Dasa Mudalali - a Sri
Lankan success story
A success story, is, in
effect, a celebration of a human triumph. By implication a
"Success Story" invariably, records a victory over amassed odds,
a confrontation of daunting challenges culminating in the
assertion of one's indomitable courage and unswerving
determination, in the face of all the obstacles placed on your
Sunna Deniya Gunadasa or better known as Dasa
In the western world,
especially in the United States of America, the avid admiration
of "success stories" is very much a part of their national ethos
In a gesture of
collective national daring, the United States of America, broke
away from the tyrannical domination of the British Empire, and
declared itself free and independent.
In that country, this
national spirit manifests itself at individual level in the form
of Success Stories of people, whose ascendancy marks epics of
human endeavour. We uphold President Abraham Lincoln's legendary
passage from the Log Cabin to the White House, as a success
story par excellence.
In more recent times,
President Jimmy Carter contributed his own Success Story to
global annals of human achievement by occupying the White House,
after beginning his career as a bare-foot lad selling peanuts in
A story like that of Dasa
Mudalali, is topical at any time, as the human spirit is always
in season. But, the 5th of September, confers a specially
significant chronological setting, to cast a retrospective
glance at the path he has trodden to reach this present
state-since this day marks the 75th anniversary of his birth.
To be specific, the
success story personified by the individual named "Dasa Mudalali"
had its beginning in a village in the deep South.
The village of his birth
Talalla, situated in the vicinity of Gandara, was not an elitist
human center by any measure. The reach of poverty was
extensively felt in that rural settlement.
S. D. Gunadasa, a stern
realist does not make any attempt whatsoever, to glamorize the
village of his birth.
He was the youngest of a
family of three brothers and a sister his parents being S. D.
Romanis Silva and Mrs. M. D. Kaluhamy. As a young person, he was
to a very marked extent influenced by his mother. In her own
way, his mother exhibited a capacity for methodical organisation
As he sees in
retrospective hindsight, his mother's way of life her system of
values constituted very much of a grammar of life for young
In minor rural
enterprises, specifically these focused on coir and related
products - his mother took somewhat of a leading role, among the
women-folk of the village. She possessed an inborn sensitivity
to the concept of division of labour, allocating tasks to her
group of village women.
Young Gunadasa, received
his initial lessons in entrepreneurship from his mother, though
her field of practice was a restricted village setting.
In later years of
entrepreneurial maturity, he was able to apply his mother's
theories and practices in trade and commerce, expanding them to
befit extensive local and foreign business enterprises.
Today, Mr. Gunadasa
displays two prominent facets in his character the outstanding
businessman of unusual acumen and the humane social worker whose
initiatives in welfare services are highly exemplary. Both these
aspects of his personality, have been inspired by his mother's
reaction to life.
He has childhood memories
of his mother, taking a bagful of rice to Kataragama, cooking it
herself and distributing it to pilgrims. This generosity of
quite a minor scale, burgeoned in his own mature life, inspiring
him to extend a generous hand of charity, even beyond our own
In the vicinity of the
Buddhist holy site of Buddha-Gaya, where the Supreme Buddha
attained Enlightenment, some Indian villagers of limited means
received generous assistance from Dasa Mudalali. What he learnt
at the feet of his beloved mother, in the rural microcosm, he in
turn, amplified to a wider entrepreneurial macrocosm, displaying
his unusual genius in innovative business thinking.
The evolution of the
success story, personified by Dasa Mudalali, followed, at the
outset, a discernible pattern familiar to many a fortune seeker,
from the South of Sri Lanka.
They generally look to
the city of Colombo as the setting that will give flesh and
blood to their dreams of success Dasa Mudalali's story gets
elevated into a special category, because of the refinements he
was able to infuse to this general pattern of migrations from
As he was growing up, his
elder brothers had already migrated to the cosmopolis' Dasa
Mudalai - little Gunadasa to be more specific - felt
instinctively that it was in Colombo that his destiny lay. He
had only to followed the path taken by his elder brothers, and
reach his El Dorado.
His character traits,
imparted a dramatic touch to his exit from the village of his
childhood. His initial schooling took place in a school at
Gandara - not very far from his home, Talalla the budding
entrepreneur asserted his trading genius at this early stage
He would sell such
essentials of school - life, as pencils, papers, exercise books,
etc., to his fellow students, earning a modicum of pocket-money.
But, with all that, he
excelled in his studies, earning "double- promotions". In
compensation he was made the Class Monitor, responsible for the
discipline of his class-mates. This led to a dramatic turn in
his educational career.
The Class-teacher had
been given an unflattering nick-name by the school-children. One
day the teacher put the class in the charge of Gunadasa the
Monitor and went away for a brief while. Utilizing the
opportunity to the hilt, Monitor Gunadasa too left the class to
attend to his trade matters.
The teacher returned to
the class and opened the drawer of his table. To his anger and
chagrin, a cat jumped out of the drawer.
Stung by this prank, the
teacher vented his wrath on the Monitor, who had to endure a
heavy dose of caning. Gunadasa gathered his books, ran out of
the class, jumped over the school wall registering his exit from
the school, education and the village.
The city of Colombo put
his life to a severe test. He began his career in business as a
pavement hawker. He would display such sundry items as shirts,
vests etc earning a meager income. But, even at that early stage
his mind was methodical.
At the end of a day's
sales he would put down details of his transactions in an
exercise book. He would register his income, expenditure and
profits in separate columns. If he had earned a profit, he would
allow himself the luxury of a 60 cent "Buriyani" dinner.
There were days when he
would keep the commodities he has to sell in a basket, and would
roam the city streets with that basket on his head.
Through all this he
possessed a clear vision. Guided by this inner light, he
gradually upgraded his business activities. He began to go on
his sales rounds, pushing a cart full of goods. As he was
barefoot, he trod the grassy edges of the road, while pushing
the cart along the hot asphalt road.
When he acquired his own
business premises, he turned his attention to the setting up of
Sri Lanka's first-ever Super Market and Department Store. At
this time, the country had not even thought in terms of Super
This was a business
concept whose time had unerringly come. He knew that the shopper
would appreciate a facility of this nature, where he could make
his purchases in an atmosphere of glamour and luxury.
His marriage to a village
lass from his own original home area, strengthened his personal
As his business
flourished, he recognized a duty most others of his calibre
would easily overlook. this is the welfare of his employees. He
provided them free meals, lodging facilities and he even set up
a free barber salon for his workers.
thinking has always been innovative. He is Sri Lanka's pioneer
garment manufacturer. His products acquired a prestigious place
in local and foreign markets. Today "brand cultivation", is a
foremost preoccupation in the world of modern marketing.
The shirt he manufactured
under the brand name "Duro" was readily accepted in prestigious
markets of the world - including those of the USA and Europe.
The quality of his brands
of shirts was so impressive, that, he received the franchise to
manufacture shirts under the renowned label of "Pierre- Cardin."
As his fortunes improved,
he turned his attention emphatically to social and religious
services. He did not believe in those religious services done in
bits and pieces by some affluent persons who need to display
S.D. Gunadasa, as his
usual preoccupation with method and system, formulated a welfare
package calculated to upgrade and develop Sri Lanka's rural
Described as "Gasiri
Udawa", this was a plan for the holistic development of our
villages. His vision in this area has been to establish
institutions for all stages of life.
He invested in Maternity
Homes. He provided pre-school facilities. Remembering the
helplessness of the sunset days of life, he had old-folks' homes
A special flavour is
imparted to his success story by his numerous religious
services. In very recent times, he donated an ornate door to the
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. The records of his religious
activities would fill several volumes.
Looking back upon his
seventy-five years of fruitful life DASA Mudalali feels that his
childhood ended at the age of nine. It was at that age, that he
made his tryst with destiny, by leaving the village of his
birth, to migrate to Colombo.
But, after all those
entrepreneurial and humane triumphs, the intimate memories of
his childhood, still remain etched in the depths of his soul.
He is determined to do
the best he can to alleviate rural suffering, so that others may
not have to suffer the kind of childhood privation he had to
His achievement should be
made widely known, since the children of Sri Lanka do not have
home-grown role-models to inspire them.
When he was born way
back, on the fifth of September 1931, it could very well have
turned out to be the arrival of yet another under-privileged
village infant. But, he possessed the timbre of character to
wrestle with destiny and to elevate his career into a success
Affection to the family
is a praiseworthy trait, his experience teaches to the children
of the present day. He remembers how his mother would tearfully
hug him, after punishing him for some mischievous deed. his
elder brother and his elder sister were equally concerned with
He, of cause, had his
quota of childhood mischief. He would climb a tree and threaten
to jump, if his brothers and sister did not pay the "ransom"
(perhaps of five cents) he demanded to climb down.
Promising to meet the
demand, they will coax him to climb down safely. But, once he
was safely down, they were quite likely to pay only a part of
the money he demanded!
In the course of his
distinguished entrepreneurial career, he dealt with people of
all walks of life. Rulers from various parties, political
leaders professing a diversity of views, religious persons and
common-folk were among those he kept company with.
He contributed to the
national field of trade and commerce, with a deep sense of
consumer independence, making the consumer king.
What is remarkable is
that, this relatively unsophisticated lad from the village could
revolutionize the field of trade by being the pioneer to
introduce the Super-market and Department Stores systems to Sri
Even when you cast a
casual glance at his success story, it is undoubtedly material
As he reaches
seventy-five, he is sill busy administering and overseeing the
enterprises under him.
But, displaying his
exceptionally humane refinement, in the midst of all that, he
spends quality hours with his children and grand-children.
I am quite certain, that
displaying our in-born sense of gratitude, the people of Sri
Lanka will not at all fail to recognize the stature of this
home-grown success story.