Meet the Patels, Radio 4
Patel is not just a name, it's a whole way of life
Sunday 14 June 2009
They sound like the British National Party's dream: hard-working and aspirational, socially cohesive, big on family values.
But just one thing might stop them being BNP boss Nick Griffin's new best friends – they hail from Gujarat in India. There are now around a quarter of a million Patels in Britain and they're not doing badly: I don't know if unemployment stats have been calculated, but I can't imagine that many are signing on. If your name's Patel, you're seven times more likely to be a millionaire than if it's Smith.
Clare Jenkins began her sprightly investigation into the people who bear the UK's 24th most-common surname at a Patel-only "singles mingles" event in Wembley. They all had badges bearing the relevant data; most importantly profession and ancestral village (Gujaratis only marry outside their own villages). And she went on to discover that there are Patel societies up and down the country, representing different castes and clans, each with its own directory, which often runs to 1,000 pages – invaluable for match-making.
Bobby Patel from Bradford used to think he'd be thoroughly modern and make his own arrangements, but he ended up finding a wife back in the old country (née Patel, naturally) thanks to the time-honoured network – "I thought I was going to be introduced to loads of girls and basically be asked, 'Who do you like?'." It didn't work out quite that way, but he was eventually fixed up thanks to what he described as "a complex family web of auntie's best friend's first cousin's in-laws".
But although half of Britain's Patels married someone with the same name, Western ways are intruding. As Bobby says, "in my family so far it's Patel to Patel, but for my younger brother it could be Patel to blonde". And in Leeds, Ramesh and Jashu have five children, three of them married – and not to Patels. But they're unconcerned. Like parents of any colour and creed, they just want their kids to be happy. Not even the BNP could argue with that.
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