Wednesday, September 11, 2002

it’s funny how mundane day-to-day happenings suddenly assume significance when they collide with some cataclysmic, earth-shattering event.
something like what happened exactly an year ago — September 11, 2001 (a Day of Infamy, as the US media has dubbed it.)
I was playing basketball with my sister and a few of her friends that day and even though I was running slightly late for office I decided to stick around for one more game.
I entered office about half-an-hour late. And was immediately struck by the frenzy of activity.
Everybody seemed to be looking at the TV, not an unusual event in a news organization, but as I followed their gaze I froze. hey, this looked like something BIg!
A colleague confirmed in words the unspoken thoughts that had started crystallizing in my brain. AMERICA WAS UNDER ATTACK!
Some terrorists had hijacked a plane and crashed it into the WTc.
In fact, i had arrived just a few minutes after the second plane struck. on the telly, i saw (what was to become a recurring image over the next few days) a black speck of a plane approaching the Twin Towers —a huge white cloud of smoke was billowing from one of them. for a second it seemed that the plane would pass behind the tower. But, a moment after it disappeared behind it, a huge ball of fire billowed out of its left side.
Still trying to grapple with the magnitude of the scene I had just witnessed, I went to work. For the next hour, as I kept posting news flashes on our website and looking up at the TV one ghastly image after the other, one sensational news after the other kept leaping out. “more planes have been hijacked.” “One had crashed into the Pentagon.” “One was headed for the White house.” “One has been shot down.” “The location of the other planes couldn’t be confirmed.” “Us has closed down its airspace.”
meanwhile, a colleague of mine was on MSN messenger chatting to a friend of his in New York. A common friend of theirs had her office at the WTC but she couldn’t be conducted as all the airwaves had been jammed and cellphones weren’t working. I saw my colleague’s message “Shit, shit, shit.”
The CNN site was almost down because of the heavy traffic. so, were the other US news sites.
I looked up at the TV again and the scene that greeted me made me shriek, “it’s going down, it’s going down.” One of the towers was disintegrating in a huge cloud of smoke, dust and debris. It was surrealistic. A 100-storey building just collapsing on itself. The cloud of dust approaching like a huge tidal wave, sending people running helter-skelter in panic. A woman followed by a TV crew seeking refuge in a shop scant moments before the cloud swept past like a killer typhoon outside the glass door.
All this was happening in New York, the nerve centre of the most powerful nation in the world and it was being seen by millions of people around the world and that too in real time.
As i worked through the night, a strange cocktail of emotions swept through me — sadness, anger… — the exact nature of which i couldn’t get my fingers on.
But there was one nagging feeling which kept coming back… regret. If only I had walked in a few minutes ago I would have been a witness to history — seen the second plane hit the tower.
I still remember the words of my sister before i set out for the office: “How will it matter if you are a few minutes late.”
It was a day of ironies.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Monday evening was hectic. I was wading through this incomprehensible story that one of the correspondents had filed, trying to beat it into shape. I received a message that there had been an accident involving the Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express. My mind raced. After all, Howrah-Delhi was the route frequented by friends, relatives and acquaintances. Was anybody traveling? No, not as far as I knew. This friend of my mother had left a couple of days earlier.
The TV was on at the office and I heard ‘Rajdhani’ being mentioned. Zee News was doing a special bulletin on the accident. “2301 Up Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani Express had jumped the rails over a bridge on the Dhawe river. One of the coaches had fallen in the river. The others were hanging from the bridge.”
“Shit! This was big,” I thought.
Aaj Tak, meanwhile, had nothing but a news flash. Complacent buggers, they were probably sleeping over it.
Zee News already had its correspondent Shrikant Pratyush doing a phone-in.
Then, someone called me. Said there was a guy on the phone who wanted to report an accident he had witnessed. I took it. His voice sounded normal. Okay, this wasn’t some drunk raving. He sounded excited. He had been driving down the Ring Road in the Delhi Cantonment area when he saw this truck hit a cow and plough into some pavement dwellers sleeping on the roadside.
He said the scene was horrific. Probably, 15 people dead. He heard the wails of the relatives trying to extricate he bodies of their loved ones from under the wheels of the truck. In fact, he himself had got down and called the police station.
I took everything down, thanked him and informed the desk in-charge.
Tomorrow morning there will be a lot of Page 1 stories, I thought. (Funny, how journalism makes you categorise everything — from the smallest trivia to the biggest disasters — in terms of how ‘big’ or ‘small’ a story it is.)
The desk in-charge echoed my thoughts. “Tonight’s a big night for news.” (There had been a news of a hijacking earlier.)
Aaj Tak got its act together a good one-and-a-half-hours later. But, not before Zee had gloated about how it had “broken” the story and managed to get an interview with Mamata Banerjee. It was a God-sent disaster for Banerjee. And like a vulture she had descended. However, she didn’t forget to mention that it was purely humanitarian reasons which had brought her to the Howrah railway station. (What a bitch!)
I reached home at 5 am and went straight to bed. Got up from bed in the afternoon and checked out the Times of India. Expectedly, they didn’t have the news.
I thought of turning on the TV for an update. Remembered, that I didn’t have a cable connection. And breathed a sigh of relief.

Sunday, September 01, 2002

All you Google-heads please stand up. Can you imagine going through a single day of your online life without even once typing in G-O-O-G-L-E in your browser's address bar? I can't.
Sometimes when I think about the power of the search engine it amazes me.
In fact, the Google phenomenon - it's growth from a little-known search engine to one of the most powerful Web presences in a matter of four years - is a proof of how the Net has transformed our lives. Now, you can get information on anything by just typing in a few intelligent key words. Believe it or not, I had stumbled across the fact that an ex-collegemate of mine had met her husband through an online matrimonial service (when all this time I thought it was a Net romance!) while surfing Google. Yes, from the trivial to the most classified, everything is just a click away.
I don't think it will be long before it enters the English language as another synonym for search. As in: "Could you 'google' out some information from me?"
But, like everything else in today's world, anything that becomes big tends to attract criticism. Daniel Brandt, a 54-year-old webmaster in San Antonio, Texas, says the popular search engine's page-ranking algorithm is "undemocratic." Which means that the results returned by it for a particular search word is skewed towards well-known and popular sites. Also, Google can seriously compromise personal information pertaining to its users. In fact, when you search for anything Google sends a cookie to your machine which is programmed to stay there for 36 years! Just think of the possible ramifications. This will enable a person to go through all the search terms you have ever submitted from a particular machine and help him prepare a window into your state of mind! (Scary, huh?)

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