People & Power
No home like Uganda for Sudhir’s uncle, Babulal
Posted Saturday, June 21 2014 at 19:11
Worthwhile. Babulal Valji Ruperelia, 85, was born and raised in Kampala and only went to India for the first time when he was 11. The man, whose grandfather came to Uganda in 1907 when his father was only two years old, tells Sunday Monitor’s Henry Lubega his life experience.
My father came to Uganda in 1907 when he was two years old and grew up in Jinja, where my grandfather established a business. I was born in Kampala in 1929.
My grandfather, I was told, had established a business partnership in Jinja with three other brothers. They were dealing in fabrics and foodstuff, supplying the whole of Busoga region. By that time, there were very few shops.
When my father came of age, he moved to Kampala where he established a motorcycle spare parts business on Aldina Visram Street, now Luwum Street. We used to stay just behind the shop so my early life in Uganda was spent in the city centre.
As children, we roamed the city with the Constitution Square, present-day Golf Course and the Kabaka’s Lake as our playing areas. We used to walk to those places because there were no taxis in Kampala those days until the early 1960s.
For my early education, I went to Old Kampala Primary School but my two sisters did not because by that time, girls were not much considered in education.
At the age of 11, in 1940, my family and I went to India and returned after six years in 1947. My father had returned a year earlier.
When my father came back from India in 1946, he didn’t have money to start his own business. So he sought employment and worked as a manager at Town Talkies cinema in Jinja before moving to Mbale’s Krishna cinema in the same capacity until 1954.
I rejoined him in Mbale after returning from India, now aged 18years, and he took me to a private school called Pillay. We were only four students in the class. After eight months, I stopped schooling at Senior Three and looked for employment.
In 1948, I came to Kampala and started working with Standard Chartered Bank as a clerk for one and half years, before joining the customs in the same capacity for seven months. From there, I went to an Indian law firm for another 18 months, before ending my formal employment with British American Tobacco.
Into the business world
In October 1956, I moved from Jinja to Katwe-Kabatoro in Kasese District to take over a government shop whose operator had gone bankrupt. I had to pay government Shs32,500 for the shop, but I never paid in cash, I was allowed to pay in equal installments for six months before I could fully own the shop.
I stayed in abatoro until March 1962, dealing in general merchandise for the start but, along the way, the demands of the clients dictated what I stocked. In Kabatoro, I had two categories of clients; the tourists going to Queen Elizabeth National Park and the African population from Lake Katwe.
Lake Katwe was predominantly an African area while Katwe-Kabatoro was an Indian community. There was only one Indian in Katwe who owned all the shops in the area, the Africans were mining salt from the lake.
From Kabatoro, I went to Katwe African area where I rented a shop and started dealing in general merchandise between 1964 and 1966. After a short while I took over a fuel pump station next to my shop from a Muganda friend supplying paraffin.
Goods used to come from Kampala and I was using my trucks - a Mercedes and Ford Lorries - which I had acquired during the years at Kabatoro.
In 1966, I left the shop in Katwe under the care of my in-law and went to Kasese were I opened another shop dealing in general hardware, later diversifying into things like motorcycle spare parts and other small spares that were highly demanded by the community.
I stayed in Kasese until 1972 when Amin made the announcement ordering all Asians of British citizenship out of the country.
The coup did not affect us in Kasese and I am sure even the Indians in Kampala were not affected, though many of them jubilated Milton Obote’s fall.
Obote had wanted all British Asians out of the country, so when he was toppled there was cause for jubilation, but little did they know the worst was yet to come.
At the start, all seemed well.
The economy started falling because of Amin’s policies which countries like America and Britain and others did not support. But when he expelled the Asians, the economy took a turn for the worst.