Friday, 24 April 2009

Rashmakan Popat - That's P O P A T

I'm at the Wellington Park Hotel waiting for the Charity Dinner guests to arrive. As usual I'm early. In fact over an hour early (this is also common).

I went to the cigar machine but it was empty but for 3 10pence pieces in the change compartment that someone had forgotten to uplift. For some reason this caused a flashback for me to my school days and a character who was Northampton School for Boy's finest entrepreneur. His name was Rashmakhan Popat. "That's P O P A T" he used to spell out to anyone he had just introduced himself to through his lovely white eyes and his disarming smile.

Rashmakan was a Ugandan Asian thrown out of his country of birth thanks to Idi Amin. He arrived in England knowing very little English but already, just two years on in our school, was making his way up the streamed classes in all the core subjects.

He was a great wheeler dealer. He was always in the schoolyard selling pencils 3 for 20p which he had bought no doubt for a lot less at his uncle's corner shop. Sometimes he'd be running a raffle of dubious legality, dubious prizes and even more dubious winners. "1 ticket for 10p or you can have a strip for just 30p" he'd say. "Just 3 10ps that's all" was his closing pitch.

There was something about Rashmakan that you instinctively knew he was destined to be successful and make it rich. Most likely very rich and have the last laugh on us all. But he had one drawback in most peoples' eyes. He was a "Paki". It made no difference when he explained that he was born in Uganda a place about as far away from Pakistan as England was. He looked different and sounded it too and that made everyone feel uncomfortable and that meant he received all sorts of shameful racist abuse.

There was just one other Ugandan Asian in the school called Narendeh Savjani. The two had been good friends but fallen out and never spoke to each other which struck me as a pity. Despite whatever it was that had driven them apart they still kept their integrity which always impressed me. Each would simply say of the other "I've fallen out with him and we don't speak anymore". Nothing more.

One winter's day Rashmakhan tripped and fell into a puddle in the schoolyard where a drain had blocked. It wasn't large and probably no deeper than 10cm. He had fallen in face down and was clearly concussed because he didn't move. No bastard would pluck him out either. He said afterwards that he nearly drowned. And he was right.

But where are you now Rashmakhan Popat (that's P O P A T) and how loud are you laughing?

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