Dhananjay Datar at the Al Adil store in Karama where his office is on the first floor Image Credit: Clint Egbert / Gulf News


  • Masala King has fought anxiety and depression
  • Dhananjay Datar seeks medical help to deal with his mental illness
  • The Indian businessman also overcame suicidal tendencies
  • Datar takes up yoga and meditation and his life changes for the good

Dubai: Depression is an everyday battle.

And so it was for Indian businessman Dhananjay Datar, popularly called the ‘Masala King’ of Dubai, has revealed his fight against depression in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.

Datar, 56, said he has been fighting depression for years. And no sooner had he dealt with it when his confidence soared, just as his business did in the UAE.

“I have never talked about this aspect of my life before. But I think as more people come to terms with their mental illness, accepting it and then taking measures to overcome it is critical. There is no shame in saying you suffered a mental illness. What is key is overcoming it and I did and I want the world to know," he said. 

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Datar spent his childhood in poverty and the change in his life has been drastic — from walking barefoot to school in India to driving a bespoke $2 million (Dh7.36 million) Rolls-Royce Phantom in the UAE, today.

Al Adil Trading is a household name. The company, dealing with more than 9,000 products, recorded an annual turnover of Dh750 million at the end of 2018.

In June, Datar joined the list of Indian businessmen to be awarded UAE long-term residency visa.

WHO numbers

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), one in four people struggle with mental health or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.

There is no data on people with mental health issues in the UAE. But going by World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, it is more common than most people think.

“Running a business is not an easy one at all. It calls for a lot of patience and determination,” said Datar.

Four near-death experiences

Datar says he cannot thank his lucky stars enough for having survived four near-death experiences in his life – the first when he was only 16.

A snake almost bit him and if it wasn’t for his cherished pet – a German Shepherd who intervened - he would have died. His faithful pet, sadly, got bitten and died instantly.

And then there was another incident where the car in which he, his wife and older son, were travelling in, collided with a truck on a highway road. Both the vehicles went off the road and into a jungle. It was a miracle they survived, Datar said.

“We were travelling from Mumbai to Saatar for a family wedding. My wife and I lost consciousness. When I regained awareness, my one-year-old son was crying and some passers-by had come to our rescue to take us to a nearby hospital,” he remembered. 

“Again, the angels were watching over me. We had jewellery on us - but the passers-by did not steal anything from us. In fact, they contacted my mother and admitted us to the nearby hospital,” he added. 

Following the accident, Datar said he began to have constant negative thoughts.

“There was a recurrent fear of the unknown. I could not quite put a finger on it. I began to lose weight – and I did - almost 16 kilos in one year. I was eating normal food, yet I kept losing weight. All of a sudden, I began to experience panic attacks.”

Suicidal tendencies

Datar’s anxiety was followed by depression with suicidal tendencies at times.

“I would tell my wife every now and then I wanted to end my life. My appetite drastically dropped. There was no sense of taste in my mouth. Every day I would cry in the morning when I would wake up and in the night before falling asleep. I was 32, running a business, making money, but I was in a miserable state.”

Datar said he did a number of medical tests, all of which looked good. Yet, his anxieties never seemed to stop.

A good friend suggested meeting a psychiatrist and this was the first step to changing his life for the better.

“My first meeting with the psychiatrist did not result in anything good. The doctor shrugged off my situation and said all I needed was some physical exercise. He discouraged anti-depressants, citing reasons that the side-effects would be severe,” he said. 

Anti-depressants the way

But Datar decided to take a second opinion and the new doctor recommended anti-depressants for three months.

“He said medicines for three months would do no harm and he asked me to trust him. That was it. I took the decision to help myself medically,” Datar said.

The 'Masala King' said he started feeling better about himself - “The negative thoughts began to fade and I found a surge of confidence from within.”

Just as he thought he was on the road to recovery – almost nine years later after his first bout of mental illness – Datar was struck with another wave of depression.

Second wave of depression

This time it was a massive one and took him almost five years to recover.

Datar said, “It all started with a stomach pain. The pain never seemed to stop. I did medical tests – for the record I did endoscopy at least 11 times. The results were all good. I had a thick stomach lining causing some irritation. I tried Ayurvedic medicines, homeopathic, even flower remedies. The doctor put me on a bland diet of boiled vegetables, no curry, no spice no salt. To the world I was the ‘Masala King’, but I could not consume any spice myself! What an irony,”

“Growing up in poverty, I thought back then money was everything. But that is so wrong. Health is wealth. If one’s health is good, the wealth will come.”

Datar found a good psychiatrist to help him. He also recommended meditation techniques and yoga.

Visiting temples but no help

“I kept questioning myself as to why this was happening to me. I was visiting temples. My family was praying for me really hard but nothing was working. So I decided to take the doctor’s advise and go for the yoga and meditation. I don’t want to sound promotional here but my life has changed for ever. All I can say is that I have been free of anxiety and depression ever since I changed my lifestyle. No medicines and good food. I am finally learning to enjoy my life.”

Deal with your illness - Yoga and meditation helps

“Don’t ignore your health. Look out for anxiety and depression signs and face it head on. There is so much stigma attached to mental illness. If you have a mental disorder, people shun you. But that is not correct at all. Anxiety and depression must be addressed and that too as early as possible. The earlier you deal with it – the better.”

Datar said with market fluctuations there are several businessmen going through anxiety and depression. A very recent example is of Cafe Coffee Day founder V G Siddhartha, who committed suicide due to business pressures.

Datar said, “But they must learn to deal with it in the fastest manner. Take medication and introduce yoga and meditation into your life.”

“Trust me there are answers and solutions. Just ask the question and seek help,” he added.