Sunday, November 27, 2005

Nostalgia marks BBC journalist's Uganda trip

By Prasun Sonwalkar, London: A routine assignment in Uganda for a BBC journalist of Indian origin turned out to be an emotional trip down memory lane - tears vied with nostalgia as she went in search for roots in the land of her birth.Leicester-based Rupal Rajani, 35, was born in Uganda but arrived in Britain as a baby when dictator Idi Amin expelled thousands of Asians from the country in the early 1970s.Now, more than 30 years after her family was forced out, Rajani recently went back to her birthplace and visited the people and places dear to her family.At some places, she could not hold back her tears and wept uncontrollably, Rajani told IANS.Rajani is one of the many British Asians whose families had settled in Uganda, engaged in trade, business, education and services, before being forced out by Idi Amin. The dictator died in August 2003."I know a lot of people who have been back to the country and have heard of a lot of people who would like to go and see where they were born and how their families lived there," she added."I would love to go again but this time I think with members of my family so they can show more of what they remember."She recalled how during the visit to a Hindu temple in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, a stranger fondly talked about her father who had passed away days before she left Britain on her Uganda assignment. Rajani would have liked to visit Uganda with her father but fate willed otherwise. Her father was in his late 50s when he bought his family to Leicester to set up a new life."I was chatting to people at a temple near where I was born and one of the first people I met was somebody who knew my dad and remembered buying supplies from his store," Rajani said.Rajani is the youngest of four children and had never been back to Uganda until she got the two-week journalistic assignment. She said: "Everything was organised the day before my dad passed away and he was really excited about me going over. I was nervous, scared, not sure what to expect, excited - a whole mix of emotions, but I was looking forward to finding out about Uganda and its people."During the visit, she went to the hospital where she was born and the house where her family once lived. At the airport, she tried to recall the conditions in which the Asian families had left Uganda to meet Amin's deadline to quit."Standing at the airport I felt overwhelmed. It was quiet, but I thought, 'Gosh what was it like when thousands of people were waiting to get on planes'?" Her father had narrated to her stories about the house they lived in but she found that in reality things were a little different."At first it was a huge disappointment. It wasn't how I imagined it to be at all. My birthplace was on a large sugar plantation where my dad managed the welfare shop and my brother worked on the plantation."I stood there wondering what my life would have been like had we stayed there. But it was great to be able to see the hospital I was born in and the cot that I probably slept in." Reporting for Radio Leicester, Rajani visited schools housing children whose parents had been murdered, saw grandparents looking after youngsters suffering from AIDS and unclean hospitals reeking of urine and overflowing with patients."African people are still treated badly, both by the Asians and rich Africans," Rajani said. "I had no idea that was the attitude. Asians don't treat Ugandans with the same respect or equality that they demand themselves."It's horrible, but I came away thinking I'm not surprised we got kicked out. Indians really haven't learnt from past experiences or integrated with the Ugandans." Rajani said she had heard rumours that one of the reasons why Idi Amin expelled Asians was that he had fallen in love with a woman from a wealthy Asian family but the family had rejected his offer for marriage.She said she had the rumours confirmed when she interviewed the minister for tourism and wildlife in Idi Amin's government."He described Amin as a brutal dictator, but very strong. He was an ex-boxer and had a strong presence and attitude. I also got to ask about the rumours of Amin's love affair with the Madhvani woman. "He said it was true and it was one of the reasons why he kicked Asians out. That was all quite exciting," Rajani remarked.

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