India’s foremost gold expert, who led an extraordinary life, quietly passes away
On 3rd April 2015, India’s best-known and internationally famous expert on gold, gems and jewellery died at the age of 88. Only a few in the jewellery industry knew of it and none of the mainstream media or the business press bothered to report the passing on of this amazing man who lived an unorthodox life and had the most extraordinary spectrum of friends and acquaintances.
Fittingly, the most moving and detailed obituary for Dagaji, as he was known, came from Stewart Murray in The Alchemist, a publication of The London Bullion Market Association. Mr Murray writes, “Many are aware that he was honoured by the Indian government as a freedom fighter after independence in 1947. His contribution to the struggle (including the blowing up of railway lines) led to him being jailed by the British authorities and there was a delicious irony that the new Indian government subsequently awarded him a lifetime freedom pass on the Indian railway system.”
Madhusudan Daga criss-crossed India and the globe on the gold trail; visited mines and bullion markets; knew about the use of gold and silver in zari and gutka; followed the gem smuggling trails from Myanmar and Nepal; and had first-hand knowledge of the gold and contraband smuggling network that was then led by the underworld don Haji Mastan. Importantly, his knowledge was not limited to India; he had visited all the places that mattered, including international capitals, such as London, Dubai and African cities, which exported the shiny yellow metal to India.
He began to cover the bullion industry in the 1950s and was at his peak right until the turn of the century. Mr Daga wrote for publications in India and abroad. When it came to information, he was the go-to man for everybody connected with the gold and jewellery industry, including central bankers, customs officials, ministers, bureaucrats and all the smugglers.
On long walks on Worli Seaface almost a decade ago, Mr Daga used to regale us with the most extraordinary stories of his life. When he came to Mumbai, one of his first jobs was as a spot boy to a famous actress. Here, too, he rose rapidly and even went on to produce a Hindi film with a famous star of that time.
Around then, he became fascinated with horse-racing; not one to be content with betting, he even owned a race horse for a while. Mr Murray writes that Dagaji’s whiskey drinking, playboy phase ended when he came in contact with his guru.
Those of us who knew him only after that phase saw an earnest and busy man with thick spectacles, a safari suit and a hard briefcase. It was probably hard to believe that this was a man who never buckled under pressure and was unafraid of speaking his mind, especially against the Gold Control Act. The All India Gem and Jewellery Trade Association, which gave him a lifetime achievement award, noted how he could predict market trends with ‘unbelievable precision’.
He has been a contributor to the annual Gold Survey, published by Consolidated Gold Fields since 1986 brought out by the famous Timothy Green. Mr Daga’s contributions to the Survey, and to the knowledge bank of Mr Green and Mr Murray about the Indian market, were immense.