Meet the Patels


Britain has more than 250,000 Patels, six of them pictured above. Clare James of BBC News writes about a matchmaking event for Patels at a community centre in Wembley, north London.

As the guests arrive they are handed lists relating first names (surnames are obviously a given at this do), ages, qualifications and occupations of their opposite numbers, together with the names of the villages their forefathers came from.

"You look for the village where your own folks come from," one of the girls explains. "But you can't link up with someone who's from your own village because they'll be too close, like your cousin or your brother."

So marrying your cousin is out. And so, traditionally, is marrying outside your caste. To help people sort through these complications each caste has its own directories, some up to 1,000 pages thick. They're arranged alphabetically by village and detail people's names, addresses and the details of any eligible sons and daughters.

"It's like a database so we can know how many Patels there are," says Ramesh Patel, president of the Yorkshire Leuva Patel Society (Leuva being the farming or landowning caste).

"We can find out whether someone's son or daughter is suitable for mine – their ages, whether they have a degree. Then we can introduce them and if they like each other, fair enough. If not, by all means move on."  [BBC News]

"If they like each other, fair enough" is certainly an improvement over "if they're fair enough, they like each other." But they're still too attached to the caste system, which means that the single men in the Yorkshire Leuva Patel Society will never get their hands on the lovely ladies in the Yorkshire Pudding Society.

Bradford restaurateur Bobby Patel says enterprise and the instinct for "an environment to make money" is "engrained in the Patels".

Nowhere is it more successfully engrained than in Bhikhu and Vijay Patel, owners of the Basildon-based pharmaceutical company Waymade Healthcare. Joint 141st on the annual Sunday Times Rich List, they're worth £370m – even after the credit crunch.

In 2000, the Rich List database threw up the interesting idea that you're seven times more likely to be a millionaire if you're called Patel than if you're called Smith. Which may be one reason they like to stick together.

Defining the extended family's philosophy, Bikhu says simply: "One works very hard, looks after the family and always saves a little for a rainy day."

"When you earn £100 you want to earn £200. You try to do better and better for your children, talk to any Patel and they want to educate their kids. This may not be unique to Patels, our values are very similar to other Indians, but we seem to excel at it." [BBC News]

Yes, Indians love to educate their children. Those other kids in college – the whites and blacks and Chinese — they're just there because their parents were looking for a good way to burn their life savings.

I know Patels who want their kids to get advanced degrees and I also know Patels who just want their kids to learn how to say, "Thank you for shopping at our store. Please come again."

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. “Yes, Indians love to educate their children. Those other kids in college — the whites and blacks and Chinese — they’re just there because their parents were looking for a good way to burn their life savings.”
    Always funny! Thanks

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