A successful Leicester restaurant owner has spoken out about his experience of being expelled from Uganda with his family when he was just six-years-old, and how the brutal racism he faced in UK schools has helped to shape him into the man he is today.
Atul Dawda is the proud owner of two restaurants; Spice of India in Syston and Soi Indian restaurant in Melton Mowbray, with plans to open more in the near future.
However, life hasn’t always been such a success for Mr Dawda, who experienced bouts of brutal racism when he first arrived in the UK with his parents and three siblings, back in 1972.
Atul and his family were just a handful of Ugandan Asians, out of over 50,000, who were forced to flee their home country 50 years ago, on orders of military dictator Idi Amin.
As a youngster, he recalls the tears of his mother as they got on a plane, leaving everything they knew, and everything they owned behind.
They left the comfortable life they had built in Uganda in order to move into a cramped property in the Highfields area of Leicester, alongside three other families.
Although Atul admits to being quite naive about what was going on at the time, his experience of going to school in the city, is something which still haunts him to this day.
“I remember not really enjoying it at all and it was so difficult to communicate that to my parents at the time because they were so busy making a living, and trying to create a life for us”, he told Pukaar.
“Coming from a village in Africa to a town like Leicester, it was bit of a shock.
“I remember going to school and being nervous and apprehensive about it all, seeing so many different types of children.
“A lot of the locals hadn’t seen Indians before, and some were quite nasty”, he revealed.
“You were basically hounded by the other children. It was a very difficult time”.
As a child, Atul suffered from ill health and home was basically a safe haven where he didn’t have to ‘duck and dive’ he says.
He lived in a house which was owned by his uncles, and one which was also used as a base for other families who were fleeing from Uganda.
However, due to the cramped conditions, Atul’s family were eventually given a council house in the city’s Corporation Road area. Unfortunately, the racism followed him there and he had his nose broken by bullies twice, he recalls.
“My parents found it very difficult to deal with that, as there was no such thing as calling the police or anything at that time, so you just had to take it”, he said.
“I remember being scared to even go to the shops because I thought I’d get jumped. It was a very traumatic thing”.
Upon arriving in the UK, Atul’s father worked seven days a week in a factory, taking as much overtime as he could in order to support his family.
His mother worked hard to raise him and his siblings, even looking for work herself in order to make ends meet.
Atul displays great admiration for his parents, who showed great resilience in the face of adversity during those difficult times.
However, he also realises that it was a case of ‘sink or swim’ when they arrived in the UK.
“My parents worked very, very hard and it wasn’t easy for them.
“But we did what we had to do”, he says.
“Life doesn’t give you choices. We didn’t get a choice to stay in Africa, but that’s just how it is. It all shapes us and makes us who we are”.
When he reached working age, Atul decided to open a video rental chain in Leicester which he ran for a number of years before moving into the restaurant business in the early 90’s.
Last year, Spice of India was named ‘Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year’ at the Leicester Curry Awards.
When asked about his success, Atul remains philosophical.
“I’m surpised. I never imagined myself to be where I am now being in the restaurant business, to have gone through the experiences I have”, he said.
“I’m a single Dad – I have a daughter who I can actually instil my experience to, and make her appreciate life as it is. I want her to think about how lucky she is not to have to experience things that we’ve gone through.
“I’m still quite ambitious, I think I can achieve more, but I’ve had my obstacles that I’ve had to deal with”, he added.
“As a businessman, I want to be more successful. But also as a human being I want to be more successful. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten wiser, and the two should definitely marry I think”.
By Louise Steel