(Dedicated to that fateful day fourteen years back, when the world watched… with shock and disbelief… the unfolding of one of the most devastating events in the history of the modern times)
Traumatic events have always been a part of history and have always made an impression on the memory of those immediately aware of the incident, and especially on those directly affected by the circumstances. With the world shrinking and getting smaller by the day, thanks to satellite television and the internet, even if one has not been immediately affected by them, one is never too far removed from the after-effects of an event with the level of emotion and degree of historical importance as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The traumatic events of that day have now come to be referred to as “9/11” or “September 11” which tells us how the date itself has already made an unforgettable imprint on the memories of all individuals.
Life changed forever for many of the families who lost a loved one that day. Neither has our collective memories dimmed in any way whatsoever even if we may not be able to recall the exact sequence in which the unfortunate events unfolded that day. A certain time and a certain day brings about a certain feeling as we recall our best and worst memories and so is it with 9/11 and my memories of our life that fateful day when we caught the news and watched in utter disbelief how the twin towers collapsed – the towers which were seen as the symbols of America’s power and influence.
I recall that day very clearly though I’m sure much of my memory is now lost, except for the gist of what it felt like that day being there, feeling extremely vulnerable as it were, watching the television live. We lived in Bristol, those days, in a beautiful part of the South of England, very close to the picturesque Clifton Downs. I was enrolled for a Masters Programme and was halfway through the completion of my course at the university. Jay was just back from work I was sorting clothes for the following day, as I had to leave early. The Employee Relations assignment was dragging on for quite a while and I was nearly done with it, ready for submission, by 11 am, the next morning. Looking forward to a little break after a long and tiring day, I absent-mindedly put the telly on, hoping to catch something interesting, while I finished the household chores.
Of course, I was never prepared for what I saw! It seemed like a scene from one of the big-budget Hollywood movies, with one of the World Trade Centre Towers caught in a big ball of fire, and thick, black smoke emanating from it. I noticed the word LIVE in red at the bottom of the screen and knew this was happening for real! My initial thoughts were that it was a big fire. (In an instant, I recalled Paul Newman trying to save everyone in the epic blockbuster Towering Inferno?) Well, it was a bit like that, except that there appeared to be much more chaos on the streets of Manhattan below, with people rushing out, trying to save their colleagues and friends who were desperately trying to get out of the building that was 110 floors high. People were calling out to their loved ones to tell them how much they loved them in case they never came back alive. Fervent prayers, desperate calls and hapless spectators all watching with bated breath and sending out prayers for everyone who was stuck and couldn’t be reached. The entire world watched in utter shock, disbelief and anger! If this could happen to America, it could happen anywhere. That day something irreversible had happened to our lives. We felt vulnerable to the new enemy that was lurking everywhere, unbeknownst to us.
I can no longer recall the exact sequence of the events that were to follow next as they are a blur now, but the feeling remains clear as if it were yesterday. I felt incapable of eating or sleeping for days, in the aftermath, haunted with the scenes and the words as I had seen that day. One can only imagine the consequences and the effects it had on our minds. If we as spectators were so traumatised, what would it have done to those who had suffered as a direct consequence?
Over the weeks and months, many things change in people’s minds. There was a growing realisation of the fact that we all were mere pawns in the hands of perpetrators of terror, that none of us were any more or less vulnerable to such callous acts that one section of mankind was happy to inflict upon another. Over the subsequent weeks, another pattern appeared to emerge from the number of stray incidents that were taking place suddenly, where Asians were being wrongly targetted.
This stemmed from a sudden sense of distrust in the minds of people…the terrorist lives amidst us! Asians were easy targets for many because they “looked” suspicious! A lot of innocent Asians, including children in schools, became the target of racial attacks as a consequence. It was a terrible time for every Asian in Europe and America. In England, all the while we had a feeling that we were living next door to the enemy and yet, did not know who it was! It took a while and after a lot of support from local community groups that we all felt “safe” leaving home to go out to schools/colleges and work again.
So many years have passed since that fateful day. Yet, I doubt if any of us can ever get over the events of 9/11. It has been fourteen years since then, but when we think about it, it only feels like yesterday. Memories often get dimmed but not for those who lost their near and dear ones. Certainly not for parents who lost their children, or children who lost a parent or both; not for the spouses who lost the other half. The pain never leaves, one only get used to living with the pain!
Due to its’ sheer scale of destruction and the massive aftermath of its effects on the lives of thousands for whom life changed forever, 9/11 may not have been the only traumatic event in our collective consciousness, but it remains by far, one of the most shocking events in modern history.