We're still jittery after 9/11: New Yorkers in India

By Madhusree Chatterjee (IANS) | Published on Fri, Sep 16 2011 14:18 IST | 185 Views | Add comment
New Delhi, Sep 16

Terror strikes in Delhi and Mumbai almost remind them "it can happen again in New York any time", say some New Yorkers residing in the Indian capital. But they also say theirs is a city of sanity where people got a lot more educated about Islam after 9/11.

"Recent terror attacks in Delhi and Mumbai make me worry that it can happen in New York all over again," Brian Ford, who has been in India for three months, told IANS.

Lydia Barr Eza from the US could identify with the spirit of generosity that pushed "the common Delhiite to help victims of the Sep 7 blast". "I saw people helping the victims...it was the same in New York".

The US financial powerhouse went back to being busy as usual 10 years after the 9/11 mayhem, the New Yorkers said. But life changed.

The average American knows a lot more about Islam now than they knew before 9/11, Lydia said. "In general, New Yorkers became educated about the differences in Islam," she said.

A New Yorker working in the American embassy recalled: "A few months after the serial attacks in the US, Sep 11, 2001, New Yorkers suddenly became very talkative - as if they wanted to share memories of loss and bond as a community."

They would stop in the subway and strike conversations with rank strangers, but the process of healing has returned them to their regimen, she said.

"Work has caught up with the New Yorkers and people don't have time to chit chat and play. They are either text-messaging from their cell phones or working on their laptops," the American embassy official said.

On the flip side, families go out on weekends to the beaches and parks up north of the city. And flock to free concerts in the neighbourhood.

"Music is in abundance and for free," said Jake, a young expat from New York.

These New Yorkers had gathered this week at Kunzum Cafe, Delhi's lone travel cafe, to discuss their experience of their city 10 years after 9/11 at a debate, "Celebrating the Spirit of New York", organised by the American Centre in its Indo-American friendship series, "Chai, Charcha Aur Coffee".

Pankaj Jain, who has spent over 30 years of his life in New York, remembers 9/11 with a sense of loss. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the incident.

"The first reaction was sheer terror. You could not believe that it was happening to you. I could not get in touch with anybody. I lost two of my friends. I returned to India in 2007," Jain told IANS.

By then, the initial terror, loss and anger had made way for reason.

"Across the US, the gut reaction was we have identified the enemies - and now we must go after them. But New Yorkers preached reason. Let's not make war - was the chorus," he said.

Reason and sanity make New York different from other powerhouses across the world. "It is the best city in the world - the sheer excitement, the energy, the music, the theatre and the spirit of the people are amazing," Jain said.

In India for the past three months, Ford wants his daughter to grow up in New York. Before coming to India, he did not at all move out of New York after the 2001 terror attacks.

"I lived nearly eight kilometres from the WTC (World Trade Centre). I saw it burning. Initially, I thought at least 30,000 to 40,000 people have died. But when the numbers came in I was relieved. The count was much less," Ford said.

It was a clear day, bright and beautiful and then the jetliners struck, he mused. "I saw the liner overhead minutes before the first one crashed into the tower," Ford said.

What scared him when he left New York for India? "I was worried about boarding a plane - I thought it could happen again," Ford said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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