Dharampal Gulati, the owner of the Mahashian Di Hatti (MDH) empire, who died on Thursday at age 98, was a riches-to-rags-to-riches story with an abundance of hard work. From a refugee camp in 1947 to being the head of a Rs 1,500 crore empire, Gulati’s story reads like a dream come true.

Also called ‘Dadaji’ or ‘Mahashayji’, by his acquaintances, Gulati was born in 1923 in Pakistan’s  Sialkot. His father, Chuni Lal,  ran a spice business and Gulati began learning the tricks of the trade very early in life. He dropped out of school in fifth grade and joined his father full time.

But, soon the country was in the throes of a partition and the family was forced to move to Delhi. On their arrival in the city, the family had nowhere to go and nothing to live by. They settled in a refugee camp with no means of income. To make ends meet, Gulati opened a store in Delhi’s Ajmal Khan Road, Karol Bagh. And there was no looking back.

As his business started doing well, Gulati rented another shop in Chandni Chowk in 1953. He then came up with the idea of ready-to-use ground spices. MDH was officially established in 1959.

From two shops, he built an empire and exported ground spices to several countries, including the UK, Europe, UAE, Canada, etc. Currently, MDH masalas are exported to more than 100 countries. The group branched out to building educational institutes and a hospital.

Despite the success, Gulati was known to manage everything on his own, visiting his factories, markets and to meet dealers. He even featured in the group’s ad campaign as its brand ambassador playing the ever-smiling ‘dadaji’.

According to media reports, in 2017, Gulati was the highest-paid entrepreneur at the age of 94 and earned a salary of Rs 21 crore. In 2019, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award in the country. He was known to be a philanthropist and donated a sizable chunk of his income.

Gulati’s son manages the overall operations now and his six daughters handle distribution region wise.