My Life Story

In this write-up, I have tried to clarify the reasons why I have created this website and where it is moving right now. I always maintained details about most of the significant events and decisions I have taken in my life. I have seen most of the times people usually write their autobiographies in a book format. I wanted to do the same where anyone can read about myself, my parents, places we moved, my businesses and how we did it in the new places we moved in. I am heavily reliant on technology at present, so when I decided to write a book about my life journey, I realised that not many people would be interested in it.

I learned this from the Gandhi exhibition I organised in the past, where we had pictures with small captions at the bottom with the details of Gandhiji’s life. This idea helped many visitors to know more about Gandhiji. That’s how I decided to do a photo biography. I had gathered collections of pictures throughout the years. It would be nice to have a website where it can be easily accessed and seen. Easy to share with anyone and can be updated with time. Someone can keep updating in the future too and people can follow the categories that they are interested in.

After deciding to build this website, I was unsure where to begin. Many years were wasted but somehow it happened when my grandson Shrey asked me, “Dada, I understand you have done a lot of things in your younger days and I would like to read or listen to your stories, your history and see how it will help me in my life. I want to do good in my life just like you.”

His words in some way encouraged me as well, so I became more serious about my idea. Then for a year, I tried setting up my website. I tried to take help from several website experts in India. I was finding it difficult to bring everyone on my idea. The best part is that it all came together during the COVID lockdown where Jay, "my Sadhubhai" (my brother-in-law), was ready to help me. We worked out a plan and started working. Our team kept on bringing new ideas to improve things every time the completion was almost done, and the launch got prolonged. But it is here now and finally you can see the result of our hard work.

It seems that when I talk to people, they are very interested in learning about me and my accomplishments. Perhaps it's because I do things differently than others that inspires them. Having this website will take my story to everyone who feels to know more about me.

Among the most important information I wish to cover on this website is about my time in Kenya, where I was born, my contacts in India, and my time in the UK. It's only been 70 years, but life has changed so much with time now. I am sure younger generation will find it startling to see how things worked in the older times. Plus, my people in Kenya will love to know my time and my accomplishments in the UK. I have tried to put everything together on this website where anyone can come and read at their convenience.

My bibliography will include my friends from my childhood, the places where we moved, my experiences and what encouragement I had. This could be beneficial for relatives, future generations to know where their family comes from and has travelled and anyone who finds it interesting.

On this website, you will also find other people’s opinions about me. I felt it would be better to keep this corner on what others think about me. Please beware that these comments can be positive or negative as well if you wish to scroll through them. It's literally like, I won’t know I need to shave until my wife tells me or I see myself in the mirror, same way I won’t know what kind of person I am. There was this one time, when I was speaking at an event. I thought it all went well, but later I realised I spoke too fast when I saw the recording.

The Begining

My life starts from 1950 when I was born. The place I was born was a very small village called Meru in Kenya. There was only one street in our village. There was no electricity, no gas, no running water. For drinking water, we had to go to a stream at the back of the houses. For bath, we had to burn timber to heat up the water. We used charcoal to cook food. We used cow dung and charcoal leftovers to heat our house. We formed the pieces into balls and burned them all night long.

In the 1950s, ladies did not go to hospitals to give birth, so my mum naturally delivered me at our home. Muktaben (Babu bhais eldest sister) was present to help and take care of my mother with her delivery and after. Soon after my birth, at the age of one and half months, my elder brother Navin and my Motibaa Muriben came from India. I was lucky to have my first younger sister Bena and then my second sister Surbi in 1954.

Around 1957, we moved into a house built with stones, it was a privilege to move from the timber house into a stone house. The stone house was a double floor building with a shop underneath and the flat at the top. I made very good neighbourhood friends in Sudha and Vipin who were older than me. In 1957, I started my schooling, but I was still not potty trained by the age of seven.

These days, education is very developed. Children use computers, mobile phones and learn very fast. However, when I started school, I had a board (patyu) that we used to write (gutwa) the letters and numbers on. There was no classroom for my grades 1 and 2. Students sat under a tree and learned. When it rained, we had to run to the corridor of the school. Originally, our building was made of metal tins, but in later years it was converted into a stone building.

My very first picture was clicked at the age of seven at a relative’s wedding ceremony that I attended with my family. At present, we have privilege of clicking pictures via phones as soon as a baby is born.

My mother passed away when I was twelve-year-old. I was too young to lose my mum and living without her was extremely difficult. But somehow things made me stronger, and I came up with my own solutions at difficult times. I tried to seek love from anyone who showed affection for me.

I was enrolled in the Duke of Gloucester hostel for my secondary education. Here, my school mates were much older than me. I found it difficult to stay with older students especially with the head prefect. But this only strengthened me. Duke of Gloucester school had a huge reputation in Nairobi. Although I was shy during this time, I made a lot of good friends. After completing two terms at Duke of Gloucester, I moved to Visa Oshwal boarding school. I was keen to go here because of the food. I had food options just like at home and friends from my village. My father gave me limited money and I was asked to keep a record of my expenses. For three months, I was given sixty shillings which is not even a pound in this modern time, and I recorded all my expenses.

It was during this period that I used to smoke, so I had to purchase cigarettes. But how would I write it down in my book? To hide it from my father, I had to calculate the exact number of packets of crisps and peanuts required to tally the number to put in my book. This indirectly taught me how to do accounting.

In 1965, when I was in form 2, I had an opportunity to travel to India through my boarding school. I traveled to India with 40 students from Mombasa via ship to Seychelles, to Goa then to Bombay. From Bombay, we took a train heading all the way up to the north. We covered Jamnagar, Srinagar, Delhi, Kolkata, and Kanyakumari and back to Bombay. During this trip, I spent about 600 rupees, which is about six pounds in modern times. I'm sure the value of the rupee was much higher in those times. This journey gave me an opportunity to meet and greet with Dr Sarvapalli RadheKrishnan and Indira Gandhi (the daughter of then Prime Minister).

I was nine when Babu Bhai came from Nairobi to Meru to work with us in the shop. The positive part was that, in 1966, Babu Bhai got married to Kanta Bhabhi. They stayed with us for around two years after their marriage. Having a woman in the house improved my upbringing that I had missed out for many years. Kanta Bhabhi taught many good qualities of how to be courteous, kind and not to get angry or upset. These were very important and meaningful life lessons for me. The next most important part in my life was my brother Navin got married to Nimu. I was in boarding school at the time, and Nimu would come and visit me every now and then. This made me feel nice and happy because we students used to wait and wait for our relatives or visitors to come and meet us. It is difficult for modern children again to understand, but while leaving she used to give me 20 shillings. This is around 15 pence, but I really appreciated the 20 shillings in that period.

At the age of 17/18, I joined my father in the shop rather than going for further studies. But I realized I needed the skills of typing and bookkeeping. Therefore, after 1 term I went back again to Nairobi to learn typing and bookkeeping at New Era college. I was very interested in typing, but I found bookkeeping very boring. I asked my teacher if I could skip some of these exercises and she refused. After three months, I went home to Meru and asked my father to teach me bookkeeping. He taught me in Gujarati. “Jamma Udhar” means debit and credit which was written on the cash book. This is how I learnt the easy method of writing books which helped me in my later years when I went to Nairobi. In Nairobi, the bookkeeping was in English, and the only difference was the direction of writing. The information written on the right was now written on the left and vice versa. Although I didn't attend lectures on bookkeeping, I learned it myself through practical experience.

In September 1968, my nephew (brothers’ son) Nishit was born. It was a very happy time as he was the first child in the family after many years. We had a big celebration for his first birthday in Nairobi. Our family cooked food at home and took it to the Mahajan Wadi for the guests to come and enjoy.

The most unsettling part in our family occurred in 1968, when we received a ‘Quit notice’. A quit notice means we are ‘non-citizens’, and we could no longer continue our business in Meru. We were asked to close the shop. My life was started here, my father started this shop and supported our family. We had to shut and sell everything and move out. It was not easy for us, but everything happens for a reason, right?

In June 1969, we moved from Meru to Nairobi. My father was in partnership with Paper Bags Ltd, so he had to leave in order to run the business. It was decided for me to go to the UK, so I applied for the visa. A job in the UK would pay me £17.50 a week and I would be well-off. But unfortunately, I lost my passport. It was very difficult for me to tell my father that I had lost my passport. Scolding and beatings from your parents was a thing in that period, okay? I had to go through the whole process again for the new passport. This was from filling the forms and taking it to the police station for verification and taking it to the British High Commission to get it sorted out. It took six months. But somehow, though, the delay helped us get an opportunity to open a shop for my father-in-law. ‘Jaytex’ was started. It was a clothing shop for ladies, gents, and children's wear. As a newcomer to fashion and clothes, I didn't know the names and types of clothes or sizes. I had no knowledge of this business, but I learnt slowly with experience and research. I was the first person to start a self-selection store in Nairobi. I launched denim in a big way in Kenya. I came to the UK and bought large quantities of denim jeans, jackets, dungarees, skirts, waist coats. I promoted my line of clothes via sign boards and ads in the town. Having music in a shop was an uncommon thing in Nairobi. I started it with a Normandy tape recorder which had 8 tracks from Germany. At the age of 18/19, I was running my own store successfully.

Throughout my life, only practical experience has worked for me, neither education nor special training. I got to learn a lot from running the first shop - Jaytex. To make things easier for daily tasks, I came up with simpler processes that will help me and the staff. To control the stock along with motivating the staff, I divided the shop area into sections for the staff. They were given a certain number of clothes to start with. At the end of the day, the staff will report the number of sales. I paid hefty commission on the sale, but if any clothes were found missing, that costs will be deducted from their wages. At the start, the staff was reluctant to follow the rules, but once they started receiving commission, they were happy to work and follow the processes. I also learned more about business numbers by following such processes. It used to take us 3 months to sell 200 shirts.

Once the business was managed well by the staff, I had time to invest in other shops. I bought Tito, Titbit, Wonder Wear. Moreover, I purchased a fifth shop, but it did not materialize. My very first shop taught me how to run my 4 shops at a time starting from scratch. My brother Navin helped me in managing too. Setting it up, fixing the furniture, and stockings. I had the capacity to buy new materials whenever a new fashion came around. I was able to buy special pieces in full quantity from my suppliers. This made my products unique within the country and easy to market and sell. In 1973, I was 23 years old when I married Bena. Within 11 days of our marriage, my brother Navin had to leave Kenya due to some immigration disputes. He moved to the UK. I was left on my own to run all four shops. Navin was a huge support for me in the business. But once again having a positive mind is imperative. It was difficult but I made it.

In 1975, at the age of 25, I got Kenyan citizenship. This gave me a lot of encouragement to expand my potential further. Plus, all the hard work over the years, I was doing well financially. Same year, my first son Dip was born on 28th of December. In 1976, I purchased my first property - 4th Parklands. I didn't negotiate much, and the deal was finalized within 5 minutes of seeing the house. Dip’s very first birthday was celebrated in this house.

In 1977 at the age of 27, Beju, my second son was born. At the same time, I was running 4 shops in the city centre of Nairobi on a street known as Government Road. It was the Oxford Street of that period. That was not enough! I decided to go for a new business. I decided to start a manufacturing unit for metal tins. The idea was to manufacture metal tins with fruit juices like Coca Cola and supply them to Thika. Hence, I went for a trip to the UK, Germany, USA, and Canada to look for the machinery. I realised the machines were very expensive. Finances made it appear that starting the manufacturing unit would be difficult. As soon as I returned home, I heard about a plastic manufacturing unit for sale. It was up for 16 lacs which seemed like a reasonable price to me. I was interested in purchasing and made enquiries, but all of a sudden, it was taken down from sale. Since I wanted this opportunity, I found it difficult to imagine why the seller would no longer be interested in selling it. Finally, I met the seller, talked about his reasons, and closed a deal. In this situation, a lot of people would think of other options, but I attempted to reach out to the people involved and made the sale happen. My father-in-law, Bhagwanji Bhai, advised me, “don’t hop on multiple ideas and plans”. I have followed his advice throughout my life. The meaning of this words is - multiple ideas will bring more confusion and you will be stuck between your own thoughts. Instead, stick with one idea and start working on it, you might make mistakes in your journey but slowly it will prosper.

I arranged a meeting with the seller of the factory at Boulevard Hotel. Our meeting started in the evening. With the intent to purchase the machinery for 16 lacs, I started the conversation. But now they do not want to sell because they are looking for 25 lacs for the machinery. I offered them a number in the middle - 21 lacs and they agreed. I walked out of that meeting within 5 minutes. Nobody believed that this deal was made in 5 minutes.

Another piece of advice from my father-in-law that helped me further is "create a very big vision from the beginning, don't think small". Following his advice, I bought 3 plots of total 9 acres on Lunga Lunga Road, which is very large space for a factory. In the future, if our business grows further, we can always use and expand our spacious facility as needed.

In the aftermath of the sale, the machinery was still in the seller's compound. In order to bring the machinery to our location, we needed a factory building. Hence, construction started on a new factory building on our plot. The plot was barren land with no road, electricity, gas, water, or sewage. Imagine a man with no experience in manufacturing or the plastic industry, attempting to start a business in a place where there is nothing. However, I was confident that I could do it. It was a huge challenge to bring all the construction materials on site. The cement company was not ready to deliver the cement on site due to the bad roads and no services. We sought help from an influential person from Mombasa. The person agreed to assist us if we can arrange for them to receive 20 tons as well. Our requirement was for 20 tons, so we ordered 40 tons, and soon the factory building was ready.

We did not have electricity when the building was built. We brought generators to fix some doors and other machines. Additionally, there was no sewage connection for the toilets. Somebody suggested for us to dig a hole and get a metal tank, normally you get it from the petrol station, it is worn out and they normally want to throw it away. We bought it for 3,000 shillings. We placed the tank into the hole and set up the sewage connections and the toilets were ready and fully functional. Now, somebody said that the tank would be filled up within two months’ time. What will you do after two months? The important part was that we would be safe at least for two months. We can put it together in two months’ time. In the meantime, we were trying to find a better alternative to this concern. Someone gave us the idea of making several holes in the tanks. This is so that the water gets absorbed into the ground and the tank can last longer without any problem. The important part about all this set up was that move forward, rather than only focusing on problems and holding yourself back from starting and working on your dreams, work on the problem with all the resources you can put forward.

Our first machines were bought from Kenpolly. In a short period, we were building another factory for which we needed more machines. We came to the UK to buy new machines. We built contacts with the manufacturers in Sheffield and for second-hand machines too. After some research, we realised that the machines are very expensive in the UK. Finally, we decided to purchase second-hand machines from Germany. We also discovered that European companies move forward with modern technologies. Their old machines are replaced even if they are working fine with new machines that use the latest technology for better speed, productivity, and to reduce labour costs. The new machines also use less power, making them more economical for the future. Despite being better, these modern technology machines were extremely expensive for us.

We purchased the second-hand slower machines even though they consume more electricity, because they were cheaper and more affordable. My next task was to design the factory floor plan. I came up with the architectural scale drawing on the sheet of paper with squares. The floor plan design had an office block at the front, there would be three large halls, a car park and extra space for a rear extension in the future. The premises was designed in a way that the raw material will enter from one end of the factory and exit from the other.

I created new processes for work, managing daily staff, trainings, daily tasks, payrolls, etc. I trained everyone on the different systems we had then, like Kalamazoo, etc. I designed various work systems myself as well, purely from my practical experiences. Once you get into the shoe, you figure out faster processes to finish your tasks. University education or Industry experience definitely helps, but in my case when you lack them, you still can succeed if you focus on your work. I was very futuristic about every task I was fulfilling on the site, making additional for the transformers in the future, additional pipes for electric cables. Having learned to be futuristic from my father-in-law, I use his formula every time to make things easier.

How do I market our products? I am a simple person who learns through practical experience. I will share two instances here of how I marketed the products. Once there was a fully loaded truck full of our produced plastic basins heading out of the factory for delivery. A huge bundle on the top of the load fell from the back of the truck as it exited the site. The staff on the ground who saw it falling said that the whole bundle must be broken and wasted after falling. I went to inspect the damage from the fallen bundle and none of the pieces were broken. I asked the staff to measure the height from where the bundle fell from. It was 12.5 feet and that’s what I marketed. I marketed that even if you drop our basins from 12.5 feet, they will still be strong and intact. Another time, I was driving and spotted our manufactured basins for sale in a roadside shop in the market. The basins were in a distinct green colour that caught my eye because we were mixing the dye to bring out that shade of green in our products. There were few other basins also placed on the shelf that belonged to our competitors, though their colours were not so great and fading due to the sun. I used this point in my promotions and marketing, whenever I spoke to the shopkeepers for further purchases, I would tell them that we supply good quality basins, and their colour will not fade like other competitors. During those days, I used to travel upcountry once in a month for trading. Most of our sales were coming from upcountry. Whenever I travelled, I would personally meet the shopkeepers and understand their requirements. They were usually happy with our service. As our range of products increased, I use to order various new products for them, sometimes the shopkeepers were annoyed on me for adding new orders for them. But when it was doing good sales for them, they were happy and would order more. It was a good trading relationship and faith built between them and me. The shopkeepers were very punctual about their payments when I was going for collections. In a case they did not have enough money, I would give them time to manage the payment. Once they had enough money, they will themselves come to me for clearing the payment. At the age of 30, Sheena was born. When a girl is born, it means Goddess Laxmi has come to your home. Our family was very happy and excited. The same year, I changed my name from Sobhagchandra to Sobhag. The reason was people would write Sobhag and Chandra as two different words. I was also called Sobhagchand or Sobhagchandra. To stop this confusion, I removed Chandra from my name by deed poll.

The same year, business was doing good, I wanted to expand our business further. I would travel to many different countries like Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zahir, etc. It was a difficult time to travel during this period. My family used to worry whenever I travelled. But my focus was to somehow expand the business further, hence I would say that I am going to Kisumu so I could stay away for longer period. This excuse was buying me enough time to visit and return from these countries. While I was in Uganda, I remember my journey with Bhatt of Africa Samachar and Amubhai of Globe Cinema. Three of us travelled by car to various countries. In Uganda, I formed a company named Ken Poly Uganda Limited which never took off, but I had the intention of starting a plastic factory there.

In 1982, I recall traveling to the Far East for 6 days. I travelled from Nairobi to Bombay and from Bombay to the Far East, and then came back. I spent one day in Hong Kong to buy machines. I negotiated and closed a deal for 27 machines on that day in a go. I knew the details and the requirements of the machines that I needed such as type of machine, size, capacity, and the items to be manufactured in these machines. I was not an engineer, but I learned and knew these technical things from my hands-on experience in the factory.

A few years later, I was interested in starting another factory instead of making hard plastics like beer crates, toilet seats, basins, and thermoses. The company was named Packaging Industries Ltd, in short PIL. We were looking to manufacture plastic bags, carrier bags, bread bags, wrapping bags and milk containers as a polythin company. Shortly, me and my business partners found out that there was an existing, longstanding, and well-established factory named Meta Plastics Limited, which was under receivership. We decided to bid for it and luckily, we won the bid. The Meta Plastics was situated on an industrial area of Funzi road. We started PIL’s business at the Meta Plastics location. We bought more machinery for PIL as it was taking off with some more licenses we had. After a month we decided to expand it further, so me and my partners planned to go to Italy to get some more machines. While we were at the airport to fly, we received extremely devastating news. Our factory was on fire. We had to cancel the trip and immediately make our way to the factory. It was 2 o’clock in the morning, four of us were standing in front of the factory watching it burn into ashes. It was heart-breaking to see how our dream and hard work burning away, partners were crying seeing this happening. By morning as the fire subsided, we tried to see what can be saved. All the machinery and the raw materials burned to ashes. Whole building was destroyed. There was nothing left but ashes. Partners were still crying and confused, but I knew something must be done. I stood strong and said to them that let us forget what has happened and let’s get going again. Insurance people came the next day to inspect the burnt factory. I recall, one of the insurance guys said to me that I must be very lucky that my factory is burned down. I was extremely upset on his remark. I asked him that how can someone be lucky when his factory for which he is working hard has been burned down. What he meant by his remark was not of any interest to me. At the end, me and my partners decided to start another factory as we had our licenses to purchase machineries. We again started looking for a suitable place to set up again.

We found a suitable place in Lunga Lunga, there were few godowns already built there. We needed a factory building and purchase machineries to restart again. After 9 months, we were settled at the new premises with all new machines. Working at the new premises with new machines was a great feeling. At the old factory something or the other used to break now and then, we were always anxious about things breaking, their efficiency, their productivity and speed. With the new equipment and machines, we knew exactly how much production we should expect. For example, if a bundle of 100 was produced, it would be exactly 100, and not a number less or more. The customers were happy too with the new best quality of products and fast deliveries. Almost immediately, we rebuilt our relationship and reputation with our customers.

After a year of running the new factory, we four partners had a conflict. We all had different opinions. We decided to either pursue this further or leave the business. I wanted to continue the business further, so two of our partners were asked to resign and it was taken over by my family. It just happened to be that we had to take it over. The two partners were asked to leave and replaced by my own family. I involved my father, my brother Navin, and my nephew Mahesh. With my support and my experience from Kenpoly, I was able to help them to get into the business.

May 1986 was the time we bought the Lavington property. The deal for this property was closed within a couple of hours. It was one of the finest properties in our community. It had 7 En Suite bedrooms with a swimming pool, garden, and river at the bottom. It was a beautiful property to live in.

Move to the UK

On 2nd July 1989, I left Kenya permanently to come and settle in the UK. This was decided after I had made 54 previous trips from Kenya to the UK. Life in the UK is like a second part of my life story. I had a house in Southend-On-Sea. It was a bungalow with two bedrooms. From the time I shifted to the UK, I was always keen on doing something in the UK. As a result, I decided to get an office, since I will remain comfortable at home and will not do much. My aim was to start early, dress up, come into the office, and be productive. My office will allow me to meet people for business. I can give people my visiting cards and invite them to come by for further meetings. If you're stuck on any idea or want to start something of your own, I would like to advice that this can be a good idea to start on your own. Staying at home will not help you. You will end up staying up late watching movies and wake up at 2.00 pm the other day. You might miss your important calls in the morning, when people start their day, and you might lose good leads. When you start your business, every call is important, if you lose it, that person is going to other businesses. Thus, if you follow this discipline, it will help you go further.

My search for a rented office started. It was difficult in the initial because lease system was new for me. Some places I visited needed renovation which can take time. All these systems were new to me compared to Kenya. Finally, through an advert I came across rented office rooms in commercial buildings. Downstairs would be a common reception, a secretary would sit there, a coffee machine for everyone to use. The office room was a very functional space with a desk, chair, telephone line and some other facilities. My expense was the office rent and the usage of telephone line that I use to be paid at the end of the month. I can cancel all this with just 1 months’ notice. It was ideal for me because there was no huge investment, and the building was taking care of the furniture and other facilities. I could come to the office with my files and my laptop and only focus on work.

I got my visiting cards printed with my Southend-On-Sea address and started going to the office. To find new opportunities, I read newspapers every morning during my coffee break. One of my friends who owns a nursing home needed my help for decorating one of the rooms in his nursing home. I went with him on a weekend. The decoration was done because they had a new admission coming to live there in the following week.

I liked the idea of running a nursing home. After the work was done, my friend showed me around the manager's office, and I showed my interest in doing this business. On our way back home, I proposed him to do the business in a partnership. In my head, I knew that I don't carry any experience of working in the UK in a nursing home business. But working with a partner, I can learn things quickly was my idea. He said he would like it too. I waited for two weeks for further discussion with him but there was no response from him. I concluded that maybe he has changed his mind and is no more interested. I began making enquiries about how I could get into the nursing home business. Somebody suggested me to purchase Daltons weekly which is printed every Thursday. It includes adverts which I started to follow. I was very keen on the procedures required to start the business, number of beds, fees, income, profit expected, repayments, and the calculation for the loan. I then started taking appointments to visit different nursing homes, showing that I was extremely interested. I received appointments and I visited them one by one.

The first nursing home that I visited, I didn't have any questions because I was not aware of how the nursing home works. But they gave me a show around of the place and showed me how they do their daily laundry. That's when I realized that laundry is also something we will do for the residents in a nursing home. I watched how they did the laundry and later distributed the clothes back to the residents in their rooms. They used a plastic tray which goes to the residents' rooms.

The next day, I went to another nursing home. Same way I didn't had any questions to ask, I listened to everything that they say. At the end, my only question to them was about laundry. Afterall, I learned this from my previous visit to another place. This new place also showed me their accounts. Now I learned that we need to store an account for three years in the office.

Overall, I visited around 40 nursing homes. One by one, everyone gave me different opinions and different ideas. That is how I practically learned about the nursing homes, talking to people, and getting to know the process of how it works from them.

These accounts were completely unfamiliar for me, so it was difficult to understand the figures of the nursing homes as I was unsure how the business was running. When I tried to talk to the bank manager with the poor figures, he agreed that it is difficult to do this business. Shortly, I got an offer. There were three nursing homes to be sold by one party, which was based in the north. They were in Liverpool, Manchester, and Wigan. According to the figures, I thought they were adequate, so I decided to purchase all three.

People around me were surprised and asked me why I bought all three nursing homes. Typically, a person begins with one and gradually expands. My idea was that I had one car and I can travel to all three locations and oversee them. If I hire a secretary and a computer, whether the secretary looks after one nursing home or the accounts of three nursing homes, it would be the same. Therefore, financially, it becomes more economical to go for three rather than just going for one. I know it's very difficult for some people to accept my thinking.

Now when I recall the 2nd of July 1989, I came to the UK and on the 26th of August 1989, I signed a contract for three nursing homes. Within a time of two months, I signed a contract of a business for which I had no background or any knowledge, plus with no proper finance. The contract that I signed for these 3 nursing homes had a condition that I was liable for 10% of the deposit and 90% would be through a loan. That's what I was told by the Broker and that was all acceptable to me.

In Kenya, we had never heard of brokers. The way this broker communicated with me; it seemed like he was helping me. Later I realised that brokers work for commissions. He was finding it difficult to get me a 90% loan, but he never clearly stated that to me. He kept me hanging by saying that he was trying to get another person involved so I could get the loan with better rates. He also said that involving myself in the process will create problems, etc. Finally, I understood his tricks and began learning the procedures myself. I found that if I paid about 20% as a deposit, I would be able to get a loan of 80%. I started to apply on my own, but the broker kept on his follow up, his interest was only his commission from 90%. If things had gone wrong by that time, I could have lost 10% of the deposit amount, which would have been a lot of money at that time. I would be bankrupt before I even started the business. This would not be the start I was looking forward to.

After signing the agreement, I had four months to start taking over the nursing homes. It was planned that I would take over the position of Manchester nursing home in January 1990, Liverpool nursing home in February 1990, and Wigan nursing home was still under construction so it would be expected to be complete in December of 1990. I had some breathing space for me to learn about how things were working. Every evening, I would stop at the Wigan nursing home which was under construction to find out what had happened during the day. The security guard would report on the daily happenings.

At Manchester and Liverpool, I took over the existing staff. This made it easier for me as they were well trained and aware of the processes. As soon as Wigan nursing home was ready, I was ready as well since I now had some experience from my time in Manchester and Liverpool. I started recruiting for new staff. Wigan was originally supposed to be 56 beds, but then I did my own planning and realised that we could fit 62 beds with ease. We finally registered Wigan for 62 beds. I started looking for a manager also called as matron during those times. I also needed a secretary; I came across a candidate who had worked as a personal assistant. I did not know what a personal assistant is. When I finished the interview, I thought that this person could do the job and I could employ that person. Before she could take over the job, she told me that she would also like to interview me because she could work better with me. She wanted to know who I am, what my interests are, what my plans are for the future, my hobbies, and my lifestyle.

Finally, I hired this candidate as a secretary, and I also found a competent manager. They both helped me take over the Wigan nursing home. In our initial meetings, we prepared a list of items pending at Wigan. This list consisted of 76 pages. After one week, I was told that it was done. After checking one by one, I found 36 pages remaining. This went on couple of weeks and finally 7 pages left. Finally, three of us working together we started the nursing home, and it proved to be the best nursing home setup, starting from scratch. Within three months’ time, all rooms were full of residents. That was very quick. Wigan nursing home made a positive reputation for itself very quickly. During early times, work and meetings would go on till late in the evening. It was difficult for me to drive back a long way home and start early. I started staying in bed and breakfasts whenever I can. Other days when I couldn’t find a place to stay at night, I had to sleep in my car. That is how the life was. It was a very early period for mobile phones. I bought one for myself so I could stay up to date with all three nursing homes even when I was driving, etc. That was my first mobile phone. It was a large size from Ericsson with a wireless cord. It fitted well in my red Mercedes, and I could take important calls if I was in a car.

Life begins at 40

On my 40th birthday, my family had a big celebration of my birthday at Sapna restaurant in Sudbury. The restaurant doesn’t exist anymore. We rented the whole restaurant for our big celebration. It was a huge event.

I purchased nursing home businesses last year for which I had no idea, knowledge, experience of how to run a nursing home. I applied my same old formula that I had been using even in my previous businesses. It was difficult for my friends to understand how I did it. Later, I also bought two properties in a similar manner. Even when I am buying cars, I make sure I purchase a car and then come home. You must understand that money does not always hold you from doing all this in your life. Making the right decision, taking action quickly, staying disciplined, and doing the work will help you tremendously. But even more important is taking risks. There is a formula for how much risk you can take. Nobody can guarantee the prices we pay for these things, but the most important part is that you have to be at least 90% certain in your calculations. The remaining 10% is always a gamble, you must make your decision based on that. This is a formula I always used. For example, when you want to buy a car, if the car you like is £10,000. You should be sure that this car is at least worth £9,000. If it's £9000, you can bear the risk of another £1000. People may come to you and say that you have been conned. This was £9000, you have paid £10,000, no problem it is fine. You can take that much risk. That's the formula, but it should not be the other way around. What if the car is worth only £1000 and you pay £10,000. You put yourself at 90% risk.

Now every week I was at the nursing homes. I only get time to be at home on weekends. That was the life! Gradually, businesses were working smoothly, and I didn't have to do much on site. I decided to start an office in London. I found an office with two rooms in North Harrow and I employed Sandeep. He was an accountant and recently graduated. The previous tenant in this office had a furniture business, hence there were many 8’x4’ white boards fixed to the wall. I wrote my plans from January to December in a neat sheet format on those boards. I never thought this was going to be the best and most effective use of these boards, but they made my life super easy. Whenever I spoke to potential leads on call, I was able to refer these boards and answer the person on the phone immediately. I also used them to keep my personal jobs up to date, it will tell me when my MOT is due, my road tax is due, my monthly instalments, etc. On the 19th of every month, I was supposed to pay the taxes. Having this plan always in front of my eyes kept me on toes. Modern technology in today’s world can help you with all this, but who will remind you to go on a computer? Whenever I do such projects again, I do miss those boards. To make a successful plan, put it on a board and see it will definitely work. This would be less to remember in your head but everything accessible to you in front of you.

On 4th May 1991, I rented a house in Hatch End at 2 Oak Mead. This was to understand the area before deciding whether to buy the property or not in this area. Finally, on 31st March 1992, we bought a property called Kennedy Close. Kennedy Close has been a very lucky house for me as well as a great home. We had many friends come and lived with us in this home of ours and there are many good memories of years.

On 15th of June 1993, we did the official opening of the extension of the Liverpool home, which was originally 48 beds, now extended to 60. We had all our friends and relatives from London to show them our nursing home. Later the party was on a river boat. The mayor was invited too, and it was a big function.

In December 1993, I started a restaurant and named it Sheena’s. The restaurant was started as a hobby but unfortunately it didn't last long. The most noteworthy part of this restaurant was that it was unique. The dishes and drinks served were unique recipes.

Later I came up with the idea of a Thursday club for friends. With the 52 couples who attended our Housewarming at Kennedy Close, I invited them and all of them attended. The top floor of my Edgeware Property along with my office and the middle floor would be used for the friends get together. This was especially for people who have come from Kenya to the UK. I offered my space and that’s how the club started. There were no charges. Some friends would cook, some would clean, and it was fun to have friends around. It used to be very lively every Thursday, and this went for many years. I had to sell my property, and this did not continue.

On 12th May 1996, I bought a one-bedroom flat in Bombay, with the intention that it could be used by all the family members from Kenya or London. The first trip was done by my sister Bena and my father. I recall my father-in-law stayed in this flat as well. Being a small flat, he will sleep in the kitchen at night.

On 21st of August 1995, my cousin Kantibhai and his wife Laxmibhabhi came from India. Soon it was Kantibhai’s birthday shortly after their arrival, we organized a party with food on a boat on River Thames. While the boat was sailing, we enjoyed dinner, music, and dancing on the boat.

Bit Personal

This part is a bit personal. On the 9th of September 2000, I met Anju and within 15 minutes I decided to get married to her. I think it was five minutes, but Anju thinks it was fifteen minutes. From 9th September to 9th December, we traveled to Kenya and Zanzibar, to meet my in-laws and get their blessings for our marriage.

I brought both my in-laws to England from Zanzibar for our wedding on 26th of November 2000. They got settled in the UK since then. Sushma and Rajesh were not able to make our wedding because of the delay in getting the visas so they arrived on the 22 December 2000.

On 18th December 2003, Anju and I took Papa and Mummy to Mumbai, and we stayed at our one-bedroom flat in Ashoka. We had meetings with our relatives in Mumbai. We travelled to Rajkot and Jamnagar to meet Papa and Mummy’s relatives in Rajkot. We organized a gathering at Kaveri Hotel. This is where Papa-mummy’s relatives came to meet them in Rajkot. This was our first party in India that was very nicely organized. The food at Kaveri hotel was amazing. We made sure they catered from afternoon until evening. They served tea at 4 o’clock for all the guests. We hired a photographer to capture the good memories and instructed the album makers to make 4 sets.

In April 2004, I was suffering from lower back pain, and the specialist told me I would need surgery. There was a plan to visit Kenya in this period, so I decided to do my trip before the operation. The only intention of this trip was to go to Makindu to eat paratha, arad ni daal, athanu, peaches, plums, and pears that you cannot get in the UK. Visiting Nakuru, Jalaram mandir, etc. As soon as we landed in Nairobi, the plan was to go to Mombasa but not in a plane. The reason was, so we can have a stopover in Makindu to enjoy and same thing for Nakuru to Kisumu. On 25th of April 2004, I had my spine operation L4 and L5 at Bupa Hospital in Bushy by Dr. Sullivan.

We decided to bring Anju’s sister Sushma and her family (Nidhi, Bhavi and Rajesh) to England. We applied for a work permit for Rajesh to come and settle in the UK. We got the permit on 14th of January 2005 for Rajesh.

On 2nd February 2005, we purchased a new flat in Versova, Bombay. We got its possession on 24th of February 2005, that is on Sheena’s birthday. It is almost 15 years now, we have been enjoying this flat for 15 years, previously it was the flat in Ashoka building, so indirectly for 26 years, we have been travelling and enjoying the facilities in Mumbai, with a driver and a car. It is in family, whether they go from Kenya, or whether they go from UK. Sometimes, it has been with friends as well. Mostly used for relaxation, shopping for grown up children's weddings, medical treatments, stop overs. We would guide on where to do the shopping, medical check-ups, treatments, etc.

On the 9th of May 2005, Sushma, Bhavi and Nidhi came from Nairobi to join Rajesh and settle in the UK. On the 10th of December 2005, Anju, Vrush, Shanil, Sushma, Rajesh, Bhavi, Nidhi, and I embarked on a trip to India, particularly Gujarat. We visited Sarsangir. We lived in a tent when we visited the National Park and then the last stop was Jamnagar. On a trip through the National Park, we encountered the Habsi tribe, who have lived in India for 600 years and speak Gujarati. Originally, they were black people from Kenya. Nidhi was very young then and it was a memorable experience for her. At the National Park, early in the morning at 5:30am, we set out in a Jeep to see the animals. We saw six lions at once. There were 2 of the wardens in green uniforms walking alongside the lions. This was very scary for us.

The Habsi tribe we met, have been living in India for so many years and they're very identical to Kenyan people, but they speak Gujarati language. We got a chance of see, meet, and talk to them. On the 1st of January 2006, I took Anju, Vrush and Shanil with me to Kenya, Nairobi. From Nairobi, we went on a trip to Meru to show them my birth town. It was very interesting for me as well to see the difference now from the time we left Meru. I took videos of Meru; I took pictures of all the shops that were around when I was young as a reminder of how the setup changed since 1969 since we left Meru. We stayed at Rasik’s house.

On 13th March 2006, we went on a family trip to China with Baba bhai, Kanti bhai, Babu banevi, Bena, Vinuben, Sushiben, Lalubanevi, Kilu, Kirti and Dipak. We were approximately 70 passengers on this tour. Out of 70, 20 were our family members, so the trip to China was very interesting. On 9th of April 2006, we invited all the people that we went on a China trip at Kennedy Close for a get together. On 9th September 2006, we arranged a gathering for all our Meru people living in the UK at KP Hall. During the gathering, I presented all the pictures and videos I took from my trip with detailed information in an exhibition format.

Manisha, originally from Bombay, came to the UK to settle and work. I helped her to get a work permit and offered her a job to look after my father-in-law. She started looking after my father-in-law and she became a part of our family as if she was a daughter. Then she found a good life-partner to tie the knot with. On 26th of April, Manisha got married in Bombay. We had the privilege of doing her Kanyadan. After that we have 5 more children taken as part of the family.

The most exciting part of my life was to see the birth of my grandchildren in the UK. Even if my two sons are in Kenya, their children are born in the UK in our presence. Shrey, Pasha, Tanya, and Khian were born in London, and we had the privilege of being present. Sheena’s both daughters - Samara and Sanaya are born in London as well in our presence. Vrush’s daughter Khiana also brought huge happiness in the family. All 7 of the grandchildren were born in our presence and it has been the most exciting experience.

In December 2007, we had a trip to India again. Papa and Mummy had departed earlier and then we joined them. Vrush and Shanil joined us on 17th of December 2007. We stayed in Mumbai, then we went to Rajkot and Jamnagar where we stayed at Jyoti Ben's house. We again organized a gathering for our relatives in Rajkot, like the one we had at Kaveri but this time it was at Imperial Hotel. It was very nice to meet our relatives once again. On this trip, with the help of Hakubhai we visited Momaimora in Vagad district. This is our place of Kurdevi in Kutch.

On 4th January 2008, I changed my name from Sobhag Shah to Sobhag Haria through a deed poll. The reason for the change in the name was because I found out Shah is not our original name but an adopted name. All our relatives in India are originally called by the name Haria, so I decided to change back to my original name of Haria.

On 22nd August 2008, staff from Liverpool and Wigan nursing homes were invited to visit London for the bank holiday weekend (4 days and 3 nights). An organised plan was made. They visited our home, they got to see how we cook roti and other food. They got to learn about our food and the different types of bread we have. We took them to VB and Sons, Sunrup and Kingsbury to show them Indian vegetables. We also took them to the city to watch the play.

Vonna had invited us to attend the wedding of her friend Kristy. It was to take place in Romania. On 3rd September 2008, we visited and stayed at Vonna’s house in Romania. This trip was a real experience. We flew to Romania at midnight, then we hired a car to drive to the destination. The journey time was 6 hours, and the navigation was not working. We could not speak the native language however we made it. The next day, we cooked vegetarian meals for everybody. We used the hired car for several purposes during the wedding, like the car for the bride, going to the wine fields to get wine for the wedding and returning the left-over wines back to the farm. We went on a tour to Bracho. It was very exciting to drive the car on the left-hand side in Romania.

The 5th of November 2008, we visited Cairo, Egypt and cruised on the Nile. It was very exciting. We tried to help and encourage a lot of elderly people who came with us. We took several pictures of the tour. When we came back home, we invited all of them and made a CD of the pictures to give to them to share with their families.

On 13th August 2009, was the first exhibition on Gandhiji at KP Centre. A lot of material was gathered on Gandhiji to be displayed at the exhibition. This was the first time we were exhibiting; it was a trial-and-error process. With the help of Jay, all the layouts and printing took place. At the end of the exhibition, we received many enquiries about who organized the exhibition. What motivated the creator of the exhibition? On 16th October 2009, the second exhibition took place. This time, we organized it at Oshwal Centre as it was a more spacious and better place. With these exhibitions, now I know more on how to organise them. Once again, I received many questions about why I hadn't organized them earlier. The press covered these exhibitions in Garvi Gujarat and Gujarat Samachar newspaper. It was always in my interest from my primary school days when I learned about Gandhiji. It increased further with my trip to India and meeting the Gandhi family. I wanted to share the knowledge to those who are unaware of what India is, its size, the flag of India, and lot of other things connected with India. On 27th of March 2010, we did the last exhibition at Sai School. This time it was requested by the Sai people as they wanted to encourage their school children that were going to Gujarati classes. At the same time, anyone can visit who missed out on the previous exhibitions. After these three exhibitions, I was confident on taking these exhibitions to abroad. To a certain extent the planning was to take it to my place where I was born in Kenya. Then it would be easier to take it to South Africa because there are a lot of links connected there. It was decided to organize an exhibition in Kenya and from there to South Africa in one trip. We gathered volunteers in Kenya and a venue was finalized. All the material of one and half tone was ready to be transported to Kenya from England. But due to some technical reasons, we couldn’t organize this exhibition and it did not materialise in Kenya. Later, the idea of going to South Africa got cancelled completely.

On 27th October 2009, Manisha gave birth to Jiya. Jiya’s birth made us Nana and Nanny again. We took the responsibility of taking part in the birth of Jiya. Anju looked after Manisha when she was expecting, and we played a part in her baby shower.

On 11th of December 2009, Anju and I exhibited the family tree at Dadar Wadi during our trip to India. We were fortunate to meet Nilamben (Gandhi's great granddaughter) (Mohandas’s eldest son Harilal’s granddaughter; Rami’s daughter) and Yogendra Parikh (her husband). We invited them to our apartment in Mumbai. Anju prepared lunch for them and we took some pictures as well. On this trip we met with Tushar Gandhi (Mohandas' second son Manilal’s grandson; Arun’s son) at his house in Mumbai. On 23rd of December 2009, we visited Mani Bhavan and that is the time we met another granddaughter of Gandhi by the name of Ushaben. Ushaben is a granddaughter of Ramdas Gandhi (Mohandas’s third son). On 24 December 2009, we travelled with Jayshreeben and others to Pune. We visited Kasturbaa's Samadhi in Pune. The purpose of the trip was to meet all the prominent members of Gandhiji's family. We visited Aurangabad to see Bibi Ka Maqbara, which looks like the Taj Mahal. Additionally, we visited the Elora World Heritage Site, which contains 34 caves dating back to the fifth century, showing Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist artifacts.

On 30th of March 2010, Anju and I travelled to Mumbai. This trip was with Vrush, Shanil, Vonna, Roxy (Vonna's daughter), Divya, Fagu and Harin from UK; Chandni & her mum from Dar. With a large group of family and friends, this trip was exciting until a bad accident occurred. We were visiting interesting places in Mumbai in a Horse-Drawn Carriage. Unfortunately, the carriage tumbled, and Anju tipped over. Anju was critically injured with five ribs and a collarbone broken and was admitted to the “Bombay Hospital”.

60th Birthday celebrations

On the 28th of June 2010, we celebrated my 60th birthday. It was a grand birthday celebration that took place at “Langley”, Watford. All the planning was done by Anju and Sheena together. It was an extremely different and exclusive party. Many friends from abroad attended. Deepa and Hiten, Shailesh and Deepa, Kanti Haria, Chandrakant from Nairobi, Rakesh and Rupa from Rajkot, friends from Thursday club, Club 25, Nursing Home Management Staff, Solicitors, Accountants, relatives, and friends. I was happy that everyone took time out and came for the celebration.

On 1st August 2010, Papa, Mummy, Vrush and Shanil shifted to 4 and 12 Greyholme Court. Soon after on the 1st of September 2010, Khyati and Chandni moved to Harrow and Wealdstone. On 9 October 2010, Anju and I moved into Regents Court. This is how our family separated and we started living independently. This moving out was very unexpected. There were advantages and disadvantages both about this, but we will consider only the advantages and move on.

On 12th of March 2011, a very unfortunate event took place, Anju’s sister Fagu passed away. This was a big blow to family. She was the pillar of the family. On the 19th of June 2011, Khyati finished her studies and moved back to Dar-es-Salam. It is better for her future but as far as we are concerned, we miss her as she lived in the same house with us. She was very close to us and now she has gone a too far away from us. Even though we are in contact with her, it is not the same as it used too.

On 8th of November 2011, we were privileged to attend Kanti Haria's 70th birthday celebration for two nights and three days in a resort out of Mumbai. On the 9th of December 2011, we celebrated Anju's birthday. We hired a limo to take us to the city. It included Mummy, Sushma's family, Jay's family, Vijay's family, Jeet, Manisha, Jiya and Chandni. We dined at Port De Indus. Sheena had ordered a cake. On 22nd of December 2011, it was one of the biggest joys for me because Nidhi, Bhavi, Sushma, and Rajesh received their British citizenship. We attended and watched them being awarded certificates at the Civic Centre in Harrow. It was always a priority to get them settled here in the UK from Kenya to improve their life. This was going on for Bhavi even before Nidhi was born. Every step we took to make their lives better became a success and seeing them receive their certificates was a joy for us.

On 12th of July 2012, Manisha received her citizenship. Her settlement in the UK was supported by us, and it finally succeeded. Now she was settled in her marriage and have her child.

We sold our most precious and loved property 1 Kennedy Close on 28th of September 2012. Not just me and my family but even our friends are emotionally connected with that house. It was truly a home, and I will always cherish the memories of the good time we had there. That house has hosted many parties, events, get togethers, overnight stays for friends and families, etc. Unfortunately, we had to let the house go. It took us a long time to find a suitable buyer for it. We tried many estate agents, but none were successful. Finally, an estate agent friend said that we are very connected with this home in our heart and mind. We are not letting it go. His blunt words made us realize how true this is. We had to abide by his sensible words and that’s how we were able to sell the house. It is our final wish for this house to provide the same warmth and love to the new owner and his many future generations as it did to us.

It would not be right if I did not mention Kaushik Mama in this write-up. On 26th November 2012, Kaushik Mama passed away. He was younger than me, but Mama in relation. He was not just my Mama, but a very close friend and a colleague. We worked together on many different projects. He will always be dearly missed.

On 12th December 2012, Babu Banevi passed away at a very young age. He was a super sweet and jolly person. He will always be missed as well.

On 15th January 2014, Sheena and Sahil took possession of their Elstree Property. It was very joyful to see the new generation settling well.

On 25th January 2018, we placed an order with Dips Caterers to prepare Motia and Dhosa Ladoos to take them to India. Some people might ask, why are we taking Indian sweets to India from the UK? We wanted our relatives and friends to experience the unique taste of our Ladoos and its quality made in the UK. It is made here in Kenyan style recipe with less sugar, so its natural flavours become more evident as we eat.

On 27th of October 2018, Shanil, our son and his girlfriend Rekha asked us to join them on their trip to Goa and around Mumbai. Normally it is not expected of children of their age to go on holidays with parents.

On 22nd December 2018, finally my long-awaited dream of taking my family and especially my wife to the Far East was fulfilled. We went to Thailand. On this trip it was me, Anju, Jay, Divya, Sushma, Mahir, Ansh, Nidhi and most surprisingly my Saasu too Kantaben (82 years). It was a very interesting trip for me compared to the last one I had 30 years ago. There was a lot to see there, floating markets, long necked women in Chiang Mai, train markets where train goes through the market and has been there from over a century. Bangkok, Pataya, Chiang Mai and Phuket we enjoyed thoroughly. We visited an island where one of my favourite movies “Kaho Na Pyaar Hai’s” few scenes are shot with Hrithik Roshan and Amisha Patel. I have watched this movie eight times so far.

On 26th of January 2019, we flew to Zanzibar from London to surprise Praful for his 60th birthday on 28th January. We took Praful and Shilabhabhi with us and stayed at Hotel Hideaway. It was a four-day trip where we returned on 29th. We also met Mustafa for lunch and Chandni on Khyati’s birthday. We had high tea at Jital’s and returned to London that night. We always do these kinds of short trips for our people; we love meeting our people. Being surrounded by the people who love you is a wonderful feeling.

On 6th April 2019, Anju and I went to Mumbai. This trip was specially to assist Manumasa and their family to do Khusboo’s wedding shopping and at the same time taking them around Mumbai. We have helped many families in a similar situation. Anju knows very good places to shop around Mumbai and everyone has faith on Anju’s choice. It gets very easy to live in our Mumbai flat and go around the city in an eight-seater car with our driver. We have been doing this for the last 30 years. When it comes to Mumbai, we know all the interesting areas and good food places. We have also taken many friends on a tour of Mumbai. We take them around famous sandwich shops, vada pau shops, Ram and Shyam Chaat and Khichdi. These are all street food places. If you want to taste the real Mumbai food, then that is here, which many new people will never know or think of visiting. Even McDonald’s in India has a different menu than what we have here in the UK. Then the oldest and very famous PVR theatre, which is completely different compared to the theatres in the UK. At PVR theatre, you get a bed with a blanket where you can lay down, eat, and drink while you watch your movie. In this trip, we took a Metro train to Ghatkopar, they realised the good quality trains and how well maintained it has been since last five years. No rubbish or garbage thrown on the platforms or in the train. Plus, the lovely and helpful people of Mumbai.

From 29th November 2019 to 15th of December, we flew from London to Mumbai and then Jamnagar to attend Raj and Rushina’s wedding. It was a huge function of many days until the 8th of December, which included Sagai, Hawaiian night, Mehendi, Mandva, Pithi, Ras Garba and the Wedding. We participated in all the functions and thoroughly enjoyed. We tried to do as many rituals and other things as possible to stay connected and be a part of it. It was Anju’s birthday on the 9th of December. It was calling for a celebration, plus with Nilesh and Mamta and the whole family in Mumbai. This gave us a chance to celebrate Anju’s birthday with our Mumbai family of about 45 to 50 people. After Anju’s birthday, this trip continued further from 10th with Nilesh, Mamta, Sonali, Raj and Rushina (our newly married couple) and us. It gave us a chance for four to five days to be together and show them around Mumbai. As usual, it was a pleasure to show them the nice old Mumbai, and hopefully they enjoyed it as well. We had a special request from Shanil for Pau Bhaji. We brought his Pau Bhaji in a thermos for him when we returned.

Once again, on 20th December 2019, I fulfilled my dream that I had not been able to accomplish properly. We traveled to the Far East, which covered Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Ubud in Bali. I visited here many times 30 years ago; I've always wanted to show Anju this part of the world. We had Sushma, Jay and Divya joining us to make the trip even better. We thoroughly enjoyed each day of this trip, and it remains one of our once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

On 19th January 2020, we celebrated Shanaya’s second birthday at Sheena’s house. Shanaya and Samara were dressed in pink and blue like princesses. We captured beautiful pictures, enjoyed with our relatives and it turned out to be a fantastic party.

On 14th February, Anju, Divya, Ansh and I went on a trip to India. From 14th to 18th, we were joined by Krutin, Shilabhabhi, Rishi and Dher. We had a great time together and toured around seeing things in Mumbai. We clicked a lot of photographs. On 19th and 20th, we went to Vadodara to see the Statue of Unity. It is the tallest statue in the world, and we got the privilege of see this beauty. The trip was very fun with all the fun people. Then we returned to Mumbai and spent our time together until the 23rd and then returned to the UK.

On 24th February 2020, we celebrated Sheena's birthday at Elstree. It was lovely.

June 2020 was supposed to be very important for me. I was turning 70 on the 22nd of June 2020. I had lots of surprises being a milestone birthday. Originally, we were not going to do anything with the lockdown, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. On 20th of June, it started with a surprise zoom call, which was organised by Anju, Manisha, Sheena, and the whole group. For the first time I will say, people from Kenya, Tanzania, India, and UK had gathered on one call. Altogether, 70 to 80 families connected on this call. It was a big surprise for me. The call included a programme organised by Manisha and her colleagues to celebrate with Bollywood music. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. The most impressive part of this whole programme was that it was recorded, and somebody commented that this birthday party has become immortal now. This was only the first part. The next day was Sunday, 21st of June. We celebrated half a day with Sheena and my three granddaughters - Shanaya, Samara and Khiana. Shanaya and Samara prepared a cake. In the afternoon, I was away from home. When I returned, there was a big cake in the lounge and lots of family members outside in the garden scattered due to social distancing. I was extremely happy that they had come to celebrate my birthday. This surprise was organised by Shanil, Rekha, Vrush and Dimple. Good part about this surprise was that even Nilesh and Family attended this party. At midnight on the 21st, I started receiving video clips of birthday wishes from all my family and friends. I had never seen a birthday wish in a video. This was all organised by Ambasana family and I really appreciate this that they made me feel very special. This act made it the best birthday gift I ever had. Last but not least, on the day of my birthday, which is 22nd June 2020 Monday, as every year’s tradition, my Saasu made me Puran Puri with Bateta nu shak, Kadhi, and rice and we had this lovely meal at home. Despite a lockdown, we followed my birthday tradition, to have a home-made meal with the family. Babubhai and Kanta Bhabhi joined us for this lunch. In the Afternoon, many friends and relatives came to offer their birthday wishes with social distancing. In the evening, we were invited by our Habari group to celebrate my birthday. It was five couples, altogether 10 people at Nila and Mahesh’s house.

I will summarize my life here. I was born in 1950 in a very remote town. Compared to the modern times, it was a difficult life in those days. Hence, when I meet someone who comes from a similar background, I like to help them to improve their life. My childhood was very harsh. As a child, I would never lie or get upset. I don’t know whether it was only my parents and my family who were too strict with me to discipline me or whether it was for everyone. All the time, I was receiving very strict corporal punishments which is not okay in today’s times, so I don’t know whether this had an advantage or disadvantage. I don’t remember anything from my birth to my mother’s demise. My mother passed away when I was very young. I was demoralised many times for being a shy child. Then my cousin Babubhai married Kanta Bhabhi. She came into our house and things started getting better. With her, I had someone to talk to and listen to me. I could speak freely around her, and I took notes if I made a mistake. Then my brother married my sister-in-law, Nimu. She was from a very nice family and a very kind-hearted person who gave me a new perspective on life, which was very helpful for me to become a better person. I was sent to a boarding school. It has been my experience that hardship makes a person take on more responsibility and initiative than being given a silver spoon. People must do things on their own to learn them. By staying in a boarding school, I learned to connect with people around me and to live with them, rather than just being on my own. Living in boarding school made me very strong. During boarding times, I was allowed to visit my relatives. If I was visiting my relatives and asked if I wanted to eat ice-cream, even if I wanted to, I would turn it down because I was shy. From then on, I decided that I would never ask this question to children, instead I would ask them which flavour they would prefer. If they wanted, vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate flavour. After finishing school, I joined my father's shop. To work in the shop, I needed bookkeeping and typing knowledge. I enrolled in New Era College in Nairobi for bookkeeping and typing classes. I continued working at my father's shop. Later, we received a quit notice. Our entire family had to move from one place to another. While I remember a lot of intense incidents in my life then, I feel that they were for the better. In my case, it started out badly and then got better. I don’t know whether this is for everyone or just me. I don’t know whether the things were bad because of my shy nature and when I found my confidence back in my life, it started getting better. I have learned that listening is the biggest power that can heal life for you and others. I have this power and I love to use it. After I listen, my brain decides what to take and what not to take. It isn't necessary to take everything you hear, just follow your conscience.

There are a few people in my life who I consider my heroes. My very first hero is Motibaa. She died at the age of 93 and will be truly missed by me throughout my life. At the age of 14 she was married, at the age of 16 she became a widow. Despite going through all the terrible events of her life, she was the most kind and caring woman. You will always find her smiling and always busy. She would look after my father, she had looked after Navin too, she had looked after me too. After us, she looked after our children and grandchildren as well. She always kept herself very busy, involved in the family and doing things for people. Until she passed away, she would make orange juice and sandwiches for children. Have you ever heard of a woman staying strong with her family and caring for them? That is what I really appreciate about her.

My next hero would be my father-in-law, Bhagwanji Hamraj. He was a very precise person. He never lectured me for hours. He would only say a single sentence that would mean a lot. When he realised that I was looking to start a manufacturing business, and I was stuck with my idea and was not getting anywhere, he asked me to start in real and get going instead of making plans on paper and worrying about failures. This is how I started the Kenpoly factory. He told me to always keep a large vision. As we followed his advice, we gradually acquired a large piece of land. Every time I did any new set up, I bought bigger and better equipment and it helped me very much. I always followed his formulas and that’s how I could buy three nursing homes at once. They are still running very successfully today. His second most important piece of advice was to take good care of your staff, because if you do, then they will take good care of you. I have had a great relationship with all my employees throughout my career.

I was always fond of children. I had been very good with children. I have realised this now when I look at the life I have lived. I may feel for them because I had many hardships and a tough life, and I wish they had a better life than I had. To help them on the right path. Now how to do that? A long time back when I was in Kenya, I wanted to spend time with my children, but just being with them was not good enough. They can get easily bored with me being with them all the time. So, I would make sure their friends are with them, so around 6 to 8 children, I would take them out for drive. I kept a minivan, Nissan E20 for them. I would play the music that they loved. On Sundays, I spent all my time with them, taking them to different places. I was asked if I am a teacher looking after all the students? But that is how I cared, making sure the children were raised well. I always wanted children to learn things. They should be able to do things and not spoon feeding. I have always believed that learning practically can help you learn faster, so I tried to instill that belief in my children. I would take them for swimming lessons, their friends would join them too. I was not a qualified instructor, and at the time there were no instructors

After all these years when I think about the time I started my shop, I did a lot of new things on my own. I did not learn them anywhere, nobody taught me those. I didn't copy them from anyone, but I did them without any formal education. How can an uneducated person start his shop business? Accounts? Marketing? Promotions? Expanding into new shops? Same with the manufacturing company. I did not hold a degree or qualification for that. But by starting the business from the ground up, it became the biggest manufacturing company at the time. After that, starting another factory, but within one month it burnt into ashes. But starting it again and turning it into a biggest manufacturing business again. Coming to the UK, not knowing much about the work culture here, still starting a business where I had no background. It’s been 30 years running successfully even now. Starting the Thursday club and Singles club for bachelors and running it to the end. Deciding to marry Anju within 15 minutes of our meeting. Till now, every decision of my life, I have made in 5 to 15 minutes. Many people would say take your time and think well before taking your steps, but I can assure you that I have no where went wrong with any of my decisions.

At present, I have 7 grandchildren and spending time with them is the best part of my life. In the past few years, I have met many children who I have taken into my family like my own. There is no English word to describe this relationship. They are like my own children. After meeting them, without thinking of their caste, their background, or their parents, I formed a relationship with them in minutes. For some of them, I got them educated, got them married, and I also got the privilege of doing their Kanyadan. Normally people would not do this for other children, but I get immense pleasure doing it. My life is not about material things, but about loving the people around me. Though that is not completely true, in my younger days, I do had craze for Mercedes car which I got and sports car which I got too. I wanted to live in a big house in Kenya and bought a beautiful big property there for my family. I could also afford a huge house for my family in the UK. But now this age, time has come that none of these material things matter to me. What matters me now is to have good relationship with every person that I know and to be proud of that it is not that you have good relationships with only the people of your liking. You too can have good relations with children as well as old people, irrespective of their gender, caste, background, etc. You can find a friend in everyone in this world. Working at a nursing home has I guess brought this out in me. Every time I walk around town or go shopping with my wife, I talk to elderly people. My wife will find me chatting with them for fifteen minutes or even more. At the end, she asks: Who were they? Me: I don’t know them. She: What were you talking about? Me: Just about their normal life.

I have helped around 100 families settle in the UK. Sometimes it was only a little help, other times it was a huge help, but it allowed them to have a good life here in the UK. Although I did not hand them everything on a silver platter, I showed them the right direction and helped them set up for early settlement. I inherited my helping nature from my father and my father-in-law. I had seen my father helping his friends to settle in Kenya during his time. Also keeping all relatives close, having a meals and tea with them, inviting them to our home, and introducing them to our family members.

There is a saying, live for yourself. But trust me, living for others will make your life happier. You would make other people's lives much better; it would bring you immense satisfaction.

Turning Vegetarian - My family was vegetarian, but I began eating meat in restaurants when I was 19. I have tried almost all types of meat around the world. At a time, I could eat around 4 kgs / 10 lbs of meat in a meal. I could even differentiate various meats through tastes. At the age of 45, around 1995, I gave up meat. I had realised that when going out to a restaurant, if I order meat, my partner could not eat what I ordered due to being vegetarian. It will be unfair to ask them to eat meat for my sake, but I can stop eating meat. When I gave up eating meat, many people appreciated my decision. It also led to discussions on animal killings, and I feel I made the right decision. From a large meat eater, now I do not even eat eggs, unless they are in cakes or chocolates.

Quitting Smoking - From the age of 19, I was a regular smoker, smoking around 8 cigarettes a day. I had a discussion with my teacher about smoking. He tried to help me stop doing it. He asked me to blow on a white handkerchief after one puff of a cigarette. This created a black mark of tar on the white handkerchief. He explained that if one single puff could make this mark, imagine after smoking so much, what will be left in the lungs? Around 1995, at the age of 45, I was a member of David Lloyd. There I had a discussion with Trainer about giving up smoking. My reasoning was that smoking controls my anger. Eventually, I realized this was only in my head and found myself an excuse to quit smoking. On my trip to India, in Vrindavan garden, I finally gave up smoking.

Quitting Alcohol - From the age of 19, I started drinking beer. Later in the years, I would have Gin & Tonic, Wine, and Whiskey with water occasionally. In April 2005, at the age of 55, I gave up alcohol. I did this to help another alcoholic person to give up his addiction. I wanted to help him with all my will power. Unfortunately, the person was unable to cope up, but I managed it. Since then, no alcohol. Focusing more on health - Around 2007, I had a medical check-up in Mumbai. The reports indicated that I am diabetic and suffer from hypertension. Doctor in Mumbai insisted I should reduce weight and that was the only solution. I decided to act. After coming back to UK, I went to see GP - Dietician, with their suggestion, I lost 7-8 Kgs. I saw improvements in my diabetes as well as physically. I went to Berlin and bought new clothes; I started looking smarter. But again, gone back to old habits, again had put on weight. In February 2017, I decided this time to reduce weight seriously. Sheena advised me to join Slimming World, plus with Anju’s full support and my determination, I did it again and lost 20 Kgs. GP confirmed, no medication for Diabetes and Hypertension needed, No B12 Injections, No Iron Supplements. Now I keep weekly records and try to maintain this routine consistently. If it goes over by a kilo, then back to action mode. So far, I have maintained for over 3 years now. To maintain this routine, I followed my idea of 8’x4’ white boards that I mentioned in my paragraphs above. For example, when you have an appointment to see your GP at 3.00 pm, as anyone, you will try to get there at least 10 minutes before your meet, similarly, when you have put on weight, you are supposed to act, or it will never happen for you. Although you may have been discussing it for the last 10 years, I assure you, another 10 years will have passed, and it will not happen.

Once, I was discussing with a group of girls aged 12 in Jamnagar. They had a vacation coming in 15 days. I asked if they had any plans for vacation? The answer was no. I said that if they do not plan, vacation will be over. So, they asked what can we plan? I gave them a list of things they could do and how. First was to go and tell your mum, I would like to learn cooking from the first day of my vacation. Your mum might refuse, and you do not need to but if you do, you will learn something new on this vacation. If your mum says no, your response should be - Uncle from London suggested and confirmed that if chapattis are burnt, he will come and eat them.

Some people think being smart means wearing branded clothes, branded sunglasses, driving posh cars, going to expensive hotels, and speaking stylishly. For me, SMART stands for: S – Specific, M – Measurable, A – Achievable, R – Realistic, T – Time. I have always tried to practice these points. I try to be clear in my communication and my beliefs with people. We should mean what we talk, otherwise what is the point. Be positive, avoid gossip, and work towards your goals. The simple life teaches you to be happy even with the basic things in life. Up to the age of 12, I only had two pairs of Khakhi shorts and 2 white short sleeved shirts. No more clothes than these 4 pieces and a pair of stitched shoes. There was never a time when I felt poor, deprived, or complained. During those times, I lost a shoe climbing a moving truck, and I had to go to school without shoes. Still no complaints as I knew it was my fault. Mealtimes were fixed. Meals were fixed, no choices. We had a lot of playing and physical exercises in the open, fresh air, climbing trees, hence, I was always hungry. Never wanted to miss the meal I received, never complained about food. As I grew older and started working, at the age of 17, I started realising the value of money. My standards started getting better with the means available, still not complaining or comparing. Then my standards got extremely better, and I could have the best cars, the largest houses, travel, shopping, etc. I am still not making comparisons and I am not forgetting where I started.

In essence, this was my life in Kenya and has continued here in the UK. I am still the same, the son of Raichand Virji of Meru (he left Meru in 1969, 50 years ago). Enjoying life to the fullest and cherishing the people I meet along the way. Keeping my ego away and enjoying my life to the fullest. The lesson I learned is that ambitions should be big, but you should also be happy with what you have and work your way to the future. Be positive and remember everything is possible. Now with life going down with changes in times and situations, I am trying to keep things nice and simple. A small car (easier to drive), a smaller house (easy to look after), simple clothes (comfortable). Still satisfied and no complains. COVID have completely changed the daily perspective of life for me with its lockdowns, no complains though. After all there is a saying - Go with the flow. It is much easier to row downstream, compared with upstream. But I do participate wherever my mind is content, as I have always done.