Airborne on 9/11

Airborne on 9/11
Airborne on 9/11

It was September 11, 2001, a date enshrined in world history. I had a Kolkata flight to catch and was biding my time for the gates to open at the...

It was September 11, 2001, a date enshrined in world history. I had a Kolkata flight to catch and was biding my time for the gates to open at the seating lounge inside the airport. I was on a deputation to the Foreign Department of the State Bank of India to reconcile the Nostro entries of Branches relating to Bangalore Circle.

To the uninitiated, a Nostro account refers to an account maintained by an Indian bank with overseas banks in foreign currency to settle its foreign currency transactions. The task was entrusted to me and a few other colleagues simply because we had gathered expertise in the field. It was an era when banks were not fully automated and much of the reconciliation exercise was done by poring through registers, ledgers, ticket acknowledgements, SWIFT copies and other manual records.

On that particular day, there was an unusual activity inside the airport as passengers jostled with one another for space to get a clear view of the pictures streaming on the television sets placed inside the airport. From the corner of my eye, I could figure out an aeroplane crash into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre and engulf the building in flames.

I could also catch a glimpse of people screaming and falling to their deaths from the floors above after it exploded into a ball of fire. The images beamed on the small screen appeared like an action-packed English thriller and I had no clue what was playing out. Huddled in a corner with my bag and baggage and busy browsing the newspaper I did not even bother to enquire with the bystanders, many of whom were glued to the TV sets.

As the gates opened, I picked up my belongings and hurried to board the aircraft. Those were the days when the mobile phone was yet to make an appearance and I was virtually incommunicado. We communicated with our families via the humble landline telephone or through the medium of letters or telegram. A letter posted from north India would unbelievably take a week to arrive in Bengaluru.

It was a practice to call up the kin soon after reaching the destination. As I touched base with the family from Kolkata my mother was pleased as punch to hear my voice. ''Are you doing fine?'' she enquired. ''Did you hear that the militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four aeroplanes and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Glad you are safe''.

She sounded visibly relieved. She had obviously found the videos shocking like everybody else and the fact that her son was on a plane made her restless even more. It soon dawned on me that the pictures streaming on television back home at the airport was no movie but a terrorist attack. 9/11 to be precise!

-N J Ravi Chander

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