efe-epaBy David Asta Alares New Delhi

Dosa king P Rajagopal, nicknamed after the crunchy south Indian snack dosa similar to a crepe but filled with a spicy filling, died on Thursday, leaving behind one of the biggest restaurant empires in the world, and a tumultuous personal history after he was convicted of orchestrating the murder of the husband of a woman he became infatuated with and wanted to marry her at any cost.

Saravana Bhavan, the global chain of vegetarian south Indian restaurants that Rajagopal began to establish in the 1980s, has 25 eateries in India. It also boasts of a global presence with dozens of establishments spread across 23 countries, including France, Australia and the United States.

Rajagopal passed away in his native city of Chennai in south India at the age of 73, days after he began serving his life sentence after being convicted for plotting the murder in 2001.

In Indian capital New Delhi, more than 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) away from Chennai and better known for spicy curries and rice with beans instead of the gentle tastes of south India, the dosas and idlis (rice cakes) of Saravana Bhavan appear less exotic than its branch in Manhattan.

However, this does not stop patrons from queuing up patiently outside one of the chain's two outlets in the city around noon, a common sight during lunch time.

An employee dressed up in a pristine white shirt and holding a walkie talkie guides the orderly group of hungry clients to tables, and it doesn't seem that the death of the chain's founder or his murder conviction are high on his list of concerns.

One of the clients, Pooja, told EFE outside the door of the establishment that it did not need to advertise, and she and her daughter lived far and could not come to Saravana Bhavan as often as they liked, but had decided to come this time because they loved the food there.

Neither Pooja nor Arvind, a tourist guide eating at the restaurant who talked to EFE, were aware of the Rajagopal's conviction.

Rajagopal, son of an onion trader in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, opened his first restaurant in Chennai in 1981, an era when an Indian middle class family did not have many choices in decent places to eat out.

The restaurateur hit a jackpot and set about expanding his chain, characterized by the high quality of ingredients used in the food and the level of hygiene maintained at the restaurants.

Already married twice, in the 1990's Rajagopal became infatuated with the daughter of one of his former employees, and proposed marriage, according to the March 2019 Supreme Court verdict on the case which upheld his conviction and the life sentence passed by a lower court in 2009.

Rajagopal paid no attention to the fact that the girl was just 21 at the time and already married while he himself was in his second marriage.

"Even after the marriage of PW1 (plaintiff witness 1: Jeevajothi), (...) Accused No. 1 (Rajagopal) displayed a munificent attitude towards PW1 and her parents, liberally presenting expensive birthday gifts to PW1, paying her hospital bills, etc.," the court judgment said.

The verdict added that Rajagopal advised Jeevajothi "to abstain from sexual relations" with her husband Santhakumar by telling her false stories, like claiming that her husband had an HIV infection.

"However, PW1 did not pay any heed to the accused No. 1 and continued to live happily with her husband," the judgment said.

According to one of the witnesses in the case, the businessman had married his second wife after using similar tactics of harassment and pressure.

Finally in 2001, Rajagopal arranged for the kidnapping of both Jeevajothi and Santhakumar and threatened to kill the latter if he did not leave his wife, according to the Supreme Court decision.

Authorities found Santhakumar's body in October 2001 and the "dosa king" was charged with the murder the next year.

A Chennai court sentenced him and other accused to 10 years in prison, and the High Court of the city increased the punishment to life sentence in 2009, although Rajagopal spent a long time out on bail and was in jail for very few days.

On Mar. 29 this year, the Supreme Court turned down the final appeal by the businessman, and he began serving his life sentence on Jul. 9.

Too ill to be lodged in prison, Rajagopal was shifted to a hospital in Chennai, where he died on Thursday. EFE-EPA