There is an apocryphal story about an American tourist who, upon arrival in London, was greeted by a friendly taxi driver called Patel; then discovers that the hotel he was booked in was run by a Patel; the corner store was owned by a Patel; the pharmacy next door was managed by a Patel; and the money-changer across the road was a Patel. After he goes to a restaurant and realises half the staff was Patel, he shakes his head in disbelief and jokes: “Is the blooming queen a Patel too?”
That American tourist would probably have loved to see ‘Exiles: the Ugandan Asian Story’, an exhibition tracing the roots of Britain’s Ugandan Indians (the Patels, Shahs and Amins) who settled here after being expelled by Idi Amin in 1972, sparking one of the biggest waves of migration of Asians from east Africa.
Forty years later, they are a thriving community with a foot in every door and the biggest immigrant success story. But, as the exhibition tells us through personal testimonies, photographs, letters, newspaper reports and TV footage, it could have had a very different ending but for the sheer tenacity and enterprise of a people who, despite having lost everything, refused to accept defeat.
Being suddenly uprooted from their homeland and forced to make a home in an alien, cold, rain-sodden country was a traumatic experience. And memories of that nightmare still haunt them. Many retain vivid recollections of the day, August 4, 1972, that was to change their lives forever following Idi Amin’s dramatic radio broadcast: “I had a dream that if I expel all Asians with whatever passports they are holding, take away all their businesses, Uganda will prosper.”
Kirit Thakkar was 17 at the time. “It was two in the afternoon. I had come home from school and we had just finished our lunch when we heard it on the radio. It was a big shock...what would happen to our extended family? What would happen to the businesses we had built over the last 40-50 years? Apart from Uganda, we did not know any other country where we could make a permanent base for ourselves,” he says in a podcast recorded by the National Archives to mark the 40th anniversary of Amin’s expulsion of some 70,000 Indian-origin Asians.
It took them some time to find their bearings, but once they did, there was no looking back. Soon, many of them gave up jobs to set up their own businesses. They bought homes, built temples and started their own newspapers, laying the foundations of a successful close-knit community which today is the envy of other immigrant groups. Many Ugandan Asians see the exodus as a blessing in disguise. An old lady thrown out by Amin in 1972 is said to have preserved a photograph of him as a mark of “gratitude”.
The exhibition is the culmination of the Council of Asian People’s year-long Exiles project. “It’s the story of ordinary people who experienced extraordinary trauma before starting a new life in the UK. It is a story that needs to be told before memories are lost forever,” says project coordinator Jayesh Amin.
By Hasan Suroor in London
The story of exiled Ugandan Indians in the UK was a riveting read (Goodbye Africa, Sep 30). Despots like Idi Amin are amazing, imagine depending on dreams and running the country on a whim.
we are hard working, adapt any envoroment,
have magnificient survival instinct, learn any langauge,
..........but we do all these after leaving the shore.
basically desis are hard working if they get the correct env.
I wonder why they did not consider returning to their country of origin. It speaks volumes of the hopeless situation our great Bharat has been in. All their enterprising capabilities would have been blunted and they would have been reduced to BPL, qualifying to receive doles from the Pseudo-Gandhi dynasty.
We have nothing to declare, except our thrift, enterprise and chutzpah.
it's amazing to know that some people of power sleep more to run the country....and Idi Amin's dream was nightmare for Uganda Indian....i wish that Idi Amin shouldn't have slept that night when he saw this nightmare....actually people of power should not sleep but be awake all the time because afterall it's all about a country's prosperity and growth
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