For me the twin towers were a distant reality, almost a myth. There was dream shared by us middle class Indians of being there someday, of being part of the select group of global movers and shakers. Don’t be surprised if you see posters of western skylines around coaching classes where students race for marks in hopes of making the grade in some reputable multinational corporation. For us the world had only recently started to become accessible and that only through images. To be a part of that “image world” was the ultimate dream of progress, a dream of being at one with the makers of modernity.
When the planes crashed into the twin towers, our dreams too underwent some kind of metamorphosis. News came in that a Sikh man had been attacked because he wore a turban; or someone was stared at hatefully because he was brown or Muslim friends had their visa applications rejected …
Whereas the twin towers were once a symbol of hope, the hole left in the ground became a symbol of a dangerous and hate-filled world with lines drawn deep between white and non-white people. A dangerous place both because of the attack and later on because of the imperialist reactions of those attacked.
Ever since I was a child, I have always wanted to travel; to go places, to experience the richness of the world. Usually for a privileged middle class family like mine, the ascent started with education at a good US university. But when the time came for admission to US universities such as Northwestern, Boston, MSU and a few others, the last hurdle of getting the visa was not all that easy to surmount. There were new dilemmas to confront: should I pursue an old dream in a now declining western world or should I be part of the resurgent new reality of ‘shining India’? Maybe my motherland had more than its fair share of problems and inadequacies, but at least it was my motherland and I would be entitled to certain rights or security there that might not be available now in the changing world outside. I would at least have the right to demand dignified treatment if matters came to a head. But if I went to the US, it might not be the same, especially after September 11. If I were to be regarded with suspicion because of my color, could I find my voice and demand to be counted in, to belong?
Why would I want to subject myself to similar indignities that other people who looked like me had suffered? It was then that I decided to choose a premier management school in India rather than a university in the US.
Sadly, nothing much has changed the world we live in, changed the way we see people, changed the way we see events. Fox TV & CNN, in their portrayal of the 9/11 tragedy have given us a new yardstick by which to gage tragedy. In many respects the media has failed to portray uniformly the suffering and tragedies of people around the world. While some are paid too much attention, others are never heard of. So while Warren Anderson gets away with the Bhopal gas tragedy, nobody has even heard about the brave struggle of Irom Sharmila (who has been fasting for the last 11 years against the draconian & savage laws in her native state).
Through the force of their imagery, powerful media sources force us to mourn the distant twin towers while many more are dying in equally tragic ways. The power of the media corporations can sometimes make us forget the immediate tragedies on our own doorstep while in the wake of this 10 year old tragedy the US still continues to wage its campaign of destruction in certain parts of the world.
Google up ‘the Mumbai spirit’: it’s a phrase used to characterize the reactions of Mumbai residents after every terror attack. (Yes, they’re almost a regular occurrence) People go back to work the very next day. People are angry and demand answers from the government, but that is more a background process in the greater scheme of things. We just get on with our lives after every incident because we no longer have any other choice.
The world is descending into uncertain demagoguery. Thanks in part to ‘big bully’ US policy. I wonder if instead of declaring a ‘war on terror’, the US had declared an ‘introspection on terror’, would the world have been a better place? India is witnessing Saffron terror, Islamic terror, Maoist terror and many other micro frictions that all in one way or another combat the US’s far reaching tentacles and the structural and physical violence it perpetrates. The twin towers have now become a metaphor for this mess.
There is no turning back time. But there has to be a concerted effort by all of us to look at ‘others’ with empathy rather than suspicion. We must try and appreciate the context in which people act instead of indulging in stereotyping and playing blame games. We are heading for more 9/11s if we keep on declaring ‘wars’ instead of spending a silent moment on introspection.