I was in Iowa at a writers workshop when it happened. At first it was like a physical blow; it sank in slowly. I think our motley group—Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and nine Muslims who showed the most consternation—came closer because of it, a bond tenuous earlier. In NY, I couldn’t look up at the blue sky, it felt as if the towers would fall any moment. I did not go to Ground Zero, an Israeli told me tourists were flocking there to click themselves.
Om Puri, Actor, Mumbai
I was flying to New York on 9/11 for a shoot, and had stopped in London when we heard. It was horrifying, I couldn’t believe something like this was deliberately planned. Its sheer callousness shook me. For weeks, I was terrified of flying. When I flew out days later, the plane was virtually empty. It also set me thinking of Palestine: how if you keep ignoring an issue, it won’t go away but will finally erupt. The powerful should act responsibly, the US should be a good big brother, not a nasty big brother.
Shyam Benegal, Filmmaker, Mumbai
One thing 9/11 did was breach the fortress of America. This hadn’t happened ever in US history, not even with Pearl Harbor. The heart of the country’s commercial centre and the Pentagon were attacked. It’s also changed the way everyone looks at war. The use of terror has been validated in the carrying on of the war. There had been so much terror before the incident too, but somehow now it serves to validate the use of terror in war.
Kamala Sorayya, Poetess, Kochi
At first I even thought the US engineered it. In the Vietnam era, a presidential advisor had said: "We may have to sacrifice 30,000 of our boys so that 30 million will survive." I recalled this secret policy when Bush declared a crusade. After 9/11, Muslims have been treated as a menacing community, Islam was misinterpreted, the phobia grew. I’ve spoken many times in NY to convince Americans that Islam has no malevolent intentions. To me, convincing them of the goodness latent in Islam is as crucial as the Haj.
Mahesh Dattani, Playwright, Bangalore
9/11 is a reminder that nobody is invincible, no matter how powerful you are. Everyone is vulnerable because the method of waging war has changed, you don’t know who your enemy is. Post 9/11, what surprised me most was that Pakistan and India were competing with each other to help the US administration—when President George Bush decided to attack Afghanistan. I personally feel that every country must be offering diplomatic solutions to prevent a war.
Mrinal Sen, Filmmaker, Calcutta
like napalm in Vietnam,
further back, Hiroshima, Nagasaki
Close at hand, Afghanistan.
I look neither beyond nor at the tip of my nose. I’m scared.
Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh, Artist, Baroda
It was an earth-shattering incident, destroying all illusions that a mighty power like the US couldn’t ever be attacked. It had repercussions in our context...the wtc attack was linked to every Muslim in India, and there appear to have been attempts to capitalise on this. Such perceptions seek to malign all Muslims...there are, after all, different types of Muslims, just like with Hindus or Parsis. The attack brought out a big, frightening realisation—about our vulnerability, for the issue’s the same, in Palestine or Gujarat.
Nafisa Ali, Social activist, New Delhi
9/11 taught me how negative energies can create forces so frightening they can destroy anything. Even the US, who thought they were supreme, was helpless in the face of this. But the disaster’s fallout holds important lessons to be learnt. Other than some initial killings of some ‘Arab-looking’ people, the US citizenry showed dignified poise in their grief, they didn’t go on a vengeful spree. If only the Modi government in Gujarat had learnt from this.
Gadar, Naxal bard, Hyderabad
9/11 was a protest against US imperialism. It was a landmark event, and it’s not for us now but for history to decide whether this was an act of terrorism or revolution. America is like a giant river which thinks it can sweep away everything in its path, but this changed all that. It was an attack on all the symbols of US power—the economy, the White House, the Pentagon. America’s own planes, their own technology was used to attack it. It was unprecedented, even Bush had to hide for several hours.
Manjit Bawa, Painter, New Delhi
For me, September 11 has set off a great alarm. Actually, the alarm is for all of us. We have to learn to respect each other, respect even the smallest of individuals. We need to realise that anybody can harm us, it takes just one individual to harm another, or even a country. You can’t play power games any more. If we haven’t learnt our lessons from the past, from Hiroshima and from this, we’ll never learn. Look at what is happening in Gujarat, Kashmir.
Balkrishna Doshi, Architect, Ahmedabad
The wtc episode still depresses me since the building was done by my friend, Yamasaki. The building had a new vision, it had an architectural philosophy and now it’s gone. In the US, architecture is recognised as a ‘visual and catalytic’ element, crucial to the culture. In India, few can figure out the importance of architecture or, for that matter, free opinion. That’s the real challenge, to build such a culture here. The time has come to build the India of tomorrow, with a philosophy of human compassion.
Gurcharan Das, Columnist, New Delhi
Since 9/11, we live in a much less tolerant, less free world. Governments all over, even in India, are enacting laws reducing the freedom of citizenry in the name of national security. But liberty can’t be traded for safety. So now, not only must violence and terrorism be condemned, we also have to keep a vigil on the health of our liberty. The less tolerant and free we become, the more the victory for terrorists. They’d accomplish what they set out to do.
Prasad Bidappa Designer, Bangalore
For me, 9/11 was the end of western ignorance. It’s sad that hundreds died but it opened their eyes to the violence happening around the world. It also led to the worldwide crackdown on terrorism. The US is doing much more now than in the past on this front. At a personal level, I was affected a great deal by the extensive coverage on television. I remember tears welling up in my eyes as I watched the pictures that fateful morning when the attack happened.
Paul Zacharia, Writer, Thiruvananthapuram
For the first time in my life, I saw the unfolding of history as a massive, tragic spectacle. I remember it for all those killed as victims of political orders, valuing power above the simple right to be alive. The men who did it are also victims. I think of the killers in Gujarat the same way. Only, they are alive and ready to kill again. The primary meaning of 9/11, to me, is the totality of all that US foreign policy has added up to, till that violent day.
Yusuf Arakkal, Artist, Bangalore
It was a terrible day for humankind. It released a wave of melancholy everywhere because someone from every country died that morning. The TV images left me depressed. It’s time world powers realised selling weapons to other countries, making them fight each other, is a dangerous business. It all comes back to you. You create a monster, the monster will eat you. The hatred we see around is a result of economic power games. The shastras warned us against uncovering anu, the atom or the smallest of things.
Interviews by Ranjita Biswas, Darshan Desai, Soma Wadhwa, Leela Menon, Priyanka Kakodkar, Savitri Choudhury and Madhu Jain