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The MDH Brand: Projecting an Indian Culture

Think dairy products and you will most probably think Amul. It often doesn’t stop there. Amul’s famous jingle might then play in your mind, accompanied by an image of the blue-haired girl in red polka dots of the logo. As you’re reading this, many of you probably have a standard idea in mind. Think Parle G and you will see in all likelihood picture the golden packaging of the biscuits together with the infant girl’s image with a look of wonder on her face. Think McDonald’s and it is nearly impossible not to picture a flurry of red and yellow, and the well-known Ronald McDonald. How does one account for the persistence of these images and how they are shared by so many? 

Marketing serves to create popular images in consumers’ minds that become synonymous with the commodities themselves. Like biscuits, dairy products, and burgers, spices are central to our consumption. And when you think of herbs, you more often than not think, “asli masale sach sach, MDH, MDH”,  and picture the company owner, decked in a red turban and pearls, seated among food and family. The late Mahashay Dharampal Gulati’s story of coming to be the owner of this larger than life brand is one of struggle and immense effort. Born in Sialkot (present-day Pakistan) and having lost his livelihood due to the Partition, he struggled for over eleven years in India, finally opening a small spices store in Karol Bagh. The massive financial growth of MDH since then is clear from reports of figures on the same. These impressive figures have been a result of his work, and the recent popularity of the brand has been a result of his very image, heavily used in advertising. 

Nearly every advertisement shows the owner sitting down for an elaborate meal with a laughing, excited family. One could say that for a brand which manufactures spices, this is a common choice. Why is that? Mahashay Dharampal Gulati’s image signifies tradition, family, togetherness, and prosperity. There are no hints of the owner’s struggle in the brand’s image, only of his later wealth. There are no hints of what went, politically, into nation-making at the time of Independence. The Partition cut across land, human relations, and cultural memory. This is often forgotten when one assumes that the idea of the nation is uniform for all citizens, or that Indian tradition is singular. The tradition one sees in any MDH advertisement is one also popularised by Bollywood. It is uncomfortably close to the vision of an oriental gaze of India as the land of spices and elaborate meals. Interestingly, colonial legislatures too often failed to consider the multitude of traditions in India and the fact that legal and material changes could not possibly manifest uniformly across its regions. 

Food plays a vital role in constructing images of the nation, especially in India. Food is also the aspect of India that finds a lot of popularity, even in Western cultures. It is noteworthy that all food items in MDH advertisements that feature the late owner are vegetarian ones. Moreover, the wide variety of food and the setting clarifies that the cultural dream MDH sells is backed by financial security. In most cases where such constructions of shared dreams occur, so do exclusions. Significant parts of our population (religious, economic, or linguistic) are clearly excluded from these images, and so are their cultural realities. But when one has had a particular idea placed by re-iteration in one’s mind, it becomes challenging to give conscious thought to it, to notice and understand it. 

We live in a world where companies sell images, visions, and dreams, along with commodities. It is impossible to separate our lives from these constructs. However, it is possible to keep in mind that the creations of these images are deliberate choices. It is possible to remember that they may exclude while attempting to portray unification. Attention and energy have been directed towards conscious consumption of commodities in recent times, and significantly less has been said about the deliberate consumption of images. 

Experience Further: Sitar Metal’s compositions show us a synthetical, creative energy within Indian culture. Their music cannot fit neatly into either pole of the tradition-modernity binary. While there are many tensions created by how various modernities exist in our lives, certain facets of our culture have managed to interact with these modernities and create something of their own. With a sitar as the chief instrument and metal as the genre, the band challenges simplistic notions of Indian culture and tradition. 

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About Us

Anant Shah

Anant Shah- Founder

Anant Shah (just as his Instagram bio says) has always been interested in connecting people though their different cultures. He is drawn to this goal, given his background of a family of artists, as well as his work at several different organisations such as the People Tree with Orijit Sen, The Conflictorium in Ahmedabad and The UN (AIDS) Communications and Global Advocacy Team in Geneva. As a graduate of History and International relations at Ashoka University, he co-founded and set up the Ashoka Literature festival in 2019. Longing to increase this critical discourse on contemporary and traditional Indian Cultures he finally decided to start InCulture.

Kartik Sundar- Founder

Kartik Sundar loves nothing more than opining on cultural content. An avid writer for many publications, the decision to start one of his own came from recognizing a substantive lack of critical discourse around Indian culture today. He graduated Ashoka University with a degree in History & International Relations and wishes to complete further education with a focus on media and cultural studies.

Who We Are

We at inCulture are looking to shed light on what we see as an emerging new Indian culture as well as paying dues to the traditions that have been integral in shaping the current space. We want to try and create a space where critical reflection on cultural events, individuals, works of art, or practices can be fostered. Rather than exist as a cultural news outlet that merely serves as a bulletin board for the latest releases, inCulture will look to curate multi-medium pieces that seek to inform readers about aspects of our culture that make you think beyond an immediate reaction. In particular, we strive to look critically at Indian culture by investigating it under four distinct categories – film & theatre, music, spaces, and society.

Disclamer

All views and opinions expressed in the articles, videos are personal to the Author/Editor(s) and don’t mean to offend any individuals, organisations, institutions or communities.

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