‘Saravana’ Rajagopal: born into poverty, died rich and convicted
Rajagopal’s rise as a successful International hotelier with the Saravana chain is a rags to riches story. From a grocery shop, he started his first hotel in Chennai in 1981 and never looked back.
It is a time of gloom for the Saravana Bhavan restaurants and its employees spread the world over. P Rajagopal, the founder and father figure of the Saravana chain of hotels, passed away in Chennai on Thursday. He was under treatment in custody after he surrendered to the police last week. The 72-year entrepreneur known as the ‘Dosa King’ died of cardiac arrest while serving life imprisonment for the murder of the husband of an employee’s daughter whom he wanted to marry.
Rajagopal’s rise as a successful International hotelier with the Saravana chain is a rags to riches story. From a grocery shop, he started his first hotel in Chennai in 1981 and never looked back. His brand was a hit with the Indian diaspora in Europe, US, Australia and East Asia. People of Indian origin swarmed to his restaurants to have a taste of authentic south Indian and desi food.
All through his entrepreneurial life, he maintained an altruistic profile with his staff and his home town. Always dressed in white with a half sleeved shirt and the characteristic white ‘vibhuti’ smeared on his forehead, he was famous for building many temples in his native village of Punnainagar and identifying young men from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to promote them in the hotel business.
But destiny had other things in store for him when the daughter of one of his employee, 30 years younger than him, caught his eye. She was already married but that did not deter him. He went ahead with the fatal move to try and marry the young woman on the advice of his family astrologer. It ended in the killing of the girl’s husband in 2001. In March, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court ruling sentencing him to life imprisonment in the case.
Saravana Bhavan became synonymous with South Indian food over time; the pure vegetarian south Indian multicuisine restaurant is thronged by people looking for a good meal. The fall of the mighty ‘Dosa King’ whose photograph adorns the inside of the restaurant, is a salutary tale of the dangers lurking when it comes to unbridled passion. All Rajagopal’s wealth could not save him in the end.