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MDH owner Mahashay Dharampal Gulati, the tongawala who turned crorepati, dies at 97

Dharampal Gulati had been receiving treatment at a Delhi hospital for three weeks and died after a cardiac arrest Thursday morning.

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 New Delhi: Mahashay Dharampal Gulati has always been synonymous with his brand, Mahashian Di Hatti or MDH as it is popularly known. He even made regular appearances on TV advertisements for his spice empire, always playing the endearing grandfather. 

On Thursday morning, Gulati passed away at a Delhi hospital following a cardiac arrest. He was 97. While MDH is now a household name in India, Gulati’s is a ‘rags-to-riches’ story that began in what is today Pakistan.  

Born on 27 March 1923 in Pakistan’s Sialkot, Gulati has been a businessman for as long as he can remember. 

After having dropped out of school in Class 5, Gulati first ventured into the business of mirrors, soaps and carpentry, which was then expanded to include cloth, hardware, and even rice. All of these ventures, however, failed and Gulati was left with no choice but to join his father’s small business of spices built under the name Mahashian Di Hatti, then also known as Deggi Mirch Wale. 

According to the company’s website, Gulati moved to Delhi after Partition, a month after Independence, with just Rs 1,500 in his pocket. He bought a tonga with Rs 650 and would charge two annas for a ride from the New Delhi railway station to Qutab Road and Karol Bagh to Bara Hindu Rao. 

From the money he earned, Gulati bought a small shop in Karol Bagh and restarted the family business. Gradually, the venture expanded into another shop in Chandni Chowk and then a factory in Kirti Nagar. Today, MDH has offices in Dubai and London as well as a sprawling business with over 60 products that have become household names. 

Highest earning FMCG CEO

In 2017, the Economic Times reported that the then 94-year-old was the FMCG sector’s highest paid CEO, leaving behind Godrej Consumer’s Adi Godrej and Vivek Gambhir, Sanjiv Mehta of Hindustan Unilever and ITC’s Y.C. Deveshwar. 

Gulati held an 80 per cent stake in his company. “My motivation to work is being sincere in product quality sold at affordable prices. And nearly 90% of my salary goes to charity in my personal capacity,” he told Economic Times then.

The second-generation businessman picked up a small family venture and converted it into a Rs 1,500 crore business empire that now runs 20 schools, including the MDH International School, Mahashay Chunnilal Saraswati Shishu Mandir, Mata Leela Wati Kanya Vidhayala, Mahashay Dharmpal Vidhya Mandir and a 200-bed hospital that treats the poor for free. 

With more than 60 products that are exported to 100 countries, MDH reportedly sells nearly a crore packets of Deggi Mirch, Chaat Masala and Chana Masala every month.  

Gulati was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the country’s third-highest civilian award, in 2019. His death has shocked many as condolences poured out on social media. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted, “Dharm Palji was a very inspiring personality. He dedicated his life for the society. God bless his soul.”

Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia also expressed his grief. “India’s most inspiring entrepreneur, MDH owner Dharm Pal Mahashay passed away this morning. I have never met such an inspiring and lively soul. May his soul rest in peace,” he tweeted.

Also read: Consumption has long propped up India’s economy, so its decline is cause for alarm


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