That day in 2001

As the world pauses to remember 9/11, I cant help but think of where I was that day and why I will not be able to forget that day.

The summer of 2001 was a turning point in my life. It was supposed to be the summer of re-invention in my career, potentially my life. I was going to spend a year in Boston attending MIT full-time. My wife had started a new job, and we were going to be a San Francisco-Boston couple for a year.

In addition, my sister was visiting from India, and that was key because it was the first time since my Father’s passing in 1999 that anyone in my family was visting me. That may not sound like much, but it was very important to me. It was also the first time my sister was visiting me since I left India in 1991. So, I wanted to make sure that this was a memorable trip for her. It was memorable all right..

My sister arrived just as I finished the 8 week summer session at MIT, full with 10 hour class schedules. My sister had classmates in Boston and NYC, so we were going to spend some time in those two places. We were also going to visit bay area out west to catch up with my wife.

In NYC, we did the usual sights, Empire State Building, Central Park, and of course the World Trade Center.  I remember buying the tickets from the TKTS booth, and going up the high-speed elevators to the ‘roof of the world’. This was the last week of August 2001. At that point in time, this trip only had personal meaning for me because I remembered the photographs that my dad had taken from the ‘roof of the world’ when he had visited the World Trade Center in 1985.

We went back to Boston as the next academic session was starting first week of September. On September 4th, HP announced its intention to buy Compaq, and the stock fell to $11 a share. It had a material downward impact on my net worth. I was trying to not get upset about that and focus on the possibilities ahead. After all, I had a nice apartment on Comm Ave in Back Bay, in a happening part of Boston. The atmosphere at MIT was just unbelievable. So much so that I had decided to not have a TV. I had a netzero (remember that?) internet connection, and didnt feel the need for a TV.

All this is important, because that morning, the fateful morning of 9/11, didnt feel different from any other. I was preparing to go to class, when I got a call from my mother in india around 9 am. That in itself was a bit unusual, but what she told me was even more asounding. She said something about a plane from Boston crashing into the world trade center.

My first reaction was one of disbelief. I remember telling my mom that it probably was a small plane, like the plane that crashed into the empire state building years ago, but she was adamant. The plane had originated in Boston, she said. I logged in, and remember seeing the news of the second plane crashing into the center and remember not knowing what to think. Then there was news of the crash at the pentagon, and my reaction was one of utter shock. Like everybody else, I was at a complete loss. What the heck was happening?

I must say, being at a place like MIT definitely helped me cope with the events, and put it in perspective. I remember attending a packed lecture by Noam Chomsky that was a cold, rational explanation of our outrage. For example, this was the first time after Pearl Harbor that American blood had been spilt on American soil. Chomsky, being Chomsky had some anti-establishment flavor to his argument. This was not the time for that. I remember some folks in the audience challenge him on that. There were other discussion forums, where different ideas were discussed, including one with israeli and palestinian points of view being debated openly. I distinctly recall one of the israeli debaters mention the india-pakistan partition and their mutual acceptance of each other as a model that the Israelis and Palestinians could follow. I was not so sure about that.

In the 80s and 90s, growing up in india I saw religious-extremism and terrorism had claim countless lives. This extremism was a direct result of active cross-border encouragement and support from the Pakistani government. See my other post on my views on the relationship between India and Pakistan. Only after 9/11 has the role of the Pakistani government and armed forces in aiding and abetting muslim extermism become clear. I for one, was not surprised that Bin Laden was finally killed in Pakistan.

As the two towers collapsed, our trip there just a couple of weeks ago began to take an entirely different meaning for me. We had taken one of those elevators all the way up, and now those buildings didnt exist. I could imagine the sheer terror that those folks on the top floors would have experienced. I began to imagine what would have happened to someone in the elevator when the planes slammed in. Our class visited NYC in November as part of the program, and I couldnt bring myself to visit Ground Zero then. I was still too numb. I saved those tickets though.

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