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.

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