There was not a dry eye at the memorial service as Gaurav Malhotra recalled the beautiful smile of the baby boy they called Biki. “Smile a little more Biki, we would tell Akhil when he was a small child... he had such beautiful dimples.”
A tearful Gaurav thanked the 400-strong gathering assembled to mourn the shocking and untimely passing of Akhil Chopra, 28, who was murdered in cold blood at a park in West Houston about 1 p.m. on Thursday, August 11. “Thank you for treating him like a son, a brother, a friend,” Gaurav, a cousin of Akhil from California, said between sobs. Akhil, who worked in the IT division of Star Pipe Products, was single. He is survived by his parents in Ahmedabad and a brother who lives in Mumbai. The memorial service was held on Sunday, August 14. Akhil’s body has been sent home for cremation.
Akhil had gone to the park (on Eldridge and Westpark), a short distance from his office, where he and his colleagues would often go for walks after lunch. Sometimes, Akhil would meditate after the walk. On August 11, however, Akhil went by himself. He was shot in the left temple from a close range. It is possible he was in meditation and never saw his assailant. Police suspect robbery to be the motive as his wallet was missing. There were no witnesses and his body was discovered by a passerby. Colleagues and friends were numbed. They held a short memorial service on Friday at the gazebo in the park where he was murdered.
Crime Stoppers and Star Pipe have offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the solving of this crime.
In just three years, Chopra had endeared himself to hundreds of people in the community. There was hardly any Indian/Hindu organization where he had not volunteered his help. People at the memorial service fondly recalled this tireless worker with the pleasant smile and positive attitude.
Pooja Malhotra, another cousin, said their family was very proud of Akhil. “As I was going through his things, I realized what a simple, yet extraordinary life he led,” choking with emotion.
Akhil Chopra lived up to his name, said Star Pipe president Ramesh Bhutada. Akhil (which means ‘complete’ in Sanskrit) kept himself busy in dozens of wholesome activities. He practiced and taught yoga (he was a certified yoga teacher), read the news in Hindi for the Voice of Sanatan Hinduism radio program, handled media work for the many community related activities - IDRF fundraising (Mumbai floods most recently), Janmashtami, Hindu Students Council, Global Dharma Conference 2003, Samskrita Bharati and others. At the time of his death he was coordinating the Janmashtami 2005 program and helping with the FACT exhibit on displaced Kashmiri Hindus. He also led his office team twice on the MS 150 to Austin, a bikeathon to raise funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.
“As we pray for Akhil,” Bhutada said, “let us also pray for the man who pulled the trigger; let us pray he repents for his senseless act ... this is what Akhil would like us to do.” Vijay Pallod, who took Akhil in as a summer intern at the company in 2002, praised Akhil’s can-do attitude and positive thinking. He recalled how Akhil helped him in rebutting and answering charges against the IDRF about a year ago. “Don’t worry, Akhil would say,” Pallod recalled. “Remember, Satyameva Jayate (the truth shall prevail), he would say.” Pallod said Akhil attended the Univ. of St. Thomas in the evenings to earn an MBA degree and had just earned a big pay increase when his life was so savagely snuffed out.
Pallod announced the formation of the Akhil Chopra Memorial Fund with $20,000 which would be used to help causes that were dear to Akhil as per the wishes of his family. The fund has been set up under Sewa International at bank of America. Checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 441505, Houston, TX 77244.
Akhil’s roommate, Kirti Jain, who described Akhil’s deeply religious daily routine of yoga, puja, reading the scriptures and meditation morning and evening, adding that Akhil had one regret in his life. He did not know Sanskrit. So he started learning the language with the aim of studying the Upanishads in their original language, untainted by the translator’s prejudice or lack of expertise.
Colleagues Pam Gary, Dale Andrews, Suhas Nare and Pankaj spoke of “an individual so rare, so kind, dedicated and helpful,” that it is difficult to find comfort in the knowledge that he is no longer among us.
JayAiyer said Akhil embodied the spirit of service. “The community is less today, the city of Houston is less today,” with the passing of Akhil.
We at India Herald dealt with him at least twice a week and can say that all the encomiums showered on Akhil were well earned and well deserved. We could see his dedication and sincerity when we met him at community programs; he would provide us with photos, prepared ads and writeups. If he was in charge, the material would always be with us by our deadline.
It was indeed a pleasure to work with Akhil. Akhil’s supervisor Girish Naik said it best. Perhaps Akhil was taken away early as “God also needs his angels,” said Naik who conducted the proceedings at the memorial service. It started with a prayer by priest Parimal Joshi.
Another colleague, whom he called Alice Mama, said “I want his mother to know what a wonderful son she has raised. He did not belong in this world. He is now in God’s loving hands.
A second memorial was held at Keshav Smruti on Aug 15 which was attended by nearly 200 people, including City Councilman Gordon Quan and leaders of several community organizations.