King Masala of India, founder and face of MDH, dies at 97
Mahashay Dharampal Gulati, who died Thursday at the age of 97 after cardiac arrest, gained several nicknames over the years: MDH Uncle, Dadaji and Masala King. He was the latter to best describe the man behind New Delhi-based masala maker MDH Private Limited, who made packaged, ready-to-use spices popular across the country.
Dressed in a red turban, white sherwani (long coat) and a pearl necklace, Gulati, with a mustache, glasses and always smiling, was the face of their brand, appearing in almost all of their advertisements throughout the decades. MDH is short for Mahashian Di Hatti, which in Punjabi means “a respectable man’s shop.”
Gulati’s was one of the most notable refugee success stories after partition. Born in 1923 in Sialkot, Pakistan, Gulati arrived in Delhi in September 1947. He started out as a tangewala (horse cart puller) in Delhi, he built MDH, started by his father Chuni Lal Gulati as a small shop in Sialkot in 1919, at a mark of ₹ 250,000 crore. After selling his horse cart in 1948, he bought a small khokha (makeshift shop) on Ajmal Khan Road in Karol Bagh, where he began grinding and selling spices under the Mahashian Di Hatti brand. Packaged masala was one of MDH’s first innovations. The cardboard box package released in the late 1940s bore the image of Gulati.
When business recovered, in 1954 he opened a spice shop in Karol Bagh, and in 1958 he handed it over to his brother Satpal Gulati. Today, it is famous as Roopak stores.
Gulati always believed in the power of advertising, and MDH was one of the first companies to launch an aggressive print advertising campaign in 1948, placing advertisements in Pratap, a newspaper popular with Punjabi refugees in those days. In 1984, when the company launched its first television commercial, he was once again its brand ambassador.
“People ask me why I can’t get Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan to promote my masalas. Why should I use your success to promote my brand? I am the man behind the success of my product, so I should not promote it, ”he told HT 2009.
MDH was formally incorporated as Mahashian Di Hatti Private Limited in 1965 and today it has 19 factories. Starting in the 1980s, new rivals continued to enter the market, but MDH products (there are about 45 today) remained popular as ever. “The secret of his success was his passion and tireless energy. He brought a personal touch to everything he did. He was very punctual, disciplined, and visited their factories every day. For the past 50 years, he has worked nearly 18 hours a day and was in his office from 9 am to 6 pm every day, ”said Rajinder Kumar, MDH Executive Vice President. “He used to say that he knew his brand and his consumers and that he liked to promote it himself …” added Kumar.
Gulati became the highest-paid CEO in the consumer packaged goods business in 2017, with a salary of 21 million rupees, the majority of which went to charities. Awarded to Padma Bhushan for his contribution, he also directed a number of educational institutes and a superspecialty hospital, the Mata Chanan Devi Hospital, in Delhi. In 2012, he published his autobiography, Tangewala Kaise Bana Masalo ka Shahenshah, which translates to “how a tangewala became the masala emperor.”
President Ram Nath Kovind, Union Ministers Rajnath Singh and Piyush Goyal, Delhi Prime Minister Arvind Kejriwal, his Deputy Manish Sisodia and Congress Leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra mourned Gulati’s passing. “Dharm Pal ji had a very inspiring personality. He dedicated his life for society. God bless his soul, ”Kejriwal tweeted.