Sunday, September 20, 2009

In Memorium: Ashok Bhattarai

It feels very sad to recall it's almost been a year since the death of Ashok Bhattarai, a talented Nepali student who was killed in US. Update: His family has received the compensation from US but they haven't been able to get around 10 thousand USD that Ashok had deposited in his bank account in US. Below is the story I wrote for the Kathmandu Post after meeting his parents:

Mother laments son’s death in US

BY Deepak Adhikari
KATHMANDU, Oct 12 - Sitting on the bed in a dilapidated lodge at Guashala Friday afternoon, Lila Bhattarai, 42, recalled the last words from her dead son.

"I will come home very soon, Mom," he had told her on the morning of September 28 over the phone. "I will regularly send pictures."

The conversation had veered off to the festivals and he had wished his dear ones a happy Dashain. He told her that he had sent two mobile sets--one for his 20-year-old brother and another for his brother-in-law--with his friend travelling to Nepal for the holiday season.

Surrounded by her female relatives and daughter Srishti Gautam, Lila's voice quivered as she talked about her son, Ashok Bhattarai, 21. Just two hours before his death, Ashok had called her in Parasi, Nawalparasi district.

At 3 pm the same day, her phone kept ringing. There were a number of long-distance calls from the US. "First, a friend of his said Ashok had met with an accident," said Lila. "Then another called to say he has died."

Two weeks ago, Ashok was shot dead by a masked gunman, Raymond Whitcher,17, while he was about to close his counter at the First Food Stop in Missouri City, Texas. The killer was arrested last Wednesday.

On September 28 at 10 pm, Raymond barged into the convenience store and opened fire at Ashok. After shooting him, the gunman walked behind the counter, robbed US$ 5,000 and fled. Ashok's co-worker, apparently, was back in the cooler restocking, and didn't hear anything.

The convenience store did not have a bullet-proof glass at the counter, said the slain man's roommate Sudeep Paudel, who is in Kathmandu for Dashain. "It could have saved his life," he said. An undergraduate student of biomedical engineering at Houston Community College, Ashok had dropped him at Bush Continental Airport in Houston, Texas and driven an hour to start the evening shift at the store where he worked part-time for $8.50 an hour.

His relatives and friends described Bhattarai as an honest, religious, hardworking and talented person who loved to sing. "He would hum Sugam Pokhrel's songs," recalled his mother. Soon she let loose a shrill, full-body wail. "Can you feel the pain of losing a son?" she asked, her words punctuated by sobs.

His father, Gyanraj Bhattarai, 53, an accountant at District Land Reforms Office in Nawalparasi, is numb with grief. A soft-spoken man with pepper-and-salt beard, he has been hit by a double blow: loss of a young son on a promising career track and the huge debt incurred to finance his now lost career. Having spent Rs 900,000 for Ashok's dream trip to the US, he expects to be in debt for the next several years.

After completing high school from Parasi in 2002, Ashok had enrolled at NIST in Lainchaur as a student of biology and dreamed of becoming a doctor.

His dream was shattered in 2005. Despite scoring 76 percent in I.Sc. exams, he could neither get admission at TU Teaching Hospital nor a scholarship to India. He did not want to place a huge debt - anywhere between Rs 2 million to 2.5 million - to self-finance the MBBS--on his parents' shoulders.

It was at this point he decided to shift his career goals to bioengineering. On January 2, 2006, Ashok left for Oklahoma, and six months later moved to Texas where he shared a one-bedroom apartment with two Nepali students, Sudeep and Angikar Karki. In Texas, he did not change the subjects but found more Nepali friends to spend time with.

On Friday, Sudeep had come to Gaushala to hand over the two mobile sets Ashok had sent for his relatives. Instead, he found his roommate's grieving parents who had several questions about their son's death. (Sudeep came to know about the death in Singapore while on his way home).

He said black Americans lived in the neighbourhood where Ashok worked. "It's a good neighbourhood," he said. He also said that the two discussed the safety measures of the store. "My store has a bullet-proof counter", he said. "We had discussed whether it would be a good idea to quit the job," he said, "But he [Ashok] thought it [was] safe as the police patrolled the area all the time." Moreover, Ashok also wanted to save money to go to college in autumn.

Ashok's death has triggered an avalanche of Internet activities. A facebook group, "Help send Ashok Bhattarai's body to Nepal," opened by Sakar Bhusal, now has over 1,700 members. A picture of smiling Ashok dressed in a yellow T-shirt, sporting a V sign, is posted on the group's homepage.

Nepalese Association of Houston has created Ashok Bhattarai Memorial Fund that has raised over $41,000 in an Internet based donation drive. According to Kamal Pandey, a Houston based Nepali, a portion of the fund has been spent to ship his dead body to Nepal.

His dead body arrived in Kathmandu Friday at 9.30 pm and was cremated at Pashupati Aryaghat on Saturday morning.

The remaining portion of the fund, according to Pandey, will be sent to the dead man's parents.

The murder has also sent shockwaves to Nepali students in the US. Many of those who posted their messages on the facebook group were furious at the killer. One Nepali student from Colorado was happy that Texas allows capital punishment, hinting that the gunman deserved it. "No one can bring Ashok Dai back, all of us can help ourselves to remain as safe as possible," a Nepali student remarked. "It's a festive season and they (Ashok's parents) had to bear this irreparable loss," one student wrote.

On October 4, Nepalese Association of Houston organised a memorial service in the First Food Stop, the store where Ashok worked and was killed. Pictures of the memorial service posted on Facebook show white and black Americans and local Nepalis, among others, flocking to the store to pay tribute to Ashok. His casket is adorned with Nepali flags, his posters hanging. People with flowers in hands were seen queuing up in front of the store.

While waiting for two days in Kathmandu for her dead son's casket to arrive, Lila lamented the death not only of her son but also of a young man who believed in prayers.

"He would always ask for blessings," she said. "He believed in God. He went to Manakamana temple after receiving the [U.S.] visa." Following her son's death, she said, she has lost faith in God.

1 comment:

White-Black said...

hi deepak,

I am nagaraju. In my study on topic - escheatment, i came across a bank account of >10k $ escheated to texas state from bank account of Ashok Bhattarai. I searched for his name and came to your blog. I am very sorry for what had happened. I think there is a way to get that 10k+ back and give to their parents.. pls drop me an email at nagaraju (dot) reg @ gmail (dot) com. thanks.