Remember the TV ads where “dadaji” blesses newly married couples, kisses young kids and shakes a leg even as the jingle “asli masala sach sach” plays in the background? That’s Dharam Pal Gulati, who at 95, is probably the world’s oldest ad star. And that’s not his only claim to fame. Gulati is the owner of the Rs 2,000-crore Mahashaya Di Hatti (MDH) group and has just been conferred the Padma Bhushan for trade and industry.
The phone has not stopped ringing since last night’s announcement but Gulati popularly known as “Mahashaya ji” with his trademark red turban and white moustache is used to being recognized. And he loves it. “Main aur koi nasha nahi karta. Mujhe pyaar ka nasha hai (I have no addiction except an addiction to love). I love it when children and young people meet me and take pictures and selfies,” he says.
Gulati, a class V dropout, is also reported to be the highest earning CEO in the FMCG sector, taking home a salary of above Rs 25 crore in 2018, say sources. Born on March 27, 1923 in Sialkot, now Pakistan, Gulati’s is quite the rags to riches story. After Partition, Gulati and his family came to India with barely Rs 1,500 to call their own. Initially, he started work as a tangewala (horse-cart puller) but soon his family gathered enough resources to open a spice shop in Karol Bagh’s Ajmal Khan Road.
Business slowly thrived and Gulati now has over 18 factories in India and Dubai with MDH spices distributed across the world. The company sells 62 products and claims 80% market share in north India. Even though he turns 96 in less than two months, Gulati visits at least one factory whether in Delhi or adjoining Faridabad or Gurgaon every day. His six daughters and a son help him to run the masala empire he’s built.
Gulati says the secret to his long life is his spartan diet and regular exercise. “Main bhudha nahi, jawan hoon (I am still young),’’ he says, flexing his muscles and opening his mouth to show his pearly whites. He is up at 4 am every morning to walk at Nehru Park, followed with yoga and a frugal breakfast. He also walks in the evening and at night after dinner, and keeps himself updated with news on his phone and checks WhatsApp regularly.
He still loves the limelight of course. Nearly every inch of the wall at MDH House in west Delhi’s Kirti Nagar Industrial area is covered with his beaming face whether it is pictures incased in shiny gold frames, calendars, large cut-outs and even a clock that traces his life through pictures.
Acting in his own TV commercial happened by accident when the actor slotted to play the bride’s father failed to turn up. “When the director suggested I act as the father I thought this would save some money, so I agreed,” Gulati recounts. There was no turning back. Gulati has been part of all MDH TV commercials since. Evidently, India can’t seem to get enough of Dadaji and his deghi mirch.