My Motanana (my maternal great grandfather, my mum’s, mum’s dad) was born in Gujarat, India. As Actually, I discovered, in the same village (Bilkha, near Rajkot) that my paternal great-grandfather is from! He immigrated to East Africa in the late 30’s and early 40’s in search of opportunity.
Along with my Motanani, he had three children: an eldest daughter, my Nani, a middle daughter, and a youngest son. They lived together in Uganda. They moved around a lot as my Motanana worked with an oil company. They were happy. In 1971, his eldest daughter (my Nani) got married and moved to the UK with her husband. His middle daughter went to study in India.
Shortly after in 1972, Uganda was in political turmoil. The dictator, Idi Amin, had overthrown the government and made an announcement of the expulsion of all Asians (and a number of other groups) in the country. He gave the Asians three months to leave Uganda and go home (to wherever they came from). There was a lot of chaos, unrest and many people panicked. Motanana had only a Ugandan passport; however, my Motanani and the children had either Kenyan or British passports (which they had due to colonisation by the British)
At this time, Motanana was a manager at a steel manufacturing plant. Motanana oversaw the buying of scrap pieces of metal at the scrapyard. One day, the military came with guns to his office. They said that they found stolen telephone wires in the yard and arrested Motanana. The telephone wires had been planted in the yard. They wanted money and my Motanana didn’t have enough. My Motanani went to the neighbours who themselves were not well-off to ask them if she could borrow money in order to try and release Motanana. They gave what they had and Motanana was released.
Two days later, the military arrested Motanana again and everyone knew it wasn’t safe for the rest of the family anymore. Motanana flew his wife and his son to the UK in the night. They had no time to choose anything and were nervous about getting stopped at the border. We are told that my Motanani stuffed diamonds in pickles to smuggle them out. They had to pack very quickly and fly to my Nani and Nana who were in the UK.
Motanana sent a letter to his younger daughter telling her how he was stateless because the military tore up his passport. We learned through her that he had taken a flight to a refugee camp in Italy and was stuck there. Amazingly, my auntie (Motanana’s daughter) who is very chatty and friendly, met an older American man on an aeroplane. She was sobbing due to the family situation and he was very kind and listened to her story. His name was Bob. It turned out that Bob was a well-off and very kind man.
My aunt told Bob she was desperate. Bob paid for Motanana to be sent to America. Motanana stayed in Bob’s house. Bob and his wife were very kind. When they came to know that Motanana was vegetarian and didn’t drink, they made sure not to bring any meat or drinks into the house until he left. They made sure Motanana was comfortable there. On Diwali they found another Indian family close by and organised for Motanana to go there to celebrate. Motanana managed to find a good job in the US and wanted the rest of the family to join him there. However, Motanani was keen to stay in the UK and eventually it was decided that the UK would be the better family home.
They eventually managed to send Motanana to England and his family was eventually reunited. He worked in the UK until his 80’s and was very grateful to the UK. My aunt kept in touch with Bob for many years writing letters but unfortunately, after his death, we lost touch with his family. My mum says she spent many hours with my grandfather. He never mentioned his adventures, hardships or struggles. Although, she said she never asked. I’m glad through this blog that I have asked. And that this story will be documented for future generations.