Special to the Register
For Ali Daredia and Baqir Bhimani, the road to attending college in Gainesville was a long and difficult one, but an experience they will never forget.
More than 40 years after coming from India to what was then called Cooke County Junior College, the pair recently traveled back to Gainesville to see the place where their educational dreams started.
In 1971, both Daredia and Bhimani were living in extreme poverty near the India and Pakistan border with their wives and children. They had full time office jobs at banks and commercial companies, but those jobs only paid $40 to $50 a month. Clearly not enough to support a family.
“We had no future, or at least our future was dark,” Daredia said. “There was no sign of any upcoming happiness or progress and no future for our children.”
Daredia’s and Bhimani’s families would gather and hold monthly meetings in a local restaurant where they would drink coffee and talk about their worries and thoughts. It was there at one of these meetings that the men decided they would find a way to go to the United States or another country to look for a better life with a bright future. There was one problem: money. They had none, only unpaid bills.
They learned that a friend of one of their relatives was studying at a little school in Gainesville called Cooke County Junior College. That friend arranged for an admission form to be sent overseas to the pair. The late Peter Hyde, an NCTC instructor who worked with international students, sent Daredia and Bhimani an I-20 form to see if they could get into the school.
It would not be easy. They had to take an English proficiency test at the United States Embassy so they could obtain a student visa. Two of their friends failed the test and were denied a visa.
“Their destiny was shrouded with darkness and their hope came to an end, leaving me and Baquir still struggling and fully determined to join the college and find our dream world,” Daredia said.
Daredia passed the exam with flying colors, but Bhimani fell short by four points. He was still granted a visa on the promise of improving his English skills once be reached the college.
“Our joy had no boundaries, but our families were dipped into tears and sadness of parting from us,” Daredia said.
The biggest hurdle still awaited and that was arranging airline tickets and money for tuition and fees, which together would total nearly $900 for each of them, which amounted to almost two years of salary for them.
“This was a problem since there was not even sufficient food at home,” Daredia said. “This target to achieve seemed like a huge mountain to climb, but we did not lose our joy and determination.”
Both men sold their bikes and their wives sold some jewelry to help pay for the trip. Daredia was able to come up with his money, but Bhimani was not. So Daredia would have to go to the United States by himself. He remembers the day he left to pursue his dream. He remembers the flight to Paris, then Chicago, then Dallas. He kept imagining what Gainesville might be like.
He entered the doors of the college and met Mr. Hyde. “He proved to be an angel in every way to support and guide me,” Daredia said.
After a few days, he became homesick and worried about his wife and children. He started looking for a part-time job in Gainesville and found one at Hunter’s Cafe on Highway 82.
“This was happiness for me since it would cover my college and living expenses while in Gainesville,” he said.
He remained homesick, but got some good news when word came that Bhimani would finally be able to join him in Gainesville.
“We kept studying and learning and talking about our lives and remembering our home,” Daredia said.
But then tragedy occurred: someone stole Daredia’s bank draft and passport. He had to leave Gainesville and made his way to Dallas where he worked as a bus boy at a restaurant. In Dallas, his winter coat was stolen. The thief also took $7, which was all the money he had at the time. They even stole the cassette recorder that Mr. Hyde had given to him to use in the classroom.
He started working odd jobs and finally got enough money to call his brother back home and arrange for a ticket to return to India. Bhimani continued to struggle without his best friend, but did find a job at Weber Aircraft. However, the two friends lost touch.
“I came home dejected, lost, depressed and crying about how I had lost my dream and the game life was playing with me,” Daredia said.
But before he was forced to leave Cooke County Junior College, he had taken some business classes. This education allowed him to find a better job in the oil-rich countries of the Middle East.
He worked at a bank in Dubai, UAE that was managed by Wells Fargo. Because of his business education, he was offered an officer’s post at a salary of $1,500 a month, more than triple what he was making before he left.
He lived there from 1976 until 1990, when he finally had enough money to migrate with his family to Canada.
Bhimani left the United States and got a job in Saudi Arabia where he also saved enough money to move his family to Canada. There, the two friends reconnected and one day came up with a plan to return to Gainesville and visit the place where it all began.
On Jan. 17, the two men once again entered the doors of what is now called North Central Texas College with tears rolling down their faces. Thoughts of 1972 raced through their minds.
“It was like a true-life movie in which we were the characters around which life was dancing and smiling,” Daredia said. “Today we feel proud of our struggles and our hard work and sufferings as at last it paid off. We did not lose courage. We kept moving ahead in spite of all the thorny roads and hurdles that came our way. The memories of Cooke County Junior College will forever remain until our last breath.”
Dr. Emily Klement, dean of the NCTC Bowie and Graham campuses, was on hand that day when the two men returned to the college.
“Meeting Ali and Baquir was quite a nice surprise,” she said. “Here were two men who were tracing back to a time when they were young and so excited to find opportunity in our country through education – and landed in Gainesville. What they found was a place that wasn’t quite ready for the massive enrollment of international students, but had some incredible people who were there to help them on their journey. There were people they never forgot, such as Peter Hyde who took these young men under his wing to help them navigate through very difficult times with guidance and faith.
“Their teachers were helpful and kind even when the big world often was not,” she added. “They found warmth and kindnesses from native Texans who for the first time met people from India. In their words, this was the place they learned to become men; a place where the kindnesses of many people at NCTC were not forgotten.”
Bhimani continues to carry his 1972 Texas driver’s license with a Gainesville address. After the tour of the campus, he placed it back into his wallet, but only after kissing it first.
“They made the long trip from Canada to Gainesville as a pilgrimage; to find the place where it all really began on a journey into adulthood and men of faith,” Klement said. “They came back because of the people who helped them so many years ago. I just happened to be there to be able to convey that message back to NCTC – where that same kind of teaching, mentorship and warmth continues today.”
Debbie Sharp, NCTC vice-president of institutional advancement who also heads up the NCTC Ex-Students and Friends Association, also had a chance to meet the two men when they visited the campus.
“It was really inspiring to hear Ali and Baqir tell stories about their experience here at NCTC and the impact the college has had on their lives,” she said. “Many of the students that attend NCTC have life struggles and come to the college to better their lives through education. It was really exciting to see their excitement and admiration for the college. They are true examples of how NCTC is changing the lives of our students.”
Both Daredia and Bhimani are now members of the NCTC Ex-Students and Friends Association.