Friday, September 25, 2009

Remembering 9-11

My memory of that day is vivid. Graduate school had pushed my nights very late and I had slept in. I was woken up with a call "go turn on the tv!!" Sometimes our bodies respond to such commands without a word, hearing the undertone of shock, terror and pain in it. The idiot box came to life just as the second airplane hit and some time later the huge buildings started to collapse. Live. On TV. I thought it was a movie channel till the camera started doing its blair-witch-project thing. It was difficult to grasp the enormity of it all. Suddenly it hit me, and almost 1700 miles away from the ground zero, I sank down onto the futon and on reflex action, started crying.

The entire world was shaken, and everyone asked for revenge. I spoke to several of my fellow students and listened, and realized in horror that the terrorists had done what they set out to do. There was terror in the eyes of the common man. Terror, where there used to be indifference, national pride and self importance. A country which practically could not be touched, was now in a complete disarray. It was a war with no tangible goals like territory, wealth etc. It was guerrilla warfare with a twist.

A deep, extremely alarming twist.

This was not my first experience with terror. It was in another city which is as bustling, and important to its country as New York is to the US.  I was in Bombay after the 1992 Babri Masjid episode and 1993 was a terrible year for all Bombayites. Bomb blasts in important parts of the city and the pandemonium that followed gave most of us nightmares for a long time. Many of us lost near and dear people. Bombay being what it was, survived and was back on its feet in a couple of days but it has always been a target for terrorist attacks since then.

It was on another 11th that my next tryst with terror occurred. The timing of the Bombay serial train blasts in July 2006 was so chosen to maximize the impact. The terrorists knew that the local trains constitute the bloodline of Mumbai and that it was packed in the evenings when people would return home to the suburbs packed in swollen compartments. When I came to know of the blasts, my heart stopped. India has been the target of terrorism for a long time now. But this was different. This time it had hit home. Almost all the people I knew in Mumbai would have been traveling around that time. I frantically started my phone calls. I could locate all except one. And this was one closest to me. I just sat shaking, till at some point the telecommunications Gods smiled on me, and I got through.
"I...I am walking home" he said.
"Why? WHY?" I did not realize that I had begun screaming.
I learned later that the compartment he was in, was one which was bombed. He had to literally crawl over charred bodies to get out. He escaped with a problem with a mere gash on his face and scars on his mind which he will probably carry with him forever.  I went on my knees and started bawling and thanking the forces that may be. We were incredibly lucky. He was given a second chance at life and through him, we were too.

Several families were not lucky and my heart bleeds for them.

I am still trying to come to grips about the philosophy of that branch of warfare called terrorism. The use of violence on civilians to coerce a government, or to gain publicity for a group does not make much sense to me. I fail to fathom how anyone can be convinced of killing like this. There must an excess of hate oozing out of the sky over any of the terrorist training 'camps'. In any battle, all who lay down their lives have a right to know what they are dying for. Most victims of terrorism never knew what they died for. The families are left behind in a sea of hatred and a need for vengence. It becomes a vicious circle.

A vicious, ever growing circle of hate.

Forever trapping both, the terrorist and the victims.

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