Dhiren Patel

My name is Dhiren Patel, I was born and bred in Kenya and came with the family to England in 1969. When I left Africa, what I was doing in 1969 was GCSE/ O levels, which are England based. But we had to leave the country earlier than that before my exams, the reason because it was getting very violent in there.

So we went to India actually. We stayed there five and a half months. We were not going to come to England, because of my older sister who said we would go to our mother country, which we did. My father did opened a small place, a sort of restaurant. I was in a catholic school, and I was supposed to be doing the SSC, which is the equivalent to the GCSE’s. But then I had to leave that country as well, because I was just becoming eighteen years old, and my passport was taken away. It wasn’t a British passport, but it was protected. But the British embassy asked me, if I bring my passport back I can go with my parents to England. I could have gone, it would take a long time, but it was the only option. So we left India and came to England.

When we came to England we had no money, the only exchange we were given was £2.50 each. It was me, my Mum, myself, my younger brother, and between us we had £10. My elder brother was here a year before that and my Dad had given him £200. He was living in Woolwich working for the motor company. So actually we started our life with £210 in England. But my other memory of coming to England ’69 is, we went to Preston and on the first few nights I cried myself in my room because it was snowing, couldn’t get out, it was dark nights, there was no freedom like in Africa or India. You can’t just walk out and do what you want to do. And I did cry for the first few days.

We first worked, I was a student, but my father worked for British Rail and my mother worked for the mills in Bolton. But then slowly we started a small business in Leicester in 1971, which we started off, my parents started off actually, then I transferred to Leicester and I was working as a guard on the railways. Then we had the opportunity in Birmingham to open up again, another branch, and my parents asked me if I wanted to pursue a business, which I did. I joined him in 1976.

My father, he was eleven and a half years old, nearly twelve, when he became an orphan, in India, he had only one sister left. He used to work in the fields, from field to field earning his money. But after the war finished, there was a-lot of people going about for work, and the British were calling people to work in Africa from India.

So at that time there was no such big transport, just small boats. So he jumped on the boat, but he needed the money. It was only about 25 rupees, which at that time was a lot of money after the war. So he borrowed some money from the farmers and he jumped on the boat. He was lucky, because not all the boats reached the shore of Kenya, but he reached the shores of Kenya in Mombassa. And he found a job in this restaurant, which is still running, opposite the Mwembe market in Mombassa. And he started as a tea boy.

Communication is the main thing. That’s what I taught my kids, they know how to communicate with the elders, with the small children, anyone; which is great. Because when they go to India they say, ‘ho, a lot of boys come from England, but he has so much respect’. Which is nice, to know you have taught them something good.

Since I pulled him from his career, into my business, we did sit down and ask: is that the right thing you want to pursue. He knew the game anyway, and he said yes. He and his wife agreed. They will work hard I know that. They know what they are doing. They are managing it on their own at the moment. They try to keep me out as much as they can, they only bring me in when there is something they don’t know about. But otherwise they know everything now.

They are pursuing it themselves. And they are doing very well, compared to what we used to do. He asked me to modernize the shop, which I did. I didn’t have that much money at the moment, because it is tight at the moment, but still I said no, whatever you want I’ll do it for you, which I did. It helped as well, because the business has gone up, it was a good thing. They will work hard, they will do what they want to do, whatever they do they will do it nicely.