Where I was today, eleven years ago

9/11:  As the eleventh anniversary is upon us, I thought I would recount my 9/11 story.

September 2001. I was in eleventh grade, or First Year Junior College as we called it in Mumbai. I was checking my email on rediff.com on a cranky dial-up—which is irrelevant except to highlight that whole idea of checking email back then was to get-in, read, and get-out lest someone calls the land-line and I might have to start again.

Before I logged in, I read something like “Plane crashes into New York World Trade Center Building.” I didn’t click on it. I thought it was a tasteless joke by some writer who should not have followed his dream. When I was done, and I logged out, I read that the second tower had been hit.

I had never felt such horror. As everyone else, I was appalled by the loss of life, but what distressed me was the randomness of this brutality. This could hit anyone, anywhere. None of those victims provoked this. Their existence was unjustly halted—not to mention the loss to their loved ones.

My emotions weren’t nearly as complex as they are now, but I also remember this feeling of foreboding. Even before 9/11, we knew what terrorism was in India. We had faced bomb blasts and our constant friction with Pakistan meant that anybody in Mumbai could someday become a target. But America couldn’t be touched. No one would dare attack the USA. It would always be a beacon of the future, a vanguard of technology, and the truest practical representation of liberty in the real world. And it was strong. Call me naive, but it meant something that an almost-utopia existed.

Every anniversary of this fateful day, all I can think of is that no one is safe. Now, intellectually, I’m aware that the probability of dying from terrorism is minuscule compared to many other risks we take everyday. But I’m sorry; dying of lung cancer or heart disease or the complications of diabetes is not the same as a plane crashing into your building. Dying prematurely from an unsafe lifestyle is not the same as the existence of malicious people in this world who want to hurt us.

The impact of a terrorist attack is farther-reaching than any other calamity. It travels through time too. Not to take anything away from the victims or their loved ones or from the heroic firefighters, but on that day, we were all victims. At least a bit.

Related posts:

Today I’m thankful — Geminigirlinarandomworld

Remembering — Kitchen Slattern

Of Elvis and Green Cards

He’s relevant, really. (Wikipedia)

“Excuse me, do you have a light?”

I was asked this while walking around one evening, a month after I came to America. I replied that I didn’t have any matches or lighters. The question was presumptuous because I wasn’t smoking. She was middle-aged and sat on her stoop tapping a cigarette on her pack as I examined my face for wrinkles and wondered if my breathing sounded like emphysema. She regarded me for a few seconds and said nice evening or something. I look Indian enough, and Indians are almost one-sixth of the world’s population, so I allowed myself some annoyance when she asked which part of Pakistan I was from. I corrected her. She apologized, but with a look of close enough.

India has symmetry. And theirs is out of scale, astronomically. (1.bp.blogspot.com)

“What do you do?” she asked.

“I’m a grad student at St. John’s.”

I knew how this dance went. First I say that I study pharmaceutics and then they say, “Oh, pharmacology!” While I was explaining the difference and ignoring the beads of sweat near my ears, I was offered some lemonade. I said no thanks; she shrugged and smiled. Always taught to decline first and relent after persuasion, the withdrawal of her offer seemed sudden to my Indian eyes. But clearly the American way was to state what one wanted, and take others at their word—a little crass, I felt, but refreshingly candid. She wasn’t done being candid.

“When you get your degree, you gonna go back, or stay here and try to get a green card?”

“I’m not sure. Depends on the job-market I guess.”

“If you stay, does that mean your parents are going to move here too?” she asked.

This was 2007—not everybody’s shit had hit the fan—and it was understandable for some Americans to think of their country as a large zero-sum pizza, where more immigrant families meant less for everyone. Actually, I liked her honesty. It’s like America was her teenage daughter, and she wanted to know my intentions. Far more respectful than the oh-we-are-glad-to-have-you-here-if only-American-kids-studied-science-as-much-as-you platitudes. I was honest. I told her that my mother couldn’t see herself leaving India, but my dad was amenable. A half-belch-half-grunt came from inside the house. There was a guy in her living room—I’m guessing, her husband. He didn’t look at me once as he was engrossed in a game I still can’t call football.

How did Americans come up with ‘Get the ball rolling.’ (eslpod.com)

“Looks like he’s engrossed in the game,” I said.

Trust me, when you suffer from an Indian accent, and have to repeat every other word, words with three consonants in a row like engrossed are to be thought, not spoken. America may have a lot of foreigners—you’ll meet most in New York—but you can spot an Indian a mile away. Of course you can, he looks Indian. But he’s also the guy who’s over-pronouncing consonants to wash his accent off, scrubbing harder than Lady Macbeth. You won’t see a Français or a Brit doing this. Their accents are sexy. Why do you think they like to get together with their kind so much? To preserve their accents. Indians in America treat other Indians like rival drug-runners pushing on their corner. (People understand me better now—it’s been five years—but I still pronounce ‘w’ like a German.)

English: Adolf Hitler

Even he sounded better than me. And that’s not fair. (Wikipedia)

“Did you hear a lot about America, in Bombay?” she asked, ignoring my statement.

How do I explain to her what America is to non-Americans? The roads looked so clean in the movies that as a kid, I thought Americans walked barefoot. USA was the Narnia where money grew on trees and everybody sat around a fire chatting about how good they have it—taking breaks to wind their clocks back or forward an hour—and they all talked funny. And their movies had real people kissing instead of the images of actual birds and bees native to 90s Bollywood. And the strangest disposal tools. Whenever my uncle visited India, dad told us to put out a roll of toilet paper for him. Why can’t he use the bidet shower spray, I wondered. Maybe Americans don’t like their asses getting wet. Perhaps dry buttocks were the symbol of Western opulence. But I didn’t want to come on too strong with how enamored I was.

“Sure. We get most of your TV shows, and we like Hollywood movies,” I said.

“And sports? Do you guys play the same stuff we play? I’m a huge football fan.”

“Well, mostly cricket. That’s what most Indians care about. I grew up playing it.”

“What about the skin flute?” the belching grunter asked from inside.

“I’m sorry, what?” I said, as the woman started giggling.

“The skin-flute, I’ve been playing that since the fifth grade,” he said.

“I haven’t heard of it. It’s a musical instrument, right?”

Their laugh still echoes in my head whenever my brain makes the you-are-such-a-loser powerpoint presentation in case I get too optimistic.

“Ignore him. What about music? Do you get our music?”

I had to be careful. Admitting that I owned two Backstreet Boys CDs had gotten me picked on for an hour the other day—by a girl. I had saved myself, not convincingly, by blaming my sister. Just like I blamed the France ’98 for my liking Ricky Martin (The cup of life, ole ole ole…nobody?). Next trip to India, I’m dumping them along with the Spice Girls albums. (Seriously, who am I to ridicule the Bieber/Perry/Swift fanboys and fangirls.) I decided to stay vague.

Elvis Presley, 1973 Aloha From Hawaii televisi...

Hunka hunka burning green card (Wikipedia)

“Sure. American music is popular in India; mostly in cities.”

“What about Elvis? Do you like Elvis?”

“Sure. My dad’s the fan though. He likes Elvis and Englebert and Neil Diamond.”

She got excited and proclaimed, “If you like Elvis, you’re cool.”

By that scale, I guess I’m kind of cool. Amazing huh? Getting a full scholarship to grad school is great, but as far as assimilation goes, it pales in front of a man in a jump-suit who liked prescription drugs. Whatever works, I guess.

“Actually, I’d love some of that lemonade.”

The aftermath

The ISI has leaked to the media the name of a CIA agent stationed in Pakistan as some sort of childish retaliation to American forces violating the sovereignty of their country. Apparently, the fact that the world’s most wanted terrorist was hiding in their country in a large villa opposite a military base isn’t bothersome enough for them. They are way more worried about how US helicopters entered their country undetected, and executed a surgical mission to kill a man who was responsible for the death of many Americans directly and indirectly responsible for bankrupting the country by leading them into two wars.

What I don’t get in this whole scenario is why America keeps funding Pakistan so much when it is seems that the Pakistani army and intelligence are definitely incompetent, and/or quite likely that there are some bad apples in the ISI.

Who cares? Let them cry foul and throw a tantrum. When they want to buy weapons to arm themselves against India, they’ll know whom to kiss up to. Cui bono is an important question to be asked in political debates. It basically means to whose benefit? It is in Pakistan’s financial interest and political expediency to foster terrorism within their borders. Keeping militants happy in their country ensures the death of a few Indians every year and guarantees the flow of cash from Uncle Sam to stem terrorism as it were.

The sovereignty of Pakistan is a tricky question. In a civilized world, it shouldn’t be legal for agents from one country to enter another and commit murder. Surely there’s something wrong with that. It would have been a different thing if CIA agents in disguise had entered the compound and killed bin Laden in some guerrilla way and quietly exited the country without a trace. Kinda like how Mossad runs things. The Obama administration needed a nice victory. No one would say that they killed bin Laden to increase polling numbers but publicizing this as an American effort and painting red, white and blue all over the news does reek of opportunism.

On the other hand, had this been a special OPs kind of operation, the Pakistani intelligence or army would’ve taken credit for this, further obfuscating their role in the war against terrorism. It must have been a dicey situation.

Now we have another question to answer. Did the enhanced interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration directly or indirectly lead to this operation? If it did, is it still fair for a democratic civilized nation to torture people for information, whether it is reliable or not?

There is some evidence to say that important information obtained about bin Laden’s courier was a product of torture, but the people who were waterboarded the most like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, produced very little usable information at best. They also misled the investigation more. This leads credence to what was said by Nice Guy Eddie in Reservoir Dogs, “If you f**king beat this prick long enough, he’ll tell you he started the goddamn Chicago fire, now that don’t necessarily make it f**king so!”

It is expedient, and not just politically, to do whatever measures seem necessary to protect innocent people. I just end up thinking that in that zeal, we might turn into the very people we are fighting against. We must draw a line. There are some things that civilized people just won’t do. Something as barbaric as torture should be one of them.

I think it is best summed up by Tommy Vietor, the spokesman for the National Security Council, “The bottom line is this: If we had some kind of smoking-gun intelligence from waterboarding in 2003, we would have taken out Osama bin Laden in 2003.”

Sach is his greatness

FYI: This is not a post on the 200* by the great man. For that, you should read Munna Mobile and Greatbong. They have put it better than I ever could. This is merely an answer to a question that was put to me yesterday. So here goes:

Having woken up early to watch the match (NY time zone is not exactly conducive to d/n games in India), I was ecstatic (albeit blighted by a headache) in college where I happened upon a classmate. A discussion on the match ensued. She remarked (or rather questioned), “I wish I could have watched Sachin cross that milestone. Why is my luck so bad?” (or something to that effect)

Courtesy: Cricinfo.com

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