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Thursday, July 18, 2019

the rise and faltering of dosa king .. .. .. ! ~ Hotel Saravana Bhavan


The judgment dated 19.03.2009 passed in Criminal AppealNo. 637 and 748 of 2004 passed by the High Court of Judicature atMadras whereby the High Court convicted the accused appellants.. .. ..  not many would have followed the judgment – yet many felt that the time-lapse had changed the lives of everyone involved.  ~ before you proceed any further, this is no post on (de)merits of the case, nor any support to that ghastly crime .. .. !

By web searches followed an article in NY Times that read :  its dining room at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 26th Street is clean and bright and often attracts a line out front. It doesn’t advertise because it doesn’t need to; the fact that it’s one of the world’s largest chains of vegetarian restaurants  — is considered too obvious to its core clientele of Indian expatriates and tourists to be worth trumpeting. In a city overwhelmed with underwhelming north Indian food, it  is the standard-bearer of the delicacies of the south, but it makes no effort to educate the uninitiated. If you don’t know what a dosa is or how to eat it, you’re on your own.

Even in the age of beautifully created menu cards, many are comfortable or are used to server reeling out food items available : Idly, sambar idly, mini idly, 14 idly, dosa, masala dosa, ravadosa, roast, ghee roast, uthappam, idiappam, set dosai, chappathi, parotta, poori, adai, pesarattu, medu vada, masal vada, bonda,  Pongal, kichdi  .. .. .. – then you decide ! [honestly how many could resist the temptation of looking around to see what others have ordered ? – a very respected friend of mine once told me – that in getting confused with the options available, he would order the same item twice !] – this hotel impressed one and all with its tidiness. 

The owner revolutionised the concept that people would not mind paying more if ‘only eateries’ are provided in good hygiene.  It is all about Hotel Saravana Bhavan.  Even a couple of decades ago, one was overwhelmed by the plate, neatly cut banana leaf covering the plate, the hot and delicious dishes, with attractive coloured chutnies, served by well-clad servers.  The ambience was neat and food was delicious .. .. .. then there was ‘devotion’ – one could find big portraits of Lord Muruga and Thirumuruga Kirupananda Varriar adorning the walls. The food halls too were named after ‘arupadaiveedugal’ of Lord Muruga. Frequent visitors were bowled by the aroma and taste of Coffee – and standardisation.  Sambar would flow from overhead pipes steaming hot and one could see the master chef making jangri or fried rice in style ! – an informed person stated that when one orders a fruit juice, it was so standardised that – ice cubes made of mineral water would be ready and depending on the size of the cup, the no. of cubes too were as per manual. 

I have seen in 1984 – on the road opposite to Broadway bus stand, a very busy centre those days – everything centered around that Parrys / GT area.  Godown street for clothes, Govindappa Naicken street for spices, bi-cycles and parts, Kothawalchavadi market for vegetables, the flower market, High Court and more – people from all parts of TN would descend on their capital, finish their work, eat at the hotel – take bus back home. ..in that busy corner of Umpherson street, opp to Kuralagam & Law College was a hotel – that changed hands so fast that names like Woodlands Surya and .. .. – then came Hotel Saravana Bhavan, that blossomed becoming a name in the area.  Work of the visitors to the area would be complete only with tiffin / meals at HSB.  It was to expand more – in to two more buildings – and people would wait impatiently for meals with tokens in their hands. – what was the recipe for such a success ?


It was one man’s vision and hard work – the man Mr Rajagopal’s (fondly Annachi) story began in 1947 in a small village called Punnaiadi,  nearer Thiruchendur / Tuticorin, nearer Nava Thirupathi divyadesams (now housing Sri Srinivasaperumal temple, Vana Tirupathi, Punnai – developed by him); the village was so inconsequential that it didn’t merit a bus stop; perhaps all the houses were not even tiled and had  mud-and-cow-dung floors.  He was not well educated but went into business and a meteoric rise.  He was to start HSB at KK Nagar and expanded so fast.  The quality, taste, the way eateries were served all raised him up and above.  His business model was  so seemingly foolproof that the company  acquired an air of invincibility – yet all that came thundering down as its founder became sullied with murder case.  Junior Vikadan and every other leading magazine had him on its cover praising his attributes, especially the way he took care of those who worked for him and there were stories of his workers going any length to do anything for him. At a time when Saravana Bhavan went global, Rajagopal was to be  charged with murder, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

It is another fact that he did not serve even a full year, was at large, went on appeal, the final conviction by the Apex Court came this year, he surrendered recently, his sons filed a petition seeking him to be allowed treatment in a private hospital .. .. and today comes the news of his death !  Rajagopal (73) was the first accused in the kidnap and murder of  Prince Santhakumar, who was a hotel staff, in 2001, connected to lust for a woman who was his wife.In 2009, the Madras High Court sentenced him and five others to life imprisonment.In March, the Supreme Court confirmed the order and gave time till July 7 for surrendering to serve his prison term. Rajagopal was brought in an ambulance to the city civil court complex last week to surrender.Immediately after the surrender, he was admitted at the Government Stanley Hospital as his health condition worsened.Moving a petition before the Madras High Court, his son had said that since the apex court had refused to extend the grace time, his bedridden father had no choice but to surrender. He said that Rajagopal was suffering from multiple ailments and required insulin injections.

It took 18 long years after the incident – and Apex Court were to state that ‘having regard to the entire material on record and the totality of the facts and circumstances, we find that the evidence on recordfully proves the case of the prosecution and that the Trial Court aswell as the High Court evaluated the material on record in itsproper prospective while coming to their conclusion. Thus, the judgment of the Trial Court as modified by the High Court need not be interfered with. Hence these appeals fail and stand dismissed.’

The timeline, conviction, surrender, and death have all explained the ways of the judicial system and how justice is delayed.  As stated at the start, without going into the case – today’s death marks a  saga of a person who rose from lowly levels making name and fame as ‘dosa king’ – as founder of Hotel chain – ‘Hotel Saravana Bhavan’ and faltering down.  From introducing many many varieties of traditional dishes, to serving them neatly, having spoons washed in hot water, caring for customer hygiene, employee welfare including PF, uniform, education and more – the man who prospered touched nadir due to a false icha (the desire / lust) ~ a sad revelation indeed. 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
18th July 2019.


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