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‘Murder on the Menu’: The story of Saravana Bhavan founder Pitchai Rajagopal’s tryst with murder

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It had been an exceptionally rainy month and Kodaikanal was cooler than usual for the time of the year. As Murugesan and Raman, two guards in the Tamil Nadu government’s forest department, patrolled their beat on the winding ghat road that goes from Perumal Malai to Kodai town mid-morning on 31 October 2001, there was a constant drizzle, with mist rolling in and out and the scent of wet wood hanging heavy in the air.

The two men kept their eyes on Tiger Shola, a dense grove downslope from the road. Shola (or cholai) are forest patches of native deciduous trees, shrubs and grasslands unique to the Nilgiri Hills in the southern Western Ghats.

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Kodaikanal, located in a spur of the Western Ghats projecting eastwards into Tamil Nadu, is at an elevation of 2133 metres. It is a hill resort-town established by the British in the nineteenth century. Its untidy expansion over the decades is the story of every “hill station” in India. But the shola around Kodai are still magnificent, painting the slopes and the valleys in every shade of green, the trees with their thick trunks and gnarled branches, and the vines twisted over and around them testimony to the age…

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