Murder on the Menu
Tracing the life and crimes of Saravana Bhavan founder P Rajagopal...
Twenty years ago, the murder case of Prince Santhakumar, a young tutor-turned-insurance agent, created a sensation in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere as it pointed to the involvement of P. Rajagopal, founder of what was once considered an empire in the field - Hotel Saravana Bhavan. Till the discovery of the murder, Rajagopal, who entered the fray with limited resources, was regarded as a model restaurateur as his chain of hotels became a byword for quality vegetarian food and employee welfare. At the same time, his story is an illustration of how a man, however successful he may be, can get caught out because of his own shortcomings.
Nirupama Subramanian's Murder on the Menu provides a lucid account of how the restaurateur relentlessly pursued a woman, Jeevajothi, daughter of Ramasamy, one of his former employees; got her husband Prince Santhakumar killed, and eventually met an ignominious end. The seasoned journalist has effectively brought out the trauma Jeevajothi went through at the hands of Rajagopal because the latter believed an astrologer's words that he would "attain great heights" if he married her. Rajagopal appointed himself guardian of the Ramasamy family, "with intentions that were far from guardian-like." Rajagopal's obsession with Jeevajothi, which began in 1996, led to the cold-blooded murder of her husband in 2001.
There is nothing in the book to suggest that the "predator" had repented at any point of time in his life for all that he did to the hapless woman. This is borne out by the author's assertion that "Rajagopal had never admitted to doing anything wrong, leave alone committing a crime."
Notwithstanding this, Subramanian has objectively dealt with the restaurateur, tracing his roots and recalling fairly vividly how Rajagopal became a "dosa king." At times, she gives an impression of being sympathetic towards Rajagopal, despite her elaborate portrayal of Jeevajothi's plight and recording that the victim was not the only woman Rajagopal preyed on. She has used anecdotal accounts of various players connected with the murder case and judgments of the trial court to the Supreme Court to construct l'affaire Rajagopal.
The author would have done well to avoid certain sweeping observations such as "Rajagopal's death sent more shock waves through Tamil Nadu than his involvement in Prince's murder ever did," a statement that's far from reality. Ideally, the focus of Subramanian's work could have been on Jeevajothi rather than Rajagopal.
Jeevajothi must have been a person of extraordinary courage and determination to stand resolutely in her campaign against the restaurateur, fully aware that she was no match for him in terms of resources and power. It is true that Rajagopal, despite being convicted in the murder case, did not spend even a year in jail but there was no public sympathy for him when he died. The role of Jeevajothi in this regard is not small. After all, the trial court too had spoken of her in glowing terms and described her as a "lion-hearted lady."
The book will also be interesting to those who are not familiar with the story of the 'dosa king' and Hotel Saravana Bhavan.
Courtesy: THE HINDU