May 1st 2011 - It was a usual Sunday evening. I was preparing dinner and Rahul was engaged with kids when the phone rang. It was our 7 year old nephew Aru who had a special news for his mamaji (uncle)
"Rahul mamaji! Rahul mamaji.... Osama is dead!
For a moment my husband confused Osama with President Obama and almost screamed "What!!! Obama is dead???"
"No Osama! Osama is dead. Turn on the TV"
Rahul turned the TV on while yelling to me "Shilpa!!! Osama is dead!!!". I came running. For the next 20 min we were glued to TV waiting for Obama to address the press. We were happy! we even did high fives! and told the kids that a very bad man had been punished.
It was a good day for America! 9/11 had been avenged!!! A day when along with all the Americans, my life also changed forever...
I remember 9/11 as if it was yesterday. I woke up early and told my husband that I had seen a dream in which a plane crashed into a building. He said it was no dream. I must have heard the news on our NPR radio channel that is set as our morning alarm and then visualized the scene. We turned the TV on and saw the news coverage. At first we thought that some country had attacked USA. We were going to work when our families in India called to check on us as they had seen some TV news about planes crashing in USA. We assured that we were in another corner of the country. By the time I reached office, pentagon had been hit and a plan had fallen near Pennsylvania.
It was hard to react that day, but slowly the news sank. It was a brutal, inhumane, barbaric attack on people who did not deserve it. With God's grace, none of my friends and family were hurt in 9/11, but I still cried many times when I thought of the families that lost their loved ones. I cried every time I saw the footage of people jumping from twin towers. I cried each time when I thought about the bravery of the people upon United flight 93.
The lives of their families were never going to be the same.... Little did I know that my own life was going to be affected in a way I did not realize.
A few days after 9/11, some hate crimes were committed in some states against people of Arab descent as well as people who looked like Arabs, especially Sikhs. A Sikh taxi driver was shot in California too. The atmosphere was changing. Suddenly Arabs were looked upon suspiciously. People did not want to associated with them. I am not an Arab, yet I was told to be careful by many people just because I did not White, Black, Chinese or Hispanic. I could be mistaken for an Arab. I didn't believe it at first.
I worked at a start-up. A few days after 9/11, I was leaving work after a release around 8:30 pm, when Suddenly, my COO who was a Japanese stopped me. He then called a White colleague and asked to escort me to the parking lot. I was wearing an Indian dress. I looked at him quizzically and he said "It's for your safety. I don't want anyone to attack you thinking you are an Arab." I was stunned as I realized that how one incident by one ARAB man can bring so much disgrace to an entire race and even other races.
When I narrated this incident to my husband, he suggested that I should not wear Indian clothes for a few days. I was furious.
"I am an Indian. I am a Hindu. I wear bindi and bangles for God sake, not a naqaab! Don't the Americans know Indians are peaceful! Don't they know the difference between a saree and burqa" And even if I was a Muslim or even an Arab, should I be feared or hurt just because some demented people who happen to be Muslim committed this act of violence. The KKK were white supremacists, so should I go an kill each white that comes across my way?
But in the end, I agreed with Rahul that I better be safe than dead. Unfortunately the logical reasoning that "I am Indian because I wear a bindi" cannot convince the people who have made up their mind to hate someone who looks like me. Just like the Muslim extremists who have made up their mind to hate anyone who doesn't agree with them.
I stopped wearing Indian clothes. Then gradually I stopped putting a bindi or wearing bangles. I hated it in the beginning, but then as I got used to it. 4 years later, I became a US citizen. The hate crimes faded away and life in America came back to normal, but I never went back to wearing Indian clothes everyday or even putting on bindi and bangles everyday.
There were still several reminders of 9/11. Like the day when it was very cold and I took out a silk scarf to tie around my face. Rahul immediately told me to take it off, suggesting that it might make me look like a middle-eastern. I was upset, not just for me, but also for all the middle -eastern people who probably struggled with situations like these everyday.
I muttered under my breath "Shame on you Osama! May you rot in hell"
Anytime I travelled, we took special precautions to not be flagged in the security checks. Whenever Rahul went on trips, I didn't sleep at night unless I heard from him after landing. I was once carrying a crochet with me to use in the plane and I was forced to throw it away. Another time, Reya's inhaler caused a big security check for us in Hongkong. And yet another time, I had to go though special checks when I tried to carry my breast pump with me on a domestic flight. But I took comfort in the fact that at least the security was not being compromised.
No, I wasn't living in terror. I trust in the ability of my country to protect its citizens. I trust the brave soldiers who put their life on line so that I can have a normal life. But I have never taken anything for granted after 9/11. And I have surely learned to appreciate each day.
But all those moments were somewhat vindicated when I heard the news of Osama's death.
It was indeed a good day for America... It was a good day for me personally and I hope it was a good day for everyone whose lives were not the same after 9/11.
Justice had been done...