Slain Mumbai student Minal Panchal's profile on Orkut has become the focus of anguish expressed by Indians mourning her passing in the shootout at Virginia Tech on April 16. Probably because like most other Indians on the net she was young and aspiring, with dreams similar to theirs.
Between Tuesday and Thursday the scraps (messages) on her page have risen from 1,500 to 32,000. Simple but caring condolence messages are coming in every few seconds from fellow Indians all over the world.
The friends linked to her profile are also getting their fair share of condolence messages. Many of them have blocked receiving e-mail messages. Minal seems to have been an avid Orkut user and made it a point to keep in touch with all her friends through Orkut.
One of the most poignant tributes to this young woman by someone who got to know her through the Internet after she died, is on Sepia Mutiny -- Mint Chocolate Ice Cream and Pretty Earrings: In Memory of Minal.
A diary account by a reporter with Washington City Paper, Jason Cherkis, describes his vigil at the lobby of the Inn (where folks visiting could stay) on the Virginia Tech campus on April 17 with friends and family of Minal Panchal and Erin Peterson (who graduated from the same school as the killer Cho Seung-hui) before the news was finally received that they were dead too.
Apparently 30 to 40 friends of Minal's shared duty at the Inn waiting for some news. A friend from her group Rajat Singhania told the Washington City reporter, 'She was very easygoing. Just the night before she had organized an impromptu party with her friends. He added that she and her roommates cooked fish and took pictures of one another.
Rediff.com spoke to some of her friends and classmates on email and they have offered their tributes to a person they considered special:
"In one sentence I would sum up herself from my experience as M-erry, IN-telligent and AL-ways smiling, Minal. She was a person who was extremely friendly to everyone and always went out of her way to help people and every now and then she would always make sure we are in touch. Being in different departments sometimes we didn't meet each other for days," says Sanket who studied with her at Blacksburg.
He adds: "I remember the first time I met her was when we had a meet in Mumbai of prospective MS students going to Virginia Tech from Mumbai. She walked in smiling and came across as a charming, confident and amicable person. We soon became friends and met often in Virginia Tech. We also caught up on our trip to NY during December and had some fun times.
"We will miss her physical presence but her imprints are left in our hearts. She will never be forgotten."
Says another friend who wanted to remain anonymous: "Minal had come to Virginia Tech in August '06. I met her the first time when I had been to pick her up at the airport at Roanoke.
"She participated actively with ISA ( Indian Student Association) and helped us with her creative skills at the Diwali function, which is one of the biggest events in Virginia Tech calender. She was the creative head for the stage decoration and she came up with the stage ideas with her other friends."
Shreyas Rane remembers: "I was in the same architectural college as Minal. I think I was three years senior to her. Our architecture community is like an extended family and we all have interacted with each other. In fact the year difference did not count and were all treated like a big family.
"Ironically I had lost touch with the alumni after post graduation, but Minal got in touch with me through Orkut just a month back. I was supposed to respond to one of her scraps, and I guess now it will not happen. God bless her soul and she would be missed..."
Do you have a tribute to offer Minal? Did you know her? Do post your message.