By Sameer Barua
In 1974, he finally went home to see his family after seven years, thinking he may get to attend his sister’s wedding. Instead, in a whirlwind of events and cross-country family coordination, he and Ruma Bezbora ended up married that summer!
Detroit was still smoldering from the 12th Street riot which had ignited seven weeks earlier. Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” was crooning about the man who “jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were glorifying the criminal couple of Bonnie & Clyde.
Meanwhile, a young student who was weeks away from his 22nd birthday, was finding himself thousands of miles away from the only home he’d ever known. After departing New Delhi’s Palam Airport on September 10 with $50 USD in his pocket, Debojit Barua spent a couple of days visiting Paris and London before finally landing in New York City on Wednesday, September 13, 1967. Upon arrival, his luggage was nowhere to be found! He filed a claim and proceeded onward to his last flight to Detroit. He was picked up by the gentlemanly Bill Hayes who brought him to his cozy home at 460 Wilson Ave. in Clawson to stay along with Bill’s wife Ellen and their four children. In those days, international student communities were virtually nonexistent so universities would pair foreign students with a “host” family to help them assimilate to their new lives in the United States. Debojit stayed with the Hayes family, whose teenage son was luckily close enough to his size to borrow clothes until his lost luggage was eventually delivered! The Hayes family has remained extended family ever since, even after the passing of Bill and Ellen.
So why was this scrawny kid from the tiny town of Margherita, Assam in Detroit all the way from India?
After a stellar academic career in India at Cotton College, Guwahati and the University of Delhi, he’d earned an opportunity to advance his studies in quantum physics at Wayne State University under the guidance of Dr. Suraj N. Gupta. Ultimately his research led to the completion of his doctorate thesis in November 1973, "Regularization and Renormalization of Nonlinear Pion-pion Couplings" (don’t ask me what that means!) He continued researching and published writing and also taught as an adjunct at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. But ultimately, Debojit embarked into the world of automotive engineering with the bulk of his years at Ford Motor Company. He still carries on his long career today at Chrysler and has accumulated a lot of industry recognition and authored many patents.
In 1974, he finally went home to see his family after seven years, thinking he may get to attend his sister’s wedding. Instead, in a whirlwind of events and cross-country family coordination, he and Ruma Bezbora ended up married that summer! In the subsequent 43 years, they’ve managed to raise a couple of not-too-bad kids, welcomed their loving son-in-law and daughter-in-law, and doted on their two energetic granddaughters.
Debojit and Ruma Barua, 1974
In 50 years, Debojit has managed to go from an F-1 Student Visa with "Nil" profession to earning citizenship of the United States and truly fulfilling the American Dream. After coming to the country with literally just the clothes on his back, he has built a successful career, raised a loving family, impacted the lives of hundreds of friends, and given back to his community through his volunteer work. Whether it’s tending to his vegetable garden, taking his family on Clark Griswold-style road trips when we were young, watching (and still re-watching) Seinfeld reruns, or lamenting that the Detroit Lions have still only won a single playoff game in all his time here (see the clipping from that day's Detroit Free Press!), there is nothing more American than my dad and his experience. Although he still makes trips back to India to visit his family and friends there, there is no question that for him, Detroit is home.
Congratulations, 'Det', on completing your 50th "American Birthday" and here’s to many more!