On September 11 2001 I was in Manhattan. I had a studio apartment behind Lincoln Center and my sister called and woke me up to tell me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I watched the news wondering initially how the navigation system of a plane could go so haywire that it could actually fly right into a building without seeing it.
My agents called a few minutes later and told me that they were being forced to evacuate their offices in midtown Manhattan but they wanted to let me know before they left that the screening they had attended the night before of the film The Mystic Masseur, my first starring role in a film, was terrific.
On the one hand, I am having a conversation with my agent who is telling me how wonderful he thought my performance was in this film and how terrific this was for my career; and then, on the other hand, I am watching this insane narrative unfolding on the TV in front of me as I realised the that this was not some small single engine plane, this was a passenger jet full of people.
As I am having this conversation, I see on TV the second plane fly into the building. I tell my agents, who abruptly scream “We are outta here” and hang up the phone. I sit in shock, still naively wondering what kind of crazy air traffic control debacle had occurred.
Ten minutes later I decide to take a shower and while in the shower I wonder if the buildings would ever collapse. A nightmare scenario that I often thought about when I first moved to New York in the early nineties, but one that I dismiss quickly as ridiculous, until I walk out of the shower and stand in stunned naked silence as Peter Jennings tells me that the South Tower of the World Trade Center has indeed collapsed to the ground.
Looking back on all that has transpired over the last ten years, I feel that the world has certainly changed. In the days after 9/11 there was a unity that happened and the world shared a grief and a horror that transcended religion, culture and politics. Today it seems there is a fear that 9/11 has been exploited by some politicians and news media to promote fear and divisions where we could have discovered commonality instead. My hope for the future is a war against fear.
Aasif Mandvi is a correspondent on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He has acted in many films including The Mystic Masseur, The Last Airbender and Today’s Special. He won an OBIE for his one-man show Sakina’s Restaurant.
As told to Sandip Roy