India experiences violent mass deaths due to natural disasters, riots and terrorist attacks. Difficult to keep count. It fades away from memory, unless one or the loved ones are in the middle or close to the tragic events.
9/11, September 11, is a figure recalled sadly across the globe, because of the strike on twin towers razed to the zero level with around 4000 lives lost. Whoever may be responsible, the net result is tragic. It happened in the big U.S, the modus operandi and the victims being from different parts of the world adds significance to the tragedy.
While I was watching the tragedy on TV like all outside the towers, my thoughts went to two of my colleagues, Vishwanath and Gangaram, on official visit to New York. When contacted, they were safe, all they could see was dust from their room.
They were my nearest connect to the event, until I heard from Mr. Kalyanaswamy, a dear and loving associate now (we did not know each other in 2001) about his closeness to the tragedy.
He is sharing his experience, read on…
TRAGIC TERROR ATTACK OF TWIN TOWERS (9/11) SURVIVORS Mr.
Tuesday September 11th, 2001. It was a pleasant morning, with the sun shining brightly as usual. I had finished my morning walk along the river Hudson and after a shower when I was sitting in my prayer, the telephone rang. The call was from my wife’s sister in Armonk, about forty miles from Manhattan, to tell us that she received a call from a distant relative, Mr. Shastry, working in the 80th Floor of the North Tower, that the Tower was collapsing and to find out if my children working there were safe. My wife called me out nervously and we switched on the TV. We were dumbfounded to see the North Tower in flames. Black billowing smoke was going up almost touching the sky. As we were watching this with dismay we saw the second Tower being hit by an aircraft and collapsing like a pack of cards. Our immediate reaction was that it was an accident. We soon realized it was a deadly criminal act in American history engineered and executed by dreaded terrorists. The United States of America, the world’s most powerful nation was that day paralyzed by a sudden, murderous attack by the world’s most feared terrorists. New York was in siege.
We were sure that our son, Ashok who invariably reaches the office early and used to work on the 40th Floor, must have been inside the North Tower which was in flames. We reckoned that our daughter, Shobha may not have been inside the South Tower as she left home at about 8.30 am and the travel time is about half an hour. To say that my wife and I were totally devastated would be a gross understatement. We felt shattered. We tried desperately to contact the children by telephone. No communication was possible as all lines were jammed. We later learnt that even Mr. Giuliani, the former Mayor who was coordinating rescue operations at site could not also use the telephones! Somehow my daughter-in-law from Westchester County managed to get through to us on the telephone, weeping and asking if I could go to the accident spot, as we were staying on 70th Street in uptown Manhattan. I rushed down from our 13th floor apartment to the reception desk, only to be told that traffic to downtown was totally closed. We had no alternative except to keep praying that by some miracle our children would be safe.
After a long and agonizing wait of nearly three hours, which seemed like eternity, we received a call from my daughter- in- law that she heard from her husband that he is safe and was walking towards our home on 70th Street.
At that point of time we had still not heard from our daughter, Shobha. We suddenly got a call from one of her friends that he could somehow contact her and that she was also walking down from Wall Street. Oh my God! What a relief! We have two children, both working in the Twin Towers which were attacked by terrorists and managed to come home alive. If ever we could say something miraculous had happened in our lives, this was it.
Ashok, who had to rush down from the 40th floor said that initially he felt that an earthquake had caused the building to shake violently, but soon realized that it was an accident though none of them attributed it to a terror attack. He did not fail to notice how the firefighters were going upstairs courting certain danger, when all others were running down to safety. He was deeply touched by their sacrifice, as all of us are. He had no idea about his sister and was very worried.
What Shobha experienced at that time is best said in her own words, sent in an email to her friends:
“As I got off the No. 4 subway, I saw WTC in flames. My first thoughts went out to my brother, when I got down and then I saw both the towers in flames. He actually climbed down 40 floors once he felt the building (He worked at 1 World Trade Center) shake after the plane hit it! He thought it was an earthquake initially. I saw 2 World Trade Center (the building I worked in and the second one to be hit) crumble before my eyes. It was awful and surreal. Then there was so much of debris, fumes, chaos and stampede (there was a time I could not see even a few feet ahead of me) but most of us just turned and ran in what we thought was the opposite direction. I had no clue in which direction I was walking!! I walked back home 7 miles as I did not want to take the subway at such a time. My brother also came over to my place later as his house is much further away (He is at a county called Westchester and I live in NY City) and he had no way to reach home at that time. Anyway, by God’s Grace both my brother and I are safe, though this incident still appears so nightmarish. I really feel sorry for the fire fighters who risked their own lives to save others.”
The loss of lives due to the terrorist attack is placed at 3800 including 400 fire fighters and policemen, who had to sacrifice their lives to save others if they could.
I have narrated the happenings of 9/11, as it happened to my children. There are many survivors which is quite providential. If ever there was a good day to be unpunctual in reaching the office, this was such a day. Yes, some were a few minutes late in reaching the office – may be having a chat with a friend on the way, or someone forced to drop the children at the school for unforeseen reasons, etc. Many survivors have nightmares of seeing human beings jumping down from the top floors and dead bodies falling on the ground, of seeing people trying to contact their kith and kin to tell them that they were dying, tell their loved ones one last time how they love them and leaving last moment instructions; one can go on and on with this tragic story caused by inhuman beings in human form.
Here, I write with great regret that Mr. Shastry, who was the first to enquire about our children from the North Tower, did not survive. He could not run down to safety from 80th floor as he was a heart patient and took the tragic decision of taking the elevator. It took several months to confirm that he was no more – every hospital, every mortuary and every place where there was a possibility of human remains to be found were searched; every list of injured/dead persons were scanned; all the while his family hoping against hope and praying for a miracle to hear someone telling them that Mr. Shastry was alive. Imagine the tension and suffering of the family! God bless his soul.
Many other families have faced this tragic situation. Our sympathies and prayers are with them.
Since 9/11 as it has come to be known, the security at the airports is becoming more and more stringent, but terrorists are finding nefarious new ways to penetrate security measures. Can we avoid travelling altogether? Can we avoid getting into airplanes in future? We must take precautions but cannot become paranoid. If we do so, apart from causing great inconvenience to ourselves, we would be telling the terrorists that they have succeeded. Distance is not a shield against terrorist attacks. We cannot run away to another country hoping it is safe. Terrorism is global. This is the world, the cursed times we are living in.
May God bless the souls of those who could not survive; bless those surviving and instill good sense into the terrorists to change their wicked ways and help human civilization from returning to the barbaric age!