India's moustachioed 'Spice King' dies aged 97

·2-min read
A man poses holding packets MDH Spices featuring a picture of founder Dharampal Gulati.

Dharampal Gulati, a former refugee who became India's "Spice King" running an empire whose ready-to-use blends transformed kitchens around the country, has died at 97, his firm said.

The fifth-grade school dropout spawned dozens of internet memes thanks to his swaggering presence in advertisements for his Delhi-based Mahashian Di Hatti Spices brand, better known as MDH.

Usually sporting a red turban, a pearl necklace, and a luxuriant moustache, his visage was hard to miss and helped MDH become the second-most popular spice brand in India.

"Respect & Honour to The King of Spices," the brand tweeted Thursday, announcing his death from a cardiac arrest, as Indian politicians offered their condolences.

"Saddened by his demise, He was a well-known personality who had done commendable social work," President Ram Nath Kovind tweeted.

MDH, whose full name means "shop of a respectable man" in Punjabi, was founded by Gulati's father in 1919 in the city of Sialkot, now in Pakistan.

Partition forced the younger Gulati to move to India, where he drove a horse-cart to scrape a living until he was able to restart the family business.

The company's success was often attributed to his cheerful presence livening up the brand's TV adverts during the 1980s and onwards, touting the quality of the spices.

Social media turned him into a star, as his face popped up in memes as a symbol of longevity.

He was only too happy to represent his brand, dismissing rival firms for hiring Bollywood celebrities to hawk their products.

"People ask me why I don't get Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan to promote my masalas," he told the Hindustan Times in an interview in 2009.

"Why should I ride on their success to promote my brand? I am the man behind the success of my product, so shouldn't I be promoting it?"

He was also a committed philanthropist, building schools and hospitals, and was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India's third-highest civilian honour, last year.