; In a matter of minutes, I pushed the cart into the area from where the elephant ran out and as soon as it went in, I shut the gates,” laughs Zende.

A motto he lives by even today, is “No policeman can be successful without the able and active support of the people he serves.”

He has solved a number of intense murder and robbery cases including the Shantadevi murder case in 1980, but he claims it was all because of the clues people provided the police with.

Seldom speaking about the high-profile cases he’s solved; he more proudly boasts about his relations with the Muslim community and the children of Dharavi. Elaborating on one of his biggest accomplishments, he says, “I always shared a good relation with the Muslim community in Mumbai, I even learned Urdu. This is why during the 1992 Mumbai riots due to the Babri Masjid issue, I managed to save 12 constables who were trapped in a police station in Bhindi Bazar.” He adds on, “I went to them and simply asked them what those 12 constables had done to them and why they wanted to kill them. I said, for my sake don’t do anything to them. Due to the trust and bond I had developed with them, they agreed and I lead a mob of Muslims towards the Bhindi Bazar police station, all screaming in unison to those who were near the station not to hurt the constables.”

Zende leading the mob of Muslims
Zende leading the mob of Muslims

A man of principles, Zende strongly believed that the police jeep would be used strictly for police work and to help people.

“While I was in charge at the Dharavi police station, every morning I would ask the kids to hop on to the jeep and drop them to school. Even at night I had put up a board that said that in case of a medical emergency, the jeep could be used for the people of Dharavi,” he says. Another symbol of pride is a ground in Mumbai occupied by atleast one lakh trees. “This ground was encroached upon by slum dwellers and was becoming extremely polluted. I warned the higher authorities and made sure the people were vacated and trees were planted instead,” adds Zende.

Standing his ground and going out of his way to help people in a profession that is very often touted as corrupt, Zende has been an inspiration to Isaac Bagwan who has penned down a book mentioning him.

But, the humble police officer feels, “the police force has always had good cops and bad cops. It’s just that now there is more publicity and it’s out in the open.” On being asked if he plans on penning down his accomplishments during his police years, pat comes the reply, “I love reading books and I think I will stick to that. Plus, it’s quite expensive to publish a book.”

A popular face in the police force, Zende now spends his time walking 10 kilometres everyday and celebrating birthdays with his childhood friends who still reside in the city.

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#OnReaderDemand: First Published in 2016 

Zeenat Tinwala

Zeenat Tinwala

She’s our Employee #1 and is often the first to come in and last to leave office. And she’s an accomplished kickboxer. Stay clear! zeenat@pune365.com
Zeenat Tinwala

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