From my TOI blog : Freeze Frame
Exactly a decade ago on this day, as daylight was fast fading into the evening, a television set blared in a familiar drawing room in Calcutta. The park outside was full of little voices, swinging, chasing, hanging from monkey-bars or just squealing at the sheer joy of running around free. The streetlights were coming to life one by one, slowly encroaching upon the gathering darkness of that ill fated September evening.
Inside, there were adults glued to their television screen that showed billowing black smoke from what was nothing short of a towering inferno – one of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City. Fire raged on the upper floors, glass panes shattered in the heat. A cloud of smoke had started to engulf the crystal blue September sky. And then suddenly, completely out of the blue, another plane darted into the frame and crashed into the other tower, as everyone watched in bewilderment. More flames. More shattered panes and debris from the exploding plane. Even the newscasters on CNN were rendered completlely speechless. Slowly, but surely, the azure New York sky was turning gray. Outside our window, in Calcutta, it was already night. Too many questions and the fear of death hung heavy in the air as the government warned of further attacks.
Today is 11th September, 2011. Ten years have passed since that evening on 11th September 2001, when I sat watching the unfolding of the episodes that would change the way we looked at the world. Too many images have stayed on in our minds from that eventful day, as have the first person accounts of the survivors, accounts chronicled by the kin of the dead, live video footage, images of the burning Twin Towers, of men jumping to their death to escape the towering inferno, of proud, erect buildings being razed to the ground.
In the last ten years, fighting terrorism has become serious business. Wars have been wrought across the world as countries have brought down other counties and dictators on their knees, in their efforts to combat terror. Thousands have been killed; some, no doubt innocent bystanders who have been caught in the crossfire between those who have doled out terror and those who have striven to contain it by any means at their disposal. The question that however begs to be asked is that if we are any closer to winning this war? Terrorists driven by the solemnity of their beliefs have continued to use every opportuity to strike fear into the hearts of people, even as governments have more often that not stuggled to keep pace with happenings around them. Several terror strikes have happened in India since our very own 26/11 occured. Hundreds have fallen prey to shrapnel and misguided bullets; however, those who imparted terror to begin with still continue to walk free or live with impunity, albeit behind high walls.
Have we really been able to cage terror or has terror caged us? I still remember the feeling of freedom I enjoyed in walking through a part of the country that was alikened to heaven on earth when I was a teenager; the luxury of driving into a hotel lobby and meeting a warm smile rather than a cold stare; and the hassle free experience of catching a flight, which today seems a distant dream.
Fortune and my fate nearly drew me to Nigeria a couple of years ago. A West African country known for its lion-hearted footballers as much as for their oil, their street smart conmen and the atrocities of the Niger delta. I remember being taken to an international school there on Victoria Island – the place where the children of all well paid expatriates studied. I remember stopping as I stepped out of the car – armed guards, metal detectors, sniffer dogs, an electrified fence and 16-foot high walls. Was this the freedom I wanted to give my child? Was this all necessary? Yes, it was, I was told. In a land that has been torn asunder by insurgency and terror, this was part of the normal – a ‘normal’, I simply wasn’t ready to accept.
A decade later, it is almost the same time of the evening. Outside our window in Mumbai, it is the last evening of Ganpati Visarjan, fireworks light up the dark skies and then vanishing into the darkness, the air is heavy with drum rolls. I look down from my perch at people on the street and wonder how many of them, like me, occasionally glance over their shoulders or jump at a sudden shaddow crossing their paths on a dimly lit street unsure of what can or will happen next. Terror, it appears, is fast becoming part of our new reality. Is this something we are ready to accept?
Ground Zero, on 13th December, 2010.
Picture courtesy : Sukanti Ghosh