Where were you when the planes crashed into the twin towers? The Columbia Center for Oral History has this collection of memories.


So where was I?

I was at home, rather ill with what I would rather be told was a severe form of malaria that would almost kill me. I was watching Ally McBeal on Star World. Suddenly, the programme just switched off and images from Sky News of the towers and a plane crashing into them came on.

I remember thinking – what the heck! And switching channels. Every single channel had the same images on. My one abiding thought was “why can’t they just put Ally McBeal back on?”. I got that it was big news, but why did Star World have to show it? Weren’t the news channels enough?

My mother and sister were both in the US then but it didn’t occur to me that they were in any danger. It hit me as an inconvenience later when my mother was unable to get a flight home and I was really very ill.

I was so naïve. 9/11 changed the world. Not only was it dramatic in itself – the city of cities in the world’s most powerful nation attacked so daringly. It set in motion a train of events that meant that the world would never be the same again.

George Bush pledged to hunt down Osama and the US invaded Afghanistan. Pakistan became a crucial ally once again. They didn’t find him, until 10 years later, this year, when he was killed ironically – but not surprisingly – in Pakistan.

Then the US invaded Iraq. By then, I was a journalist . On the night shift, we were glued to ticker because we were expecting that announcement and yet, we didn’t believe they would actually do it. We didn’t believe the great US would be so deluded as to invade another country with no evidence. But they did. And the world changed again.

9/11 set ablaze the Islamophobia that is au courant. In the US, it became paranoia and a distrust of any foreigners. It spread to Europe, where the idea of a minaret in a town has become unpalatable to most. Norway’s Anders Breihvik is the other end of 9/11.

In India, we’d already had our own Islamophobia and attacks by Muslim groups. I think 9/11 hardened the stances all around. The Islamic fundamentalists were now part of global jihad, no longer was their struggle just their own grudges against the Indian state. Their actions warranted international attention. Anything that happened anywhere and a link was found to al Qaeda; the idea of al Qaeda is actually so amorphous that it lends itself to this kind of thing. And those that hated Muslims found a global brotherhood too. It was now fine to announce at dinner parties “All those Muslims should be bloody killed, drop an atom bomb on them”.

It’s true that in India we’ve suffered our own 9/11s over and over again, most recently this week. The original 9/11 still trumps all our 9/11s because the world was never the same again nor will it ever be after that day. It was the defining moment of our generation’s history.

But at the time, I kept thinking – what the heck, something happens in America and Ally McBeal gets cancelled!

On that note, read this piece.

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