They say you always remember where you were and what you were doing on a significant day, and 11th September 2001, or 9/11, would undoubtedly be one of those days. To me, it was only an ordinary day, as the first time I heard about the news was 12th September morning, because of the time difference. Nineteen years have gone since that dreadful day and memories of the day have faded away, but trying to recapture here what went in 12th September 2001.
I was working in Calcutta for an engineering consultancy firm called DCPL. Like most nights, I went to sleep late, but I was never a follower of news and was oblivious to the events unfolding in the US East Coast. Even in the morning, I was told by my parents that there was a terrorist attack in the US but didn’t have time to turn the TV on to watch the news. At 24B Park Street, my office was located on the 8th floor of one of the three buildings over which sprawled DCPL. Unaware of the extent of the situation, when I heard the news from my colleagues, I was dumbfounded. Needless to say, the rest of the day was spent on the internet and talking with my colleagues as every new detail came out in the news, watching live coverage on CNN and ABC, witnessing the two towers crumbling away. I could recall that there was a lot of confusion and misinformation around the extent of the damage before someone said that both towers have completely collapsed.
Running through my sentiments after so many years later, I could distinctly remember the two feelings that at the time. One was utter shock at the situation. And that state continued throughout the day as I kept finding out about the attack on the Pentagon. The other feeling I experienced was sadness. Watching the desperate people jumping off the windows, the news about firemen succumbing to death while trying to save as many people as possible — it was surreal. The only similarity one could have drawn to anything close to the mayhem was the Hollywood films about nuclear Armageddon or alien invasion. Words couldn’t describe it. But amid all the horror and loss, there was an amount of sadness about a personal loss as well, something that will never be replaced.
DCPL in those days had their parent company Kuljian Corp., based in Philadelphia. It was the aspiration of most of the employees, especially who worked in the energy industry, to work in Philadelphia at some point during their career in DCPL. Visiting the twin towers and going to the roof of it was one of the highlights for their stay in the US. I had heard about the experience from my colleagues and long cherished a hope of following their leads. Listening about them, I could imagine myself on the roof of the World Trade Centre building and couldn’t wait to see what the view was like. Twin towers became a de facto item on the bucket list for must-visit places. With the collapse of the towers, that long-cherished dream ended.
The second part of the memory of the day was about the evening. On my way home, next to Peter Cat restaurant, there was a little hall which was hired by many retailers for a flash sale. Often the sale was for premium brand clothes. There was a sale on 12th September 2001 as well. On that evening, after witnessing the towers coming down and the extent of human loss, in a state of shock, disbelief, and sadness, I entered the hall, browsing the merchandise. Possibly I looked visibly disturbed and the store manager approached me. “Are you okay?” — he asked. I said yes but I was still trying to cope with the news. By this time it came out that Al-Qaeda was behind the worst terrorist attack on the US mainland. In a nonchalant voice, he said that perhaps that was needed for the world to wake up to the threats. After all, India had been suffering from Islamist terrorism for many years. His attitude and lack of sympathy was appalling. I told him that it was not the time for the blame game but for solidarity. He understood what I said and agreed that witnessing the loss of life and suffering of the Americans was sad, but at the same time, the world turned its back when India tried to warn the perils of Islamist terrorism. We both saw the logic of each other but decided to discuss no longer. The whole experience left me feeling even sadder that in the moment of crisis, there are people who would rather choose to be critical than show empathy. I left the hall and returned home, and for many days to come, CNN and CNBC would become the daily fixture on television rather than movie channels.
That’s how I remember 12th September 2001. Many years have gone by since then. In my mind, I knew it was an enormously significant day but did not feel the need to relive the feelings I went through on that unfortunate day. It took me nineteen years to immerse into the memories and go through the emotions and feelings of 9/11.
Did the day change the world? Of course, it did. Undoubtedly. It changed the course of world history — for better or worse, we are yet to find. Has 9/11 changed me? Perhaps not directly. But, in these nineteen years, I have experienced my feelings and emotions going through many layers of filtration and I have now become desensitised to the terrorist attacks or other calamities that happen across the world. Not that it doesn’t sadden me seeing the terrible loss of human life and its repercussions on those who experience it and those who survived; but I feel disengaged from the biased stance on solidarity with the victims. Nevertheless, nineteen years back, my feelings were not completely dominated by apathy and cynicism, and I remember the morose day after which the world won’t remain the same anymore.