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 path.
Sunna Deniya Gunadasa or better known as Dasa Mudalali
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 and culture.
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 the streets.
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 of
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
Young Gunadasa, received his initial lessons in entrepreneurship from
his mother, though her field of practice was a restricted village
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 the South.
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
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 itself.
He would sell such essentials of school - life, as pencils, papers,
exercise books, etc., to his fellow students, earning a modicum of
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
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 life.
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.
His entrepreneurial 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
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
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 their generosity.
S.D. Gunadasa, as his usual preoccupation with method and system,
formulated a welfare package calculated to upgrade and develop Sri
Lanka's rural sector.
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 set up.
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
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 endure.
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
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 his
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 of legend.
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.