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Where were on 9/11 2001?

Updated: Jan 17, 2021

9/11 2001. A date seared into the memory of anyone who saw two planes crashing into the Twin Towers. We saw the trigger that would ignite an irreversible chain of events that would change the world forever and for the worse. But where were you on 9/11 2001? Was it one of those days that you would remember for the rest of your life, or were you young enough to not understand it or entirely ignorant to not care?

I was in a cozy apartment in an Army Cantonment. As a 12-year-old and an 8th grader, my evenings were fairly routine. School in the morning, then 2 hours of swimming and tennis lessons, followed by 3 hours of studies. After that, I would catch up with mum and dad for dinner, followed by some TV, games, and the mandatory revision of the day's newspaper. One more hour of study and then book reading with my father while mum read her magazines wrapped up my day.

But that day was different. I had a bad day at school. After performing poorly in a test and losing a volleyball match, I was sulking. My mother, a woman who understands my every breath, realized that I was not in the right headspace. We gave the routine a rest and decided to have fun with a few hours of riding horses, followed by cooking tacos and making homemade ice-cream for dinner. Papa took over once he was back from the office, and we read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire together. I was given a free run with TV. My parents knew very well that my go-to channel was either the Discovery channel or any Disney movie on the VCR.

It was after dinner, and my parents were cleaning up when the news flashed. I distinctly remember thinking I was watching a movie because nobody crashed planes into buildings in reality, especially in America! I then realized that I was on the news channel and that this was real. My usual self would have called out for my parents. But this time, I was stunned into silence. I sat there on our bed, transfixed. I didn't want to see it, yet I couldn't take my eyes away from it. I was confused and scared. I didn't want to believe it. Yet, I had such clarity about the gravity of the situation that I had tears rolling down my face without even knowing it.

My mom, who always checked in when the house was quiet for too long, came to find me on the edge of the bed, crying. She first hugged me, then saw what was showing on the TV, and then called out for my father. I will never forget her voice that day. It broke the first two times, and in the third attempt, she barely succeeded. Her voice had pain and terror. My father, a seasoned army man, having just returned from the Kargil war, saw what was happening. He was stunned into silence. I remember looking at both of my parents for assurance and comfort. "Everything is fine. This is just a joke". But it never came.

The three of us lost track of the time that day. There were three more attacks that day. We held each other tightly and saw news till about midnight until I fell asleep. My parents couldn't sleep. That was the benefit of being a kid no 9/11 2001. Come what may, you would get sleepy, get up the next morning a little less fearful, go to school, think about who would possibly win the Triwizard Tournament, and get on with life. It was the parents who bore the burden of thinking of what this world would potentially be for their kids and grandkids after what had just happened. But the school was very different the next day. Our principal gave a moving speech, condemning the act, and emphasizing the importance of respect and tolerance of a human, no matter how different from you they might me. We sang a prayer for the departed and held a minute's silence. I remember that week being deadly quiet. But gradually, as always happens, we went about our lives.

My parents didn't dust the matter under the carpet. They educated me as much as a 12-year-old could be about the history of terrorism and its implications. I still laugh when my father tells me that two of my recurring questions would be "So these people are killing other harmless people, intentionally and only in the name of religion?" and "Why can't we just talk to them like you tell me to do if I fight with my friends?". To a kid, this idea was preposterous. My parents answered that I would need to read up on history and politics to answer the first question. For the second question, they just looked at me and smiled, mostly with pain and sadness in their eyes. How can they explain to a kid what would eventually become a concept of sheer intolerance and the business of terrorism? An idea that their beloved child would have to live with for the rest of her life.

What happened that day and after that, cannot be put into words. It did not just kill people. It destroyed families, trust, and faith. It robbed millions of their lives, innocence, and ignorance. Whilst it did bring together the people around the world in solidarity, it was not the catalyst that anyone wanted. The statistics say that close to 3000 people died that day. However, if we count the soldiers and locals who lost their lives in subsequent wars, the people who died and are still dying of terminal diseases due to either being in lower Manhattan or being selfless enough to rush to rescue others, the count would unsettle anyone. But what would remain immeasurable are the dreams which never came true; kids who never had a childhood because of a dead or separated parent; parents losing their purpose of life because of losing their kids; the impact of hatred against people of one faith and further segregation of people based on religion, colour and creed; case of cruelty against women and men, rich or poor, young or old. Moreover, we would never be able to weight the burden of many people who lost their hope, faith, will to live, and the ability to love.

I sometimes wonder if I would ever be able to explain to my kids what life was like before that day. What would I tell them? How amazingly mundane, regular, and stress-free our lives were? How the biggest worry in my life young life was to get the perfect score in mathematics and master the backhand for the upcoming tennis tournament? But would they get it? They will only be familiar with the world they are born in, the terrorized and polarized world 9/11 left us with. They would only see the lack of tolerance and racism that has become a part of our lives. Hyper-militarized borders, the constant fear of wars, and racial profiling will be expected. As a mother, the fear that I would experience would translate into imposing restrictions on my child, which, however irrational, would be deemed necessary.

But I hope to impart the messages that my parents taught me since I was a child. Be a good human being first; everything else is secondary. Be kind, gentle, and considerate. If you cannot be the reason for someone's happiness, at least do not be the reason for their sadness. If 9/11 has taught us anything, it is the unpredictability of life. The one thing that the 12-year-old girl took away from that day was to cherish her parents, friends, and family. To tell very often how much they are loved and needed. To be in the moment and live her life on her terms because it would be such a waste to live it on someone else's.

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