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A refugee who made the country’s meals tasty: the story behind MDH

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18th Sep 2016
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If there’s a brand that has been adding flavour to a million lives in India, it is MDH. A household name in the country, MDH has a rags-to-riches story of a refugee-turned-entrepreneur. An acronym for Mahashian Di Hatti, which translates to ‘respected man’s shop’, MDH visualised and made the concept of ready-to-use spices a reality for consumers across the world.

Image credits: Shutterstock
Image credits: Shutterstock

The old man in the regal red turban in the MDH ads and on the spice packets is Mahashay Dharampal Gulati, the Founder of the spice brand. Although he’s in his nineties, he continues to be the brand ambassador of MDH Spices and makes it a point to appear in every TV ad. He’s a self-made billionaire who turned his roadside spice shop into one of the biggest Indian businesses in the world.

The humble beginning

Born and raised in Sialkot, now part of Pakistan, Gulati left school in 1933 while he was in the fifth standard. In 1937, he helped his father set up a small business selling mirrors. After that, he tried his luck in other fields, starting a soap business, doing carpentry work and exploring the cloth, hardware and rice trading businesses. But these occupations couldn’t hold him.

The year 1947 changed everything as he and his family moved to India during the partition, leaving behind everything they owned. They reached a refugee camp in Amritsar before eventually moving to a flat in Delhi with no electricity, water or toilet facilities. On moving to Delhi, the young Gulati’s father gave him Rs 1500 out of which he used Rs 650 to buy a tonga (a horse-drawn carriage). There were days when he had no passengers and the two annas (equivalent to 1/8th of a rupee) that he charged proved too meagre to sustain a family. That’s when he decided to forego the tonga.

His father’s family business was grinding and selling spices. The family was popularly called “deggi mirch wale”, which translates to ‘people who sell red chilli powder’. He sold the tonga and bought a small space at Ajmal Khan Road to start a business in his domain: spices. He made a brand out of it and called it ‘Mahashian Di Hatti’ (MDH). After a few initial years of grinding and selling spices from the tiny shop, the family started making enough money. Word spread around Delhi about the Sialkot spice makers and thus began the MDH empire’s establishment in Delhi. In 1953, he rented the second shop at Chandni Chowk, and in 1959 he bought a plot of land and set up a spice factory in Kirti Nagar.

And perseverance paid off

Gulati and his family had left behind days of struggle, poverty and misery. His perseverance and honesty made him rise above the confines of his situation and create a brand that has grown leaps and bounds over the years. Gulati’s personal philosophy is, “Give to the world the best you can, and the best will come back to you automatically.” He has established charitable trusts, hospitals, and more than 20 schools to give back to the society and help poor people.

At over ninety years old and still running, MDH now has a range of 62 different products available in more than 150 packages. It continues to produce new spice blends. The company has five state-of-the-art factories to meet the growing demand for spices across the world. From ground single spices to aromatic spice blends, MDH produces it all. The brand has become synonymous with good taste and delectable flavour.

The smiling old man you’ve seen in every MDH TV commercial indeed has a story of perseverance, hard work, and humility.

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