Mint Chocolate Ice Cream and Pretty Earrings: In Memory of Minal


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 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.

Hey Minal,
The entire country is praying for your well being!
Take care

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:

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
Sustainable Architecture
Santiago Calatrava

…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.




Thanks, brown_fob.

CNN-IBN: Virginia Tech’s missing Indian student dead

100 thoughts on “Mint Chocolate Ice Cream and Pretty Earrings: In Memory of Minal

  1. Anna, I have not seen a better written obituary, I feel like I know her now, even if I have not known her, that in the world of theoretical possibilities, she would have been a close friend, and that makes the loss a lot more painful and personal…this essay makes me cry.

  2. But you’ll never gobble another golgoppa again

    brought me to tears sitting at my desk. Great tribute to Minal, what a beautiful name btw. I pray for her family that they will pass thru this and be strong. I wish the clouds would clear up soon.

  3. ANNA

    Thanks for putting in words what we all feel. May Minal’s family find the strength to remember only the happiest of times with her.

  4. Anna, that was a great edi-obit. I think that you brought the one thing to this tragedy the mainstream media hasn’t – a face. Everyone knows it was 32 people. We are beginning to find out who. In my reading so far, Minal is the only who has been identified aside from Kelly(?). You did a fantastic job in reminding her loved ones why she was loved and for showing us who she may have been. My heart goes out to the families of the victims but I hope they remain strong through this. It won’t be easy and there won’t be justice but we may see something good come out of this yet.

  5. Anna, you made her real for me. I have tears streaming down my cheeks while I read this. Minal – May you live forever in the memories of those you loved and were loved by.

  6. Heartfelt condolences to her family. No parent should have to see their child pass away – it’s the worst thing that could happen to a person.

    M. Nam

  7. Moving post Anna.

    An ode to a friend I never knew. ( from In Memoriam by Tennyson)

    One writes, that Other friends remain,' ThatLoss is common to the race’ — And common is the commonplace, And vacant chaff well meant for grain.

    That loss is common would not make My own less bitter, rather more: Too common! Never morning wore To evening, but some heart did break.

    RIP Minal.

  8. Hurts. Cannot imagine the plight of kin related to the shooting-victims and shooter. I will pay more attention to people in my life.

  9. Minal means “Precious” or “jewel”

    I cannot help but think that her parents must have named her – as all our parents do – with so much love.That’s what we do as parents – we give birth, bring up our kids , send them out into the world ,take pride in their achievements,hope against hope that they are protected from disappointments , and wish that they have the very best in life.

    Then something like this happens – random, senseless, unnecessary ,unthinkable and in a few minutes madness robs us of the most precious thing in our lives. I feel terrible for Minal’s family and all the families of the victims and send up prayers for strength and courage. I hope the dead are in a better place, away from this crazy world and its lunacy , its grimness, its terrible tomorrows

  10. Minal means “Precious” or “jewel”

    I cannot help but think that her parents must have named her – as all our parents do – with so much love.That’s what we do as parents – we give birth, bring up our kids , send them out into the world ,take pride in their achievements,hope against hope that they are protected from disappointments , and wish that they have the very best in life.

    Then something like this happens – random, senseless, unnecessary ,unthinkable and in a few minutes madness robs us of the most precious thing in our lives. I feel terrible for Minal’s family and all the families of the victims and send up prayers for strength and courage. I hope the dead are in a better place, away from this crazy world and its lunacy , its grimness, its terrible tomorrows

  11. Dear Anna I have been a faithful reader of all your posts. This particular one moved me so much that I had to get out of my silent reader mode and post to thank you for your contribution to SM. Through your gentle words, you have constructed an image of Minal the person, the daughter, the friend and just another victim of yet another tragic incidient. My heartfelt condolences to Minal’s family – she is/was one of us and hope she is now in a better place.

  12. A beautiful tribute, Anna.

    Minal was from the school as I am. If your information is right, she was two years my senior. Her face seems vaguely familiar – I wish I could say anything more than that.

    The other blog post mentions that her mother was with her in Blacksburg. I shudder at the thought of the lone journey back to India that her mother will have to undertake. At the same time, her family was with her in last few days – the smallest consolation in an otherwise inane, horrific episode.

  13. well written anna. Going to Minal’s orkut page was odd for me too. I was drawn like a moth to a candle, doomed to spin around it endlessly while my jead was reeling with the absoluteness of the tragedy. Suddenly i felt connected to the tragedy in a very real way.

    As one malayali to another (i presume a bit here) wouldn’t chechi be a more suitable salutation? figleaf: just trying a kurt vonnegut.

  14. Well written and well felt – an unecessary tragedy that affects each of us…prayers and strength to all the familes and all of us affected by this

  15. wouldn’t chechi be a more suitable salutation?

    Anna is “Akka to the world” ! (But I’m also curious when Akka becomes chechi) :)

  16. Anna is “Akka to the world” ! (But I’m also curious when Akka becomes chechi) :)

    Ee lokam oru mayaajaalam alleyo ;) i better leave before im flamed :D

  17. this is a horrible, horrible tragedy. this post reminds me & will continue to remind me that the people we lose are real, they can be the person you’re sitting next to on the subway. when we’re physically removed from a tragedy, we feel sympathy and sorrow, but we don’t feel it as though we are there; we may not truly empathize (i’ll speak for myself here) anna’s post has made a real connection me, this whole thing has been bothering me, weighing on my mind, but actually seeing minal’s information–her likes, her interests, her hobbies—i’m given a portrait of a real person who could be me. may minal and all the others who were victims of this horrifying event rest in peace.

  18. Ee pakka Malayalee Chechi became “Akka” thanks to one infamous little South Indian girl; Kaavya is Tamil, I’d be her Akka vs. Chechi. Because I have always typed my handle “A N N A”, “A K K A” became a logical play on that. Palindromes of a feather flock together. Originally, we didn’t have a whole lot of Malayalees reading this site/commenting actively; it made sense to be Akka since more of our readers would connect with that South Indian honorific instead.

    It doesn’t hurt that my most precious baby cousin calls me Akka, either.

    There’s a third and final reason why I’m “Akka” but you’d have to know me in real life to figure it out, since it deals with a certain…ah, nm. ;)

  19. Thanks Anna for sharing a beautiful tribute. The senseless VaTech tragedy was more of a horrific event in some other part of the world that consumed 24-hour news coverage, until now. I am moved.

  20. Originally, we didn’t have a whole lot of Malayalees reading this site/commenting actively

    really? few(er) malayalis in the blogosphere? cant believe that…

    BTW, there was a Keralite student who was at VT who survived the shooting. He’s the son of a Malluwood movie director called Vinayan. This was an item in today’s Malayala Manorama here. I cant find a link to it unfortunately

  21. Minal sounds lovely and complicated..condolensces to her loved ones.

    How sad…

    I’d looked for her and found her immediately, but a foolish sense of pride over bygone fights and the kind of reluctance that doesn’t want you to make a fool of yourself, stopped me even from scrapping her.
  22. Anna, That was a beautiful tribute to a wonderful person. I’ve never had the fortune of knowing Minal, but just going through her profile and scrapbook on orkut makes me feel like i do. She is not just another statistic in the mindless violent society of american education. She and all the others who lost their lives for no reason whatso ever. May her family and friends find the courage to get through this trauma.

  23. very unfortunate event.. i feel sad for minal and all other 33 people who got killed in virginia, the grief is same when you come to know a terrorist killing hundreds of people by blast, but this time the killer wasnt a terrorist, he was very much part of the same society till the momemnt he pulled the trigger..

    i would see cho seung-hui ( the killer ) as a “virus” a kind of social virus, who whould forcibly enter and mutate the structure of society, he sent across his message to the world firstly by his killing and then by letting world know about his cause, i.e. the tape which he recorded, if you read his words carefully, you will come to know that his problem wasnt new and could have been resolved before he took such drastic step, the “extreme” can never be one… there are always two extreme points.. and they co-exist. seung-hui was also at extreme opposite end of the filthy rich american culture, he suffered pain.. and some how everyone miserably failed to read him. his words are enough to inspire a whole new generation of such mutating viruses, but at the same time its a message for rest of us to learn something out of it.. it happened in US but days can not be so far when you will hear something like this happening in india.. so i guess apart from praying for those who lost life, on individual level we must think why such situations arise, somewhere in our life do we also humiliate someone? knowingly or unknowingly.. do we position someone on opposite extreme?? which may lead to disaster like this..

    i dont think posting condolences on the victim’s scrapbook will give peace to his/her soul unless we are able to prevent such viruses to spread across…

    p.s. excerpts from cho seung-hui’s video tape.. must read this…

  24. Wasn’t there a 3rd brown at the massacre in Blacksburg Corral?

    …Reema Samaha. Anything on her?

  25. Anna, This is the first time I’m reading your post on this blog. If you are who I think you are, I must say that I have never been a fan of any of your writings or unreasonable rants and unmeaningful activism. Had I known it was your article, I would have probably not cared to read this. But I stand humbled at this piece. You have excellently portrayed the intense heartbeat of a billion plus people. God Bless.

  26. Ashwin, thank you for reading this, for giving me a second/third/tenth chance. Your comment means the world to me.


    delirium tremens, Reema was of Lebanese descent.

  27. This is written a very good one. Minal sounds lovely and complicated..My condolensces to her loved ones and her family.

  28. I am an indian grad. student who is attending viriginia tech. I did not know Minal or any of her close friends. I was really touched by your well-written piece. You accomplished your goal atleast with me. I feel closer to Minal after reading this. Minal sounds like a charming, outgoing and creative girl who will be loved and dearly missed forever.

  29. I was going through the comments and saw a mention of Reema. So I just wanted to add something. I knew Reema very well and even met her at her after-show party this past saturday. We were also members of Salsa club at Virginia Tech. She was only 18, a most talented dancer, happy girl with a wonderful smile and an amazing personality who would have gone on to accomplish many many great things. She will be much loved and missed.

  30. But you’ll never gobble another golgoppa again

    Since we don’t know what happens after life, for all we know, she may be eating hundreds of spicy,tangy,sweety,crunchy golgoppas.

  31. I never knew her but yes, like the reader, I read her entire scrapbook. And I broke down. I know the pain of losing someone close to you forever and all I can do is pray that her mother and sister get the strength to bear this loss……and I have stopped eating gol guppas now. May her departed soul rest in peace.

  32. This was so beautifully written. I’m sorry but I did not know Minal personally, but I had felt your sorrow. And I had wept with you. May her soul rest in peace.

    Unable are the loved to die. For love is immortality. ~Emily Dickinson

  33. minal, we are going to miss you so much. I am going to miss your innocent smile and the way you called me “MAMI”. you will be in our hearts forever. may you have peace in heaven as i know you are there,smiling and happy as usual.

  34. i didnt know you at all, but u will still be in my heart forever. May God Bess you.

  35. I am at a loss for words. None could do you service anyway. May you rest in peace, Minal.

  36. Amazing article, who says you have to be related to a person to feel the pain, loss… words from heart connect to the person…. honestly this post did bring tears to my eyes… May her soul rest in peace… and give solace to one all who are mourning her loss.

  37. Dear Anna,

    Thank you for writing such a wonderful article on Minal. I am Minal Panchal’s sister.

    Its over a year now but it still seems like yesterday ….. I have read your other bog as well. I am sorry for the loss of your father. I know how painful it is. My family has suffered 2 losses over this 3 yrs.

    Minal indeed was a wonderful person. My most precious jewel. Thank you once again.

    Warm regards, Kavita