Gotham 9/11/01

A day after the attacks of 9/11/01, I sent an email to my family and some friends. In retrospect, it was a sentimental thing, and I suppose I did it more for catharsis than anything else. Someone forwarded it to others and it soon became one of those things that got very wide circulation on the internet, and I got hundreds of emails from people thanking me for my “nice words”. It was even published here and there and translated into various languages, etc. It was apparently read in church services and at political meetings. I don’t think it was a particularly great thing, I think I just said something very quickly while everyone else was still speechless with shock. Well, here we are four years later with another American city in shock and pain, and here, if you want to see it, is the email I had sent that day:


As time elapses, I am more clearly able to identify and articulate what it is that has been making me so sad about this attack. It is this: some cities do not belong to any particular Twin_lightsacountry but are treasures for all people; cosmopolitan and international by nature, they are the repositories of our shared world culture and artistic production, testaments to what is common and binding among diverse peoples, and sources of creative energy. They come to stand for our notions of community and brotherhood. New York has been by far the most magnificent of these world treasures, and it still is today. Here, on every block you will meet people from forty different countries. Here you can speak Urdu with the cab drivers, and Korean at the grocery store. Here, bhangra rhythms and classical sitar mix with calypso and Finnish ambient chants. Here is where mosques and synagogues are separated by no green-lines. Here is where Rodney King’s wish has mostly come true: we do get along. This city is the least provincial; no nationalism flourishes here. It is the most potent fountainhead of intellectual and artistic endeavor. What this mindless attack has done is desecrate and damage the ideals of international community that this city not only symbolizes, but instantiates as fact and lovely example. And it is this desecration which is so devastatingly heart-breaking.

I recall two things: one, the pleasure and awe with which my mother took in the incomparably stunning view from the 110th floor observation deck of the World Trade Center on a visit from Pakistan in 1974. And two, her reading in Urdu, the words of welcome inscribed in the lobby of that building in over one hundred languages, to all people of the world. Alas, no one shall ever do either again.


[This post is dedicated to the memory of my dear friend Ehteshamullah Raja who didn’t make it out of his business meeting at the World Trade Center that day.]