NEW DELHI (AFP) â€“ She was due to marry her boyfriend in a matter of weeks, was the apple of her fatherâ€™s eye and her friends were convinced she would achieve great things after completing her medical studies.
While India has seen an outpouring of grief for the 23-year-old who suffered fatal injuries when she was gang-raped on December 16, those who actually knew her paint a portrait of a young woman who was both in love and much loved.
Although not formally engaged, it was well-known by her friends that she was planning to marry the boyfriend who also suffered serious injuries in the same attack that would ultimately lead to her death.
Meena Rai said that she had been shopping with the unnamed victim for wedding outfits and the contents of a wedding box.
â€œShe was supposed to get married in February to the same guy who was attacked on the bus with her,â€ said Rai, who lived next door in Mahavir Enclave, a neighbourhood in southwestern New Delhi.
â€œThey had made all the wedding preparations and had planned a wedding party in Delhi,â€ she told AFP.
Another friend who attended the cremation ceremony on Sunday confirmed that the wedding was due to take place in a matter of weeks.
â€œWe know that she was going to get married in February,â€ Usha Rai (no relation) told AFP. â€œThe whole neighbourhood was excited about it.â€
The young couple had spent the evening together at a mall watching â€œThe Life of Piâ€ before they boarded a bus they thought would take them home.
According to reports, the frenzied attack on the pair began when the boyfriend objected to taunts about why an unmarried woman was out so late.
The gang clubbed him with an iron rod before they then turned on her.
The everyday image of a young couple enjoying a night out at the movies has been cited by many Indians to explain why they have been able to relate so much to the plight of someone whose name they will never know.
But others have identified with the backstory of a hardworking student whose family hail from rural India but who was looking to make a name for herself as a young urban professional with the eager backing of her proud parents.
Her parents sold their small piece of land in rural Uttar Pradesh in order to fund their daughterâ€™s education, often limiting their own meals to little more than rotis with namak (bread with salt), according to friends.
In a frontpage tribute, The Hindustan Times said that she was â€œinvariably among the top students in her class and was determined to earn well and repay her father who had sold his ancestral land to fund her studiesâ€.
Employed as a loader at Delhiâ€™s international airport, the father used to say he was â€œinvesting in my daughterâ€™s future as she will be the one who takes care of me when I get oldâ€, according to Meena Rai.
Her childhood was mainly spent in a one-bedroom flat near the airport that she shared with her two brothers as well as her parents.
A younger cousin still living back in the parental village in Uttar Pradesh told the Times of India how the young medical student had been an â€œinspirationâ€.
â€œSeeing her do well, I was determined to study as well,â€ she said.
Other residents of the village recalled a young woman whose passion to succeed in medicine shone through when she paid a visit back home.
â€œHers was a story of charming ordinariness, of aspiration and hard work, of pleasure in lifeâ€™s little joys,â€ said the Hindustan Times