15 years ago – I remember the day vividly; that memory is framed in the darkest abyss of my being! It was an early Tuesday September morning in Boston. Very pleasant weather – the grass in my lawn was wet with dew. The school bus came and picked up all the kids. The birds were singing as usual. The only noticeable change was the ivy plant climbing up the pine tree in my back yard, which had a few leaves bright yellow and some red – announcing the coming of the fall season.
I was going to take my car to the dealer, for some repair and then, proceed to work. I somehow did not turn on the radio. At the dealership, it appeared almost nobody was working there – everyone was glued to the large TV screen in the waiting area – it was CNN. One of the World Trade Center towers was hit by a plane. We thought it was an accident until we saw the 2nd plane hit the other tower, and then the idea of terrorism appeared. The channel was showing the pictures of the planes hitting the towers again and again.
Shocked and shaken – but, I had to go to work! I got my car back and headed for work via interstate 90, which crisscrosses America from east to west. After driving for few miles on the 65 miles speed limit, highway traffic completely stopped. Everybody was listening to the radio and a blood-clotting thrill was visible over the 3-lane highway’s bumper-to-bumper traffic jam. America never had something like this since the Pearl Harbor bombing. The sky was also silent – all flights were downed. It took over 6 hours for all flights on air to be on grounded. A strange eerie feeling dawned on America. Normally, you would see at least 4 planes flying above you, at any given time. There was absolute freedom in the sky –a rare experience indeed, which stretched on for 3 full days!
At work, everybody was in a way, quiet. There was a TV screen and we spent most of the day watching the unfolding news, including other two planes crashing. My ‘learned’ boss asked me a strange question – you guys deal with terrorism in India – don’t you have it regularly? I wish I could have said that while India suffered, America looked the other way; and, unfortunately, now it is America’s turn to experience something like this – but I just nodded!
I called my wife, who was visiting India, and she panicked – because one plane flew from Boston. She asked who did it? Without any real knowledge I said – “It must be Laden!”
On the other hand, my brother-in law in New York, worked in a building very close to the towers. We could not contact him on his phone. There was this heaviness in my chest – an inexpressible feeling for hours. Later, we found out that luckily, he did not manage to even get out of the subway, after reaching his destination. He walked 20+ miles to get home in Queens – with no food, no water, no communication – along with hundreds of others. The sight he described was like a scene from the movie Armageddon!
When the planes started to fly again after couple of days, every time a plane flew over me, I had the same sensation in my chest – the same feeling – oh my God! It took months to overcome this paranoia. And the horrific scene of people jumping off of the towers will never be erased from my head!
I ventured to visit the site few days later. Smoke was still coming out from ground zero. A horrific smell emanated from burnt flesh, fuel, building materials and what not! Suddenly, I felt a strange back pain. As if someone was stabbing me with a knife. It was short, but sharp. I almost went into oblivion and felt that hundreds of pain-stricken disembodied beings were screaming, followed by hundreds of whispers and then absolute silence, which was broken by a police officer asking me to move on!
After a few days, I opened a book from my collection, about Swami Vivekananda. The page opened to his Chicago Address. I looked at the date – September 11, 1893!! And what he said at the Parliament of the World Religions, was very powerful. Yet, the irony was that a very bad event descended on America on the same day in 2001!
“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”
His message is more relevant today than ever before!
The age of terrorism has arrived!