Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where were you on..

September 11, 2001.

It is hard to believe that a decade has gone by. A decade, which in certain ways, has changed the world around us. As humans, we tend to remember certain defining moments of history in our small and insignificant lives. And invariably, when we talk to each other about those moments, the first question that springs up, starts with the phrase, "Where were you on...?

I remember where I was, on that fateful day. I was just about to start my day. I remember logging into my computer at about eight in the morning. The entire front page of the news-site, that I had set up as my home page, had only one news item -- in the largest font that I had ever seen on any news site. About how terrorists had crashed a plane into the world trade center. I also remember, that at that moment, I had done two things, rather frantically.  I had dialed the phone number of a close relative, who used to work in a Wall street firm. And, I had made a mad-dash for the television in the living room, which, on a normal day, wouldn't be switched on before evening. I also remember how busy the phone lines in New York  city were on that day.  I spent a tense couple of days before I heard back from my relative about his safety, only to realize, that many were not as lucky as I was.

And, within a few minutes of turning on the television, I remember seeing the second plane crashing into the other tower. Live. As I was staring at the screen, I remember the newsmen on TV sharing my sense of disbelief. On that day, there was no work done at work, as most of us, congregated in the break room, and stared at the television. For hours. We already knew, that this was probably the most profound historical moment in American history, after Pearl Harbor.

The details came much later. Soon afterwards, we saw some fundamental changes to the way, in which, America did its business. In small ways, freedom and national security came at loggerheads with each other. The years of a decade, and many lives, were lost to two wars, and the business of maintaining peace. I moved on with my own life, and came back home to India. But, that day, will remain etched in my memory. For ever. 

Today, as I was remembering 9/11, what came to my mind, were not the tall and mighty towers of glass and steel crumbling under the horrible impact of an act, which I never imagined human beings would be capable of. I remembered something else -- a bunch of school students, in the parking lot of the neighborhood grocery store, washing cars. For a few dollars, which would be collected and sent to the brave souls of the New York Fire Department. That was one small way, in which the teenagers of the 9/11 generation, would be able to do their bit. For their country.

An old lady, who was probably someone's grandmother, was helping with the cash collection. In retrospect, I think, she was probably as old during Pearl Harbor, as her grandchildren were, on 9/11. These were two generations, forever changed by the events, that they had witnessed in their own times. I keep wondering, how they remember, where they were -- on those fateful days.


  1. a nation capable of perpetrating nagasaki and hiroshima bombings had to see this day-when mighty become the helpless.
    it also opened america's eyes to the real problem of terror that india had been highlighting all along.

  2. At a personal level re-living the the events of that fateful would be very painful to you. At a macro level US relaised the problem as a real one.

  3. Life goes on...
    It remains the most real-surreal thing I saw on t.v.

  4. On 11/Sep 2001, I was already in office, just a few km’s from WTC (The few hours I got working alone before everyone else arrived, were the most productive of the day). Luckily, I was on the NJ side, so could drive home later in the day.

    As people started coming into office, I also started getting the news. First, it was one small plane has crashed – no big deal. Then it turned out the plane was not so small. After that, there was the second plane. Each new person coming in was bringing in some additional news. Now we had to go to the TV in the cafeteria. Behind the glass, we could see the actual smoke bellowing. Other news started filtering in – like how a middle-eastern person was punched in the face, in the adjacent office block. I tried calling my wife, but could not get through the whole day.

    The next few months were not nice, but for the first time I was so happy that I had my blue Indian passport. I could see the expression on police officers softening, as they asked ‘from India…’?, and waved me on. It confirmed the belief that Indians were (are) regarded as honest and hardworking people.

    It was, therefore, quite painful when almost all other Indians I met advised me to take down the tricolour from my car (it is common in USA to fly flags of countries from where one originates), and fly the USA flag – which of course I refused to do. In the following months, I saw many Indian cars festooned with stars and stripes, but none with the Indian flag.

  5. Even I remember that day very clearly, I was surfing channels at night and I was shocked. In fact, in a state of disbelief. That day has changed the world. The concept of 'safe heavens' vanished over night.

  6. Anon1: Just because Hiroshima/Nagasaki happened, it does not justify the acts of terror like 9/11. Historically, there were many reasons for the use of the atomic bomb: including the fact that imperial Japan participated in mass genocides of civilians in several Asian countries including China and the Philippines. And, they would have continued to do so for many years after Germany's surrender, had it not been for the bomb. In any case, I think it was a terrible act, and nothing justifies Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But, two wrongs do not make a right.

    Also, the atomic bomb, was NEVER used in a war again, as the US found out what terrible consequences it had on humanity. You cannot say the same about the terrorists, who keep trying to kill innocent people, many years after 9/11.

    Dear Hariharan: I agree. The US woke up to the fact that terrorism was indeed very real.

    Dear Sudeep: That is a very touching story. I hope I never have to take my Indian flags down -- for any reason. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

    Dear Saru: I agree - there are no safe havens, any more.

  7. you got me wrong.Never meant to condone the ghastly attacks,but there has always been a sense of humility lacking in America regarding other nations in spite of its superpower status.Its invicibility got a rude jolt that day and it started some serious thinking to combat terrorism.It would not have hunted osama down or even cared to look for his whereabouts.The attacks that day reminded me of Nagasaki and the mushroom cloud.America is nobody to set others right when what it lacks is basic empathy.And now tell me that America had no estimation or inkling of the damage its bombing would eventually cause.

  8. ah well :) i have mixed feelings about 9/11. the aftermath that happened is so not called for...the islamic countries have lost so much, the soldiers have raped umpteen number of women and left them pregnant with hardly any medical facilities and how can we forget baha mousa's episode!!

    and well, 9/11 does scar many lives...what's a lesser known fact is americans kill each other with their own weapons every year...30,000+ more people are killed in usa because of personal weapons...

    no justification for what was done or terrorism...but who knows if the theories about 9/11 being orchestrated are true?

  9. Anon above: There may be some truth in what you said, if by "America", you meant the American government. Most American people have a lot of empathy with suffering around the world, and it was sad to see them suffer as a result of 9/11.

    Dear Chintan: Your points are very good. But, guns are a way of life in America. Sometime ago, I wrote a post on why some people would like a law like the US second amendment in India - "The young guns". You might like the slightly different perspective on guns in that post..