Editor’s note: On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Firstpost asked several Indian American writers and thinkers what they remembered most about that September morning. And how 10 years later they viewed its impact on their lives and the world around them.
The invincibility is gone: Chitra Divakaruni
On 9/11, I was in the San Francisco bay area. I opened up my computer early in the morning, and on the MSN homepage was a video of the towers being attacked. I was in shock. At first I thought it was a simulation, or a hoax. Then I turned on the TV and heard the news. I just sat in front of the TV, stunned, for about half an hour while the same clips were being replayed. Then I couldn’t stand it anymore and turned it off. I remember feeling hollowed out.
By then the other hijacked planes had crashed as well. I felt terrible for all the lives lost unnecessarily. I felt terrible to think someone hated America (and us Americans) so much. I felt terrible because I was afraid of the violent aftermath that I guessed would follow. And of course it did — in terms of government retaliation, and also in the hate-crimes that swept across the nation aimed at anyone who seemed/looked Muslim.
In a few days when the dead and missing were tallied, I felt devastated — we knew people who worked in the towers and who were now dead for no fault of their’s. Yet mingled with all the sorrow were the stories that floated up from the depths — stories of courage and selflessness and community, of people helping and sacrificing in an attempt to save each other.
Ten years later, I believe we still face some of the problems and tensions that erupted after 9/11. The sense of invincibility and immunity that America once felt is gone. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have taken their toll on the economy, on morale, and on the many soldiers that have been scarred by them. Even now, airport security remains a problem for people who look like us, and has led to a new ironic expression being coined, “flying while brown”. Even this year there was some nervousness about terrorist attacks happening again on that day.
But I also feel a deep sense of regeneration and acceptance; even as people think back and honour the memories of dear ones who perished in the towers or on the planes, the common people of America (and perhaps some of the political leaders, too) are committed to going forward, to valuing the fragility of life, and to creating better communication across cultures and nations that might stop future attacks like this which fed on people’s prejudices and their ignorance of each other. Many memorials, and many tributes of art, theatre and opera (for instance, the Houston Grand Opera is doing a performance on the lives of Houstonians affected by 9/11) — many of them debuting on this 9/11 — exemplify these sentiments.
As told to Sandip Roy
Chitra Divakaruni’s latest novel is One Amazing Thing. Her short stories, Arranged Marriage, won an American Book Award. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houston.
We cannot assume we will not witness the end of the world: Manil Suri
My partner called me from his office and asked if I’d seen the news. He told me a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I turned on the television and there it was: the tower in flames. The newscasters still didn’t know if it was an accident or a terrorist attack. I had to tear myself away from the screen because my car was due at the garage for repairs.
They didn’t have a television at the garage, so the transaction was quite normal. I gave them my keys, told them I’d come back in the afternoon to pick the car up, and started walking back home. Three blocks from my house, a woman came up to me, all excited. “They’ve just bombed the Pentagon,” she said. “Who knows whom they’ll hit next?”
I sprinted back home, perhaps afraid of my own safety, even though the Pentagon is almost 12 miles from where we live. By now, two towers burned on the television screen, interspersed with a smoking Pentagon. I called my parents in India to assure them we were safe. “Planes weren’t meant to disappear into buildings,” my father said.
Perhaps what I remember most clearly from that day and the ones that followed is how preternaturally clear the sky was. A pure September blue, one free of even the slightest wisp of cloud. The only planes that flew for some time were military jets – dozens of them, zooming over Washington, DC and its suburbs. Every time we heard them, we wondered if the terrorists had returned.
That eleventh day of September demonstrated how vulnerable we are. It created a sense of insecurity that has slowly hardened over the past decade, become a part of many of us. For me, personally, this anxiety has manifested itself in my fiction.
In September 2000, I wrote a scene in which I imagined us all on the verge of destruction. In those relatively optimistic times, one perhaps encountered such notions mainly in fiction. This month, I completed the first draft of The City of Devi, the novel that arose from that beginning. In the ensuing 11 years, the unlikely scenario I imagined has moved into the realm of the possible. The instability generated by 9/11 (and by the ensuing retaliation) has taken root, perhaps most dangerously in nuclear-armed Pakistan. We can no longer take our survival for granted, assume we will not witness the end of the world.
As told to Sandip Roy
Manil Suri’s most recent novel is The Age of Shiva. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2004. In addition to being a writer, Suri is s a tenured full professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
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