Prateek Sharma’s favorite Indian festival was Holi. The holiday celebrates the arrival of spring, new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil.
Before moving to Gainesville, he celebrated the vivid, joyous festival on the streets of Faridabad, India — dousing himself and loved ones in water and colored powder.
On the eve of Holi this year, Sharma walked along the sidewalk of Southwest 34th Street to the market to pick up gujiya, a popular Holi delicacy.
Sharma was fatally hit and killed March 17. He was 21 years old.
James O’Reilly, a 19-year-old, is accused of hitting Sharma while driving drunk. O’Reilly is being held at the Alachua County Jail, awaiting trial after pleading not guilty. He’s being held without a bond that was previously $320,000 and is charged with homicide, driving while under the influence, reckless driving and hit-and-run.
The holiday, traditionally a joyful celebration of life, will now be observed by Sharma’s family and friends as a remembrance of his life.
Gainesville has developed a notorious reputation for unsafe pedestrian conditions and multiple student deaths. The families of Maggie Paxton, Sophia Lambert and Denise Griffiths now live with the tribulations of loss, and they relive these tragedies with each hit-and-run that occurs in the city.
Sharma’s family now mourns across the world in Faridabad, where the UF computer science exchange student was born and raised.
He couldn’t walk across campus without running into the friends he made in his classrooms and study groups, said his best friend, Drishtant Purkayastha. They met on the first day of their freshman year of college. They spent every day together until Sharma moved to Gainesville.
“He had this effect on everyone he met,” the 21-year-old said. “He was a light in everyone’s darkest moments.”
Prateek shaped him into the person he is now.
“Every little thing, whatever happened to me, I used to share with him,” he said. “He used to give me advice. I like to believe we changed each other for the better. We were brothers.”
They spoke almost every day, even on March 17, despite the nearly 10-hour time difference.
“I said … ‘I’ll talk to you tomorrow,’” Purkayastha said. “Tomorrow never came.”
Remembering Sharma’s high-spirited presence, Archit Ratan, Sharma’s older cousin-brother — an Indian-English term that refers to a male cousin that assumes a brotherly relationship — was overwhelmed with happy memories.
“He was always smiling,” Ratan said. “He never said ‘no’ to anyone.”
Sharma loved to listen to Punjabi music, travel and play soccer when he was not fidgeting with gadgets or crafting codes.
Following in his father and grandfather’s engineering footsteps, Sharma attended Amity University Noida in 2018 pursuing a Bachelor’s of Technology in computer science and engineering.
Although he loved Amity, Sharma wanted to take advantage of its study abroad options for his last semester of college. Moving to Gainesville at the beginning of this year, he planned to complete the last semester of his undergraduate education at UF and enroll in a graduate school program.
He envisioned what his education, career and future looked like, working toward receiving a master’s degree from a renowned college in the United States.
Over the summer of 2021, he interned at both TISPL and The Sparks Foundation, working as a data science and information technology intern.
In 2020, he and Purkayastha also created a functional Android application that could track COVID-19 cases across India. With not enough kits to test its whole population, India relied on apps like these to track positive cases and people who were in close contact with those infected.
He was motivated to volunteer in India, too, working with The Earth Saviours Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that works toward improving living conditions for underprivileged civilians and advocates for environmental stewardship.
“He was very ambitious with all his dreams,” Ratan said. “If this would have not happened, the story would be something different.”
Sharma’s friends and family hope to spread awareness about his life and legacy, creating an Instagram account in his honor. They want justice for his wrongful death.
“There is really not enough news coverage about this … which really hurts to see,” Purkayastha wrote.
His family and friends gathered in Faridabad Friday afternoon for a cremation ceremony.
“Always loved, never forgotten, forever missed,” the ceremony announcement wrote.
Troy Myers contributed to this report.
Contact Carissa at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @carissaallenn.
Carissa Allen is a third-year journalism and political science double major. She is excited to continue her work on the Metro desk this semester as the East Gainesville Reporter. In her free time, you can find her scuba diving, working out or listening to a podcast.