On Top Of The World

The first time I was on top of the World Trade Center was in March 1998. My mother was giving concerts in east coast and I had joined her for a few days. We went around Washington, New York and Philadelphia. There was a tourist guide inside the elevator when we were going up. According to him, New York was the most romantic city in the World. That made me smile. He also had an excellent knowledge of several different World languages and spoke to us in many different languages. That made me smile broader. We got out of the elevator and we were literally on top of the world. It was a pleasant spring with a light breeze. There were at least hundred people looking down at Manhattan. And, there was this young pair sitting on a long stone, right in the center. They didn’t mind or care that there were so many people around them. The two of them were so busy kissing and hugging each other, occasionally staring at the blue sky.

The next time I went to the World Trade Center was in September 2001. A week before September 11th. My friends R, S, S’ wife A and I drove all the way from Boston and spent a couple of days in New York. We bought tickets at the ticket kiosk at the ground level and headed towards the line for the elevators. Almost near the elevator, there was this annoying “photo spot”, which is there at almost all the tourist attractions in America. There was this guy, who was my age, standing with a camera and a tripod. There was this big picture of World Trade Center, leaning on the wall and people would stand in front of it and give their biggest smiles. The guy would click his camera and a girl standing next to him would give some kind of a token with a number, so that people can go to the top of the World Trade Center and collect the photograph, for a ridiculous price. The whole photograph was so artificial. When our turn came, I politely declined to be photographed since none of us were interested in it anyway. The cameraman gave us a shy smile and told us that he gets some commission for just taking photographs, irrespective of whether anyone buys them or not. He had a heavy eastern European accent. Well, none of us saw any harm in helping someone. So, we decided to take two pictures – R and I posed for one, and S and A posed for the second. Not to mention, we gave our biggest smiles as well. The cameraman and the girl next to him were extremely happy with us.

We moved forward and were very close to the elevator. There was a Sikh gentleman standing right next to the elevator door. His job was to greet people and send them into the elevator. Right next to him was an African American lady, who was probably in charge of the security. Both of them must have been in their early 40’s. The Sikh gentleman was openly flirting with her and she thoroughly enjoyed it. After a few minutes he kept on saying “ILU ILU” to her. She didn’t know what it meant. She saw us Indians standing in the line. She came near me and asked me what “ILU ILU” meant. Sure, ‘Saudagar’ was a big hit. But, until then I hadn’t realized that Subhash Ghai’s patented “ILU ILU” would touch Americans’ hearts as well. I smiled at the African American lady and told her that it meant “I Love You”. You could see the sparkle in her eyes. She gave the sweetest of her smiles to the Sikh gentleman. It was our turn to board the elevator and we walked in.

We spent quite some time on top of the world. While coming down, we passed through the photo shop which had our artificial picture. People paid a vulgar amount to buy those pictures. Even though we had no intention of buying the photograph, we were curious to see how big our smiles were. We stared at the photo for quite some time and decided that it was our best smiles. So, both R and I ended up paying the hefty amount for the artificial picture.

Barely a week after I was on top of the world, a rude phone call woke me up at around 6:15 in the morning. It was S from Boston, asking me to switch on the television. He also mentioned that a plane hit the World Trade Center. The rest, as they say, is history.

I occasionally stare at my “artificial” World Trade Center photograph. I wonder whatever happened to that eastern European cameraman. And the girl who was giving tokens, was she his sister? girlfriend? wife? or not related at all ? Did the Sikh gentleman propose to the African American lady? Did they get married? Are they all alive? I still wonder. I will never find out their stories. Now, whenever I go to any tourist spot in America, I always make it a point to give my biggest smile to the “artificial” photograph. I try to convince myself that the eastern European cameraman is still alive. He probably has a different job, that’s all!!!

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19 Comments on “On Top Of The World”

  1. rads Says:

    One can only wonder. I did a similar 9/11 post last year

    http://kowthas.wordpress.com/2006/09/11/where-were-you-on-911/

  2. krupa Says:

    Very touching! I know how you must feel…I was in college…and the pictures in the newspapers broke my heart. Having seen it…it must have affected you a zillion times more.

    PS:On a totally different note,ILU is the lamest thing to come out of Bollywood.Don’t you think? Sorry about harping on the ILU thingie in such a sensitive and well written post..but I had to say it!

  3. Aram Says:

    Poignant, especially the last para!

    “Mughdhara kolluva dharmaandharigey
    Swargava torvaney Allah…”

    – (Dr. M. S. Nataraj, U.S.)

  4. Prashanth M Says:

    Touching story…

    Somehow feel like, I’ve read this before… same exact words…


  5. Very very well written. The last para is incredibly emotive.

  6. Vijay Says:

    Wow.. one week before !!!

    On another note… there is a lady we know who lost her 24 year old son in the tower. Every Sep 11 she organizes a pooja at the Uttaradhi Mutt in his memory…

  7. Vasuki Says:

    Very touching!
    Apart from the sadness surrounding this issue, you must have been scared as hell thinking that it was just a week before you had visited WTC.

  8. poornima Says:

    It is 9/11 again and a Tuesday too.Very disturbing now and …..6 years back I worked in Maryland and my husband in Virgin Islands. My parents, sister and brothe in law with 3 month old baby came from NewYork to stay with us for a month. My husband took some time off and enjoyed a week long vacation with in-laws by visiting Niagara Falls, Pittsburg, Luray Caverns and Washington.

    Sunday 9/9 evening my brother in law went back to NY. My husband took some rest on Monday. He would come once in a month, so I used to pack him some Chapathis and some other stuff. This time I could not do anything. Evening mother made his favourite “haagalakaayi gojju” and packed it. Nextday morning, me and father dropped him at the airport, came back and went to work. Around 9:15 my collegue Chong Pak told me about the attacks and said CNN.com.

    In the next second, got a call from my sister. My brother in law who worked in midtown,NY had informed her. One of his close friends and ex-colleague Nani was working in WTC. His wife Radha was pregnant . For some reason, he left home late on that day and that saved his life.

    Slowly people started talking about the attacks and again there is something to add. Pentagon was attacked too. And I started hearing… It is a hijack… American Airlines.. took off from washington …. took off around 8:15. Yes, Yes he took American .. from washington .. it was at 8:15 Ontime. I tried calling him, could not reach . Tried calling American Airlines. Thought of telling my parents… what shall I say. Your 1st son-in-law just escaped and witnessed the attack..but, now it is your 2nd son-in-law…… . I just called them and said “do not worry, he is safe”.

    For the next 2 hours I was trying to call him, AA and surfing to find out which flight ? The first relief came when Dave came running, held my hands and said it was from IAD. He knew my husband preferred Reagon Airport for its Metro facility and he was right. I heard my husband’s voice after 2 more hours and for the first time I asked him” swalpa jOraagi maataaDi”. He was unaware of these happenings and only came to know when his connecting flight was cancelled.

    He was stuck in a hotel at Miami for four days with some bread and haagalakaayi gojju.
    And for the first time he said “haagalakaayi gojju yaakO tumbaa kahi”.

    I cannot explain what I went through those hours. We were lucky to have it only for few hours .. there are so many people who are feeling worse rest of their lives. Not sure if there is any word in any dictionary .

  9. BPuriSKabab Says:

    Nice post. Re. your visiting WTC as a tourist a week before, I am sure you must have been thinking “there but for the grace of God…”

    Also, there are innumerable stories about people who went to work late and escaped. I know someone who was visiting from DC for a 1-2 hour meeting, and was one of the 3000.

    BPSK

  10. nilagriva Says:

    9/11 and Tuesday again – yes, definitely disturbing. I was thinking about this yesterday. Though I wasn’t in New York at that time, that the sheer media impact and the magnitude of the attack scarred a generation with those haunting pictures is no tall claim.

    I felt a sUtaka like feeling the entire week after the incident. I didn’t see smiles anywhere including grocery stores and at work for 2 to 3 days, though I lived in the Bay Area, far away from NYC.

    And DS, I can never forget that it was you who called me to ask me to switch on the TV!


  11. Oh.. I know there will be so many stories which are hidden with the incident. It was so pathetic to hear stories though we were at the other part of the world.

    @poornima, it was so heartbreaking to read between lines, I honestly first read the last line and read the whole story.. very welcoming end.


  12. I was to write my final semester’s last exam on 12the Sep 2001…and was preparing for the same. At 8:45PM on 09/11, some one screamed from the TV hall of the hostel…. It was a very loud scream… and that drew us all to the TV hall.

    What we were shown on Door darshan was shocking and un believable. We had no mood to continue studying, for we could not bear the visual distress we were offered. Little did we know the impact of what we were seeing on our lives…. our careers.

    We realised the importance of this scene a little later, and went thru all the traumatic existance….. But my hostel’s TV room on 09/11…. I remember it as I faced it.

    Very emotional account DS. Keep smiling, and smiling BIG.

  13. praneshachar Says:

    great post and a true tribute to all those who lost their lives.
    one of our close family friend a girl just came out of the tower few minutes before
    the incident and could reach back her house with lot of lifts from all good samritans
    but for people at house it was a night mare till they got the call from her which was much later due to hevy traffic in commnunication
    thank god you visited one week before and finally bought the artificial photo
    now it is a souvenier

  14. rads Says:

    DS – uve been tagged 🙂


  15. @ Rads:
    A nice write up there!

    @ krupa:
    The incident certainly jolted me. One week before and it could have been me. As for ILU, now you have given me an idea for a new post.

    @ Aram:
    True, indeed.

    @ Prashanth:
    Now you have proved that you are one big blog addict. I had this post in one of my previous blogs. I didn’t expect anyone here to have read that. Well, you caught me!!!

    @ Sushrutha:
    I truly believe and hope that the cameraman is alive and has some other job.

    @ Vijay:
    I think I know who that guy is. A few people here had called me to see if I can somehow find out his whereabouts through common friends and people of our age group. I am assuming there was only one Kannada Brahmin boy of that age, so I guess it’s the same guy. May his soul rest in peace! Reading your comment made me wonder what his mother would ahve gone through. As they say in Kannada “shatrUgU aMtaha pADu baradE irali”.

    @ Vasuki:
    Yes, for some reason if the idiots had decided to do taht a week earlier, it could ahve very well be me. It is scary!!!

    @ Poornima:
    It is truly scary. I can’t even imagine what you went through. I am so glad that everything ended well for your family. Thanks for sharing. And yes, all our prayers will be with the victims and their families always.

    @ BS:
    Yes, there are tons of “lucky escape” stories. But, we will not hear many stories on the other end. One such story is that of Barbara Olson, wife of Ted Olson , who was the U.S. Solicitor General at that time. She was scheduled to take an earleir flight. But, Sept 11th was Ted’s birthday. So, she wanted to have dinner and celebrate the previous night. Thus, she decided to take a later flight and boarded AA77. How tragic!!!

    @ nIlagrIva:
    Yes, another 9/11 and another tuesday. As you said, it did scar a generation. I am sure most of us will remember exactly what we were doing when we heard the news. I do remember calling you and a few other friends to switch on the TV. we will never forget that, do we?

    @ Veena:
    yes, it was truly a sad day.

    @ Srik:
    It must have been horrible to try and study when you saw this. We all have our stories, don’t we?

    @ Praneshachar:
    I am glad she was alright. There were so many unlucky people. Yes, that photo means a lot to me now. I never would ahve thought!

    @ Rads:
    Arrrrgggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh………..will get back some day!

  16. rads Says:

    DS – It’s fine even if you don’t :–)

  17. Vittal Says:

    WOW – just a week before? I visited the tower in early 1998 and kept my video camera running almost all the time! Remember there was a place to sign on the wall at the top – and, I signed my name in kannada.

    Even today, I watch those video clips…very surreal!

  18. Prashanth M Says:

    nope.. I’m not blog addict.. credits to very good memory :p


  19. @ Rads:
    I did it anyway 🙂

    @ Vittal:
    Yep, just a week back. To think that any of us could have been there, it is surreal.

    @ Prashanth:
    Love the memory thingy. I take a lot of pride in that too 🙂


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