Dearest Choti Behan,
Mint chocolate Ice Cream and pretty earrings, that’s my wish for you little Minal.
surabhi: minu is nothing like neone u wd hv met b4,..she is unique..one in a zillion..shes the greatest friend..u dont know her well enough if u havent heard her brilliant witty jokes..she has a style of her own…she is fun..she wants so much from life..a beach of her own..a bike..a musician guy..chocolate-mint icecream…lots of pretty earrings…and i wish that she gets all of it. i have learnt so much from her..i am just blessed to have a friend like her..i am so proud of her..of what she has achieved and i absolutely love her!!!! [orkut testimonial]
I hope you thrill to the crisp sweetness of white cream flecked with chocolate chips for all of eternity (white because if it’s green ice cream, it’s artificially colored, and I would only let you eat the finest). I hope that when you set your spoon down by your old-fashioned ice cream dish at whatever celestial cafe you are at, it is only so that you may open little boxes, filled with glittering earrings so lovely, they steal your breath and replace it with delight. I hope that every little box which is tied with a perfect bow is given to you by a “musician guy” as your friend Surabhi would put it, since that’s what you like. And I hope he looks at you with eyes brimming over with love, because you must know this by now– you are loved. So very loved. I cried at how loved you are, when I scrolled through every single scrap left at your Orkut profile.
I felt my throat constrict when I read
Hearing ur name from yesterday dear. 1 Billion n more people prayers r with you along my prayers. Hope you are found soon. Oh God help her.
…which was left by someone who actually changed their screen name to “Pray For Minal”, just for you. All for you. I acknowledged the faith you inspired
hi ya.. just got messages from my friend.. hope you are well.. I am not hoping; I belive you are all right.. reply…take care..
and then I saw the following, which is what forced the tears that had merely been hovering in front of my eyes to spill down my cheeks, in to my lap–
Heyy minal wassup – ! i’l get ya pani – puri’s wen r ya back. take care
But you’ll never gobble another golgoppa, will you? You won’t giggle when water streams down your chin if you weren’t careful, you will never again hear a glorious crunch while salt/sweetness/spice/sourness collide in your happy mouth. This gentle “bribe” for your reply wasn’t successful. But the mere fact that it was made destroyed me, even as I knew I must be feeling nothing relative to the pain your pani-puri-profferer is in.
And then there was this, which encapsulated a truth which filled me with wonder, because I knew in my gut it was true, that instead of being glued to India vs. Pakistan (which you would have watched, yes, you would), a whole, huge nation was horrified by the words and pictures streaming out of Virginia.
The entire country is praying for your well being!
Once, when someone fell in love with me, they created an entire Orkut community based on a very precious inside joke, so I know how significant such a thing is, in the wonderland-like world of social networking programs. Someone who loves you did the same, but I wish with every cell in my body that they were doing it for any purpose but…
We started a community for Minal Panchal, the Indian missing @ Virginia Tech….Do join it and pass it on to ur friends
To view the ‘Praying for Minal’ community page, visit: http://www.orkut.com/Community.aspx?cmm=30876137
So what I am looking at is a love story, as told by virtual bits and pieces of care left by strangers on a pale blue page created by a Googler during his “20 percent time”. When Orkut Buyukkotken pondered connecting others as he roamed about the Googleplex, could he have possibly known that thousands of Indians would flock to your profile and write prayers for your safety, pleas for your very life? My eyes touch the screen as if it were braille, as I try to understand who you were by being mindful of what you chose to reveal about yourself, what you might have been attempting to convey. A Web 2.0 timesuck transforms to become a 24-hour a day vigil for a girl from Bombay, then it serves as her memorial in cyberspace. The CNN-IBN article which confirmed your loss borrowed your profile pic, I think. I know, because I did that too for this post. I wonder if their journalists lingered over your words, your tastes, your choices, your interests. I looked at which groups you chose to affiliate yourself with, because I always thought that mine said so much about me. And I wanted to know you, in some tiny yet real way. So I saw:
Our Lady Of Remedy High School – Batch 1996
Rizvi College of Architecture
…and I got a sliver of a sense of you. Architect. I usually swoon for architects, but today I tripped over that date, instead. 1996. Your batch. You are my little sister’s age. The second my mind made that connection, tears fell again. Because to me, she will always be a baby, even if she nears 30…and that means someone must think of you that way, too. I know someone does– your older sister, Kavita. How I weep for her, since I cannot bear to contemplate a life without the little girl who followed me around until I was an adult; how can your didi? How could any of us? You are so very loved, Minal. All little sisters and brothers are.
Over a billion people prayed for you; several dozen probably knew you well and shed far more tears for you than hyper-emotional I did. After all, you are not just someone’s sister, you are someone’s daughter, in fact, your Mother was coincidentally visiting the U.S. when her life became this nightmare. When she goes home, she takes with her the devastating knowledge that you will never return to it again. You will never eat her cooking or snap at her when she annoys you as all Mothers do; you will never sleep in your childhood bed.
I know what that bitter epiphany feels like, and I know that it violently rips the middle out of the word “home”. It has to. Those letters are the sound from which the entire universe is created. Your poor Mother, her universe has shattered, for she has lost you. My Mother once told me that no parent wants to outlive their child, that it’s not right, it’s not fair and I think of you again. It’s not right. It’s not fair.
Who am I to write about you? Why do I feel any connection to you at all, no matter how tenuous? Is it because you and I are exactly the same height? Is it because we might have been able to tell each other which shades of lipstick to avoid? Or is it just because I am haunted by my own loss, my own neverending nightmare, my own tragedy which is so different, especially in magnitude from yours, but it is still crippling for me. I am now beyond familiar with apparitions, guilt and unexplainable moments when what I feel races far past what I know, so I think I have answered my own questions. If “death” were on Orkut, I’d be on their buddy list.
But this is about you, dear girl. Sweet, sensitive, shy, intensely-creative-you. “Brilliant” and “so respectful of her elders”- you. You who will now eat mint chocolate ice cream every day, all day, as much as you want– and my irrational, anguished mind thinks of cavities you will never get, for angels never need to go to the dentist. Again, I have to appreciate your taste– that’s one of my favorite flavors, too. And I also collect earrings. I have a pair I liked so much, I accidentally bought them again, for the second time in six months. They are beautiful. I sincerely wish I could give them to you. I am convinced you would have loved them.
What else did you love? You once typed
assertiveness, candlelight, intelligence, sarcasm, thunderstorms
and then you outlined even more about yourself:
passions: my work, architecture, buildings, nature, architecture……
…your greatest passion in life, mentioned twice. Duly noted.
You would have been popular among our World Cup-mad mutineers:
sports: not into sports except for swimming occassionally, like to watch cricket sometimes.
If we were friends, I would have gently made fun of your love for Hari Puttar…
books: all of harry potter series, little women, sphere, timeline, to kill a mocking bird.
…but I would’ve given you earrings too, to buy your forgiveness. I would’ve asked if you had that one remix of “Be With You”, since none of my Pitchfork-reading friends will admit to owning it…
music: old hindi, r.d. burman, soft rock, enrique… and any fast music while at work.
And I would have lobbied for the first and last, but not middle if we were going out to dinner:
cuisines: indian, chinese, italian…
I brood and I type this and I know why I am doing it; I want you to be real. I want you to be more than that “Indian student who died in Monday’s massacre at Virginia Tech”. I want someone to feel what I did, when I read this comment about the other visible brown victim of this tragedy. I want you to be more than– I am ashamed to type this–a bullet point or a statistic, but I have already seen you reduced to both, because your life was stolen by the former. I want that grainy picture of you that is being linked everywhere to be supplanted by memories of the amazing human you obviously were. I want you to be Minal, not a victim.
And because of that obstinate hope on my part, I want you to be thought of and remembered here, in my virtual home, if only for a moment. Because everyone who was lost on 04.16.07 deserves such respect and contemplation. And I’m reading profiles of other victims, people who were from the DC Metro area, because that’s the logical thing to do– memorialize those whom you live near, because you have something in common with them. Well, a few thousand of us at this big brown blog have some things in common with you, though none of us has ever met you. And I just wanted you to know that we are so sorry you are gone. That you broke our collective hearts, because we see you now and we are stunned at what was lost.
Every victim is being mourned, but some are being “remembered more” than others; it’s not fair, but none of this is…and such unevenness is merely the way it all works. I just wanted to do what I could, for you. It was the least I could do, for you, my little sister whose life should have continued here instead of above.
As we say in my Greek Orthodox faith: “May your memory be eternal.” May your last few moments have been painless, if that was at all possible, out of divine mercy. May your life have been filled with happiness and sweetness, not regret. May your loved ones eventually feel serenity. May a senseless calamity like the one which deprived our world of you never happen again. And may heaven really be like Orkut for you Minal, since more than a social networking timepass which allowed me to see a fraction of you, it is an old Turkish word which means “city of happiness, pleasure, joy”. I wish you bliss in your Orkut, wherever you are, choti behan. Be at peace.
A K K A