I just sat through one of those esoteric talkfests where nothing much gets accomplished. Throughout the day, I kept wondering, how these world renowned scientists, politicians, advisors to Ban Ki Moon or famous TV personalities from Europe, can all talk so passionately about the cause of water, but leave without one concrete action or recommendation.
The intriguing thing is that, the forum was held at the 7 World Trade Center.
After eight long years, I had the opportunity to sit on the top of the 40th floor of the one of the relatively new buildings on the hallowed grounds of the World Trade Center. It’s a remarkable building; contemporary and well designed with amazing features and functionality; but the chill you get, when you walk into the building is overwhelming, even beyond the design contours that goes beyond my comprehension.
I was one of the panelists in this cleverly titled gabathon: H209; it was an honor to attend such a forum, along with CEOs of many other water technology companies. However, I was mesmerized by this standing structure rising above so many. This structure, that stands in defiance of those forces who want to negate the values and the spirit of America; this structure, that stands in honor of those folks, who unknowingly lost their lives or those firefighters/policemen who gave their lives in service of others.
Tattooed on the psyche of our generation, 9/11, is like one of those birthmarks that we neither chose to have, nor can we remove it. It’s just ‘plain-simple’ there. Irrespective of whether we want to move it, forget it or analogize it with something else, it’s just not possible to erase from our brain. To every adult American, I bet, we remember that moment, that snapshot, when we first heard, somewhat in disbelief, feeling completely vulnerable, like a child, who has been deliberately thrown into a pool of water, without any idea of how to swim.
I distinctly remember that day; I was at a customer meeting in Forth Worth, TX. Working for ABB, I was trying to explain the merits of a new product to a group of engineers, when everyone’s pagers started to go off simultaneously. We left the meeting and went outside to a corner restaurant to watch, live on TV, the amazing events. Neither the world nor the media knew, how to react to these altered circumstances.
Wasima was on the phone overwhelmed; my cousin called me from Bangladesh to see if I was safe (my mother didn’t know where I was). Wasima was on her way to get our six year old from Verna Montessori School which was within the125 mile radius of Shanksville, where the fourth plane was downed. 125 miles in the path of an uncontrolled 777 jetliner, is really within the margins of error.
I told my co-traveler that I couldn’t hang around Dallas while my family was in Pennsylvania; I needed to be with them. We rented a truck (only thing we could get) and started this 1100 mile journey back to Pittsburgh. We went through check posts of fear and price gouging gas stations in Tennesse and made it back after some 21 hours of driving and one night somewhere in between.
The days and nights after 9/11 were also somewhat disconcerting. Nobody knew who was on what side. Were our neighbors upset with us because of my last name? We were fortunate never to have received any hate calls or mail. We didn’t get shot at for wearing a turban; but, invariably, we did experience those silent “heavy breathing callers” and there were clicking sounds on our phone, every time we answered it.
It was amazing that our friends and neighbors, our pharmacist, the deli lady at the local grocery store, all of whom told us that, they had heard about hate calls, etc. to others and were praying for us. They condemned all forms of bigotry against us. This unusual gesture of generosity was even more confounding.
I remember telling my mom, calling from Bangladesh, one day, to not use the term “terrorist” in English on the phone; instead to just call them Atankabadi (Bangla for terrorist) or Kharap Manush (bad people).
Fear and repulsion aside, eight years have gone by; since then, we have lived in three different homes in two different states. Daiyaan has grown up and Shania has joined our journey. The world has moved on beyond death, grief and insecurity.
On this spectacular Fall day, as I stare beyond the floor length glass of this 40th floor conference room, I see those small “matchbox” yellow cabs, and little silouhettes walking the zebra crossing; I consider myself extremely honored, that I am able to stand in this beautiful structure and watch life go by, without pride or prejudice; I know I haven’t done anything special to deserve this honor to live; just like those 4000+ people hadn’t done anything special to die.
The only thing I can do, is live this day to its fullest and consider it a gift. However utterly useless today’s “talk fest” is, this opportunity to stand where others have stood before me, and observe the Hudson, flow by on the left hand side, is priceless.
The remarkable thing about the brown waters of Hudson is that, it keeps going without much question or fanfare; much like America, irrespective of who is landing on it, or for that matter, who is spitting on it.
The spirit of America (or the Hudson), is too big to spit on.