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Long live Mahashay. Long live the Masala Magic.

Shivaji Dasgupta, Managing Director, Inexgro Brand Advisory, writes why the masala king’s passing is a celebration and not a tragedy

Shivaji Dasgupta

The demise of the masala monarch, Mahashay Dharampal Gulati, has evoked the respectful and rather quirky homage of an entire nation. He lived to be 98, which did mean that his passing was a celebration and not a tragedy, of a life and a culture at large. Indians like us thrive on the spiciness of our cuisine and have done a stellar job in teleporting this to the greater digestive and lateral universe.

One of the greatest triumphs of the masala is its ability to become a metaphor, extending particularly to the silver screens. Just as Spaghetti Westerns enthralled our eclectic imagination, the potboiler from Bollywood was spicy in creation and nomenclature. As cultured Bengalis, we were urged to avoid them, lest our nuanced sensibilities be affronted and our saccharine temperament be polluted. But then most secretly, after an encounter with the rather flavourful kathi roll at Nizam’s, I did venture to Paradise Cinema to perceive the excesses of Raveena Tandon in peak form, the happy convergence of metaphor and reality. Truth be told, the infusion of masala was the Marilyn Monroe of our otherwise textbook existences, fleeting moments when a dilettante streak was licensed and not abhorred.

What worked brilliantly for MDH was the forensic credibility of the patriarch, surely an activist from British India and thus a perfectionist par excellence. His bearing suggested a sustainable lifestyle while his happiness confirmed that this was not in lieu of indulgence, a masala-packed life he must have led. Folks like me used to non-branded spices felt comforted yet intimidated, as were unconvinced about the potency of formulaic intermediaries in an arena of authenticity. In an Indian scenario, he was the Colonel Sanders or Ronald McDonald of the puzzle — a symbol most alluring and real yet sufficiently mystical to command a certain timeless lineage. In advertising copy, he may have been ridiculed by the obstinate critic but he was always the ally of the genuine customer and we know for sure that the former is obsolete in terms of business.

But back to the serious culinary craft of masalas, it must be said that spices enjoy a charismatic romanticism that cannot be matched by any other part of the culinary development process. Unlike the brazen obviousness of quality fish and meat or alarmingly paneer, the masala has always been the subject of a Harry Houdini and Harry Potter, purveyors of intuitive intrigue. The colours are as seductive as an Amir Khusro composition while the texture resembles the magnificence of Holi, abundantly giving and yet totally unforgiving.  For it represents an unrelenting point of view that knows no concession as it is legacy from a time that is truly timeless. What the legendary Mahashay did was to fuel this nascent passion and give it a mass sensitivity, a democratisation if you may of a distinctly royal or elitist acquisition, the recipes that define legends.

On democratisation, I must suggest that this is the greatest contribution of the MDH trademark and its few accomplished peers. You see, for longer than permissible, the culture of fine Indian cuisine was restricted to families of stature, defined merely by temporality of presence perhaps. Yet for the unschooled Bengali couple seeking a dinner with commendable variety, the MDH masala pack was the shortcut to genuine meaning and delightful taste. One could walk into any store, pick up a pack and dinner would remarkably resemble Disneyland and not the predictable ethnic familiarities. It cemented marriages, ensured alliances and helped curate human journeys that seem to last and never end. If as a social analyst you are seeking to bridge the North and South India gap, look no farther than the masala influences, regional yet inclusive and unabashedly spellbinding.

Therefore, actually, the legacy of the legendary Mahashay Gulati extends way beyond the utensil or the activity of a meal. It is a celebration of heritage as we come from a pleasing tradition of spices, as enhancers of mood and not just taste. It is an incorrigible unifier as boundaries dissolve with the twin powers of effortless application and scintillating taste. It is also a WFH convenience, the ability to condense generations of learnings in a pack that costs less than a parking ticket at Ambience Mall. It is classic yet contemporary, a palpable legacy from the ages that is equally attractive to the times.

Like many other Indians, I will not mourn the death of the spicy patriarch, instead I will devour his passionate expressions. For the masala is not just a spice in the meal or a variant of Maggi, it is a nugget of culture that I adore most deeply.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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