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No beating about the bush.
The daring air strikes on the twin World Trade Centre towers in New York on 9 September 2001 were the worst to have happened in the history of America. The 39th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
Frankly speaking, I do not think that anyone slept on the night of 9 September 2001after we all witnessed the crazy but daring strikes on the twin towers of New York, and see them collapse right in front of our eyes. The first was shock to the viewers on the TV channels, and as they stayed glued to the TV sets, they saw the second aircraft crash into the second tower. As the first tower was aflame and burning badly, we all witnessed the hundreds who jumped off the inferno, only to die on the sidewalks or on the top of nearby buildings, three of which also collapsed in the process.
FDNY (Fire Department City of New York) and NYPD (New York Police Department) were already on the job of carrying out the rescue operations at the site. The area was totally cordoned off, except for uniformed personnel who were doing the heroic job of rescue. Even the steel structure had melted in the intense heat generated by the plane crashing into the buildings, and rescue personnel were digging out both the injured and the dead. It was a horrible sight to see.
All the TV channels devoted their entire time to this national tragedy. American Airlines flight No. 11 and United Airlines flight 175 had crashed into the twin towers; American Airlines flight No: 77 had crashed into the Pentagon, the world largest building and United Airlines 93 had crashed at Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The casualty figures kept changing, and ultimately official figures confirmed that 2,996 persons had perished in these attacks and more than 6,000 were injured as a result. It was learnt much later that UA flight 93 was originally intended to crash into the While House!
Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York City led the rescue operations, being on the job minutes after the news broke out. Hundreds of off duty uniformed personnel reported immediately for the all the help they could render, as were the volunteers; everyone was helping each other, in every way possible.
Right through the night, injured and critically injured people were being dug out of the debris; in some areas it was still burning from the attack, and a deathly silence prevailed over the normally vibrant New York City.
There was nothing that we could do; except pray that rescue operations save a lot more people buried under the collapsed twin towers. We felt terribly sorry for the irreparable loss these strikes had caused to those who perished in the process.
The next morning there were stories on Al Qaeda activities. More bizarre details emerged about impending Al Qaeda strikes in USA; in December 1998, CIA’s counter-intelligence centre had reported to President Bill Clinton that Al Qaeda was preparing attacks on US which might include “hijacking aircrafts”. In July/August 2001 communication intercepts and top intelligence sources showed increasing likelihood of Al Qaeda attacks, but no specific plan details were available. But, in the end, as unfortunate and tragic as it may seem, the attacks did take place, which was carried out simultaneously, causing untold damage to innocent civilians and property; the financial capital of the world was struck at New York by these daring attacks, all of which, apparently emanated from the American soil itself, by terrorists.
As the rescue operations continued at the Pentagon, about two miles from our hotel, our banquet hall was being used to prepare and deliver the sandwiches to the rescue personnel who were at the site. More and more details of how these planes were hijacked, and when airborne, these were directed towards the intended targets were coming out. These were sad details to note, but, nevertheless showed the chinks in our armour.
The number of armed and uniformed security forces was now more visible in the city. Extra security personnel and systems were now in place in and around all important government offices and buildings. On-the-spot surprise checks were being carried out throughout the country, and more particularly in and around defence establishments, airports, seaports, etc.
As the details of the attacks became public, one of the air traffic controllers took it upon himself to order all aircraft in flight to land in the nearest airport; by the same token, no civilian airline was allowed to take off from any airport, whether the flight was domestic or international, and all planes grounded without question. This kind of direct order, on a national basis, had never been given in the past, but, in more ways than one; this move possibly and effectively stopped any further hijack attempts or attacks as a sequel.
All the uniform personnel were back on duty and on alert; and the entire military establishment, though taken by surprise by these brazen attacks was now ready to strike back and defend the country from any further attacks. American allies, all over the world were also on the defence loop as details became public.
In the hotel, there were no new guests to check in; and many of those who had to stay back due to the flight cancellations, were now extending their stay or making alternative arrangements to get back to their homes, by resorting to railroad transportation or driving back by hiring vehicles. Some of the hotels, including us, probably received some local guests who checked in, and who we accommodated as they were on government duty.
We expected the domestic airline traffic to return back to normalcy in about three days, after all the precautions were taken and additional security in place.
I think it was sometime in the evening, while I was on duty, I received a call from someone who wanted to speak to the front office manager. As he was not immediately available,I answered instead; he wanted some specific details of a credit card that may have been used in the hotel in the previous few days. When I wanted him to identify himself, he informed me that he was from FBI. I requested him to hold on, so that the line could be transferred to the manager, after I personally locate her. I called out to Jodie, who was on duty, and she handled the call with great diligence and care. She asked for his name and phone number so that she could call him back from her office, as the front office staff did not have the access code to get into the system for this information.
With the line transferred to her office, the matter in detail for sorted out by her. Naturally, what transpired in the call or what information was passed on and to whom, was not subsequently discussed between us. Any confidential information of this nature must continue to remain so....
Both myself and Allen from engineering department did not have any equipment to use on our security round up, as we covered the entire hotel, which took us almost an hour. In the meantime, we had police cruise vehicles stopping by to check whether everything was normal and nothing unusual in movement or persons.
Our own management had immediately ordered the installation of CCTV in the hotel and the work had begun in right earnest. The TV in the lounge area continued to televise the developments in New York City, and how, the whole country was slowly limping back to normalcy, smarting under the treacherous attack that Al Qaeda had carried out. The TV channels continued to beam the TV footage of the passengers from the originating points of these aircraft, particularly from Boston.
The relatives of the victims, most of who were working in and around the World Trade Centres, were already putting up posters with photographs of their loved and dear ones, and seeking help of anyone who had seen them, so that they could join their families. Meanwhile, hundreds of others had come to the site to lay their wreaths for the dead.
The mangled body of the Twin Towers lay in ruins and it was the worst attack on American soil in history. President Bush vowed to prevent further attacks and promised the free world that he will see no stone unturned until the perpetrators of this heinous crime were punished. It was a crime against humanity, against any civilized society. Once there was evidence available, President Bush assured the American public that he would hunt and destroy them wherever they may be.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
The great collector and numismatist Lance Dane died in Mumbai on last Wednesday, leaving behind a legacy valued at tens of crores. Vithal C Nadkarni pays tribute to the scholar-aesthete, whom he knew for nearly four decades…
After he decided to shift to the suburbs from South Mumbai, Lance Dane invited me over his digs to look over his collection. “Choose anything you like,” he said with characteristic candour. He’d found a new home for them in Delhi.
“You won’t get another chance like this again,” he emphasised. Of course I would have loved to buy the bronze Parvati seated on a Sri-Yantra and a Shiva as the naked mendicant with a dog, probably made in Andhra. And I also knew he had deliberately named a ridiculously low price just to match my shoe-string budget without hurting my ego.
Still, I felt I couldn’t take up his offer and I declined. This was perhaps because what I really wanted was too stratospherically valuable to possess or even to bid: it was this solid iron Chatur-Mukha Shiva linga hidden under a settee. It had ostensibly been made in the days of the Lichchavi Republic when the Buddha walked the earth; Nelson Rockerfeller had made a cash down offer of hundred thousand dollars for it and had been politely turned down, Lance said, gingerly poking at the linga that two grown men could not budge.
In the same vein, I once asked Lance whether he had one single piece that he treasured most from all those myriads of artifacts, paintings and coins in his vast collection. Without hesitation, he picked up a polished bronze idol of a Nandi from his desk. Centuries of worship had worn the image down to elemental proportions. It was his very first acquisition as a young lad. “I had to save up quite a bit of pocket money for it,” he told me. “But nothing’s given me as much joy as the Nandi.”
What about the ones that got away? Was there any one antique that Lance had regrets over losing? “There was this stunning multi-armed Chamunda bronze astride Shiva, cast either in the Himachal Hills or Nepal; it’s now become world-famous after being acquired by an American museum. I was offered it first and I let it go because I had serious doubts about its authenticity and provenance…”
My acquaintance with the avuncular photographer-turned-art-enthusiast began during my salad days at The Illustrated Weekly of India, when we were featuring the coffee-table Kama-Sutra (no pun intended) that he had co-produced with that great writer and connoisseur of Indian art, Mulk Raj Anand. I was the youngest sub that had been put in charge of the pages and Lance went out of his way to sweeten the assignment with books and catalogues lent with just a handshake. I too lent him on occasion masks, photographs and small collectibles that he was always documenting with his cameras in the sun-lit balcony of his apartment in Bhandar Galli at Mahim. But I am getting ahead of my story: For there were also rumours about his colourful, Richard Burtonesque (not the actor, the Indologist), life; His passion for collecting erotica, for example, or the treasure trove of Indian coins that he’s supposed to have amassed with the zeal of an Indiana Jones character; There was talk of a handsome tax amnesty that he’d allegedly won from the powers-that-be in exchange for a substantial part of his massive collection. There were also stories galore about acts of kindness of this Pucca British-born (or was it Austrialia-born) knight in shining armour!
As the quality of our lives improve along with higher disposable income, we spend more and more money on false beliefs and superstitions
Even as the average income of urban Indians are increasing, we are flocking more and more to the so-called spiritual advisors, gurus, self styled clairvoyants, gemologists and astrologers. A whole lot of newer professions are now flourishing to help mankind overcome stress. Tarot cards, crystal healing, tai-chi, yoga, sahaja meditation, rudrakshas, gems, healing gurus, self-styled siddhas, are proliferating. Yoga also has fawned lot of new techniques like Power Yoga, Mind Matter Yoga, Spiritual Yoga, etc. Then we have other forms of meditation techniques like Kritta Yoga, Brahm Vidya, Extensive Yoga, Intensive healing, self healing, etc. The Art of Living (AOL) volunteers have really succeeded in creating a robust business model by selling such programs and then claiming that all such contributions received as fees are diverted to social causes by the AOL foundation.
Vastu and Feng Shui, like the rudraksha therapy, have successfully milked people’s miseries to empty their wallets by giving all sorts of vague recommendations. It is amusing that these people make money without the need for any accountability and without the need to deliver any results. It is a well-known fact that one astrologer’s opinion never matches with another’s. Similarly, one Vastu expert’s prescription will never match with that of another expert.
The latest to join this bandwagon is the so-called suppliers of Rudrakshas. Exorbitantly priced rudrakshas, whose genuineness is suspect, are sold to gullible people who believe that this is a one-stop solution to their problems. Rudrakshas are also being sold like garments along Linking Road in Bandra, Mumbai. One rudraksha supplier in Wadala, Mumbai, also has “Ek Ka Do” offer; meaning, if you buy one rudraksha, you will get two free gifts. Those who salivate under the name of free gifts will be dejected to know that these gifts comprise candles, mud lamps, incense sticks and all the roadside stuff that are generally available for a song. I am ashamed to admit that I too fell prey to such marketing gimmicks and ended up blowing around Rs25,000 in purchasing such rudrakshas and crystals.
Then we have the so-called crystal shops which wax eloquent about energy healing and sell Chinese items as “lucky charms” that ward off evil. A few years back, a so-called lucky tree was sold in some malls as a lucky charm. As if the myriad forms of healing therapies in India were not enough, soon we had Chinese imports in the form of Feng Shui products like Laughing Buddha, Wish Cow, Dragon, Lizard, Tortoise, etc.
One of my uncles, who went through a terrible patch in his life after taking voluntary retirement from ACC, kept on moving from one astrologer to another. Each one fleeced him. One astrologer in Malad asked him to do a special pooja for Rs8,000 when he was under severe financial duress and also assured him that he would live for 100 years. Sadly, my uncle passed away barely within six months after performing the pooja.
Iodised salt had resulted in the plummeting sales of rock salt. So, the crystal therapists were contacted and soon enough recommendations were made aplenty to use bowls of rock salt as negative energy absorbers. This is nothing new actually but the age-old Indian tradition and nani-ma’s chuska of warding off evil using salt. A bottle of ayurvedic oil (Sandhi Suddha) is sold for Rs3,000 using an assortment of ex-actors and out-of-job character artistes on television.
Not Just Trinkets
The latest businesses to gain from the average Indian’s increasing affluence are the medical profession where (for instance) every delivery is made into a Caesarian section to grow the business. The pharmaceutical industry is too happy to supply drugs for newer forms of illnesses even before anyone contracts it. The unholy nexus between the pharmaceutical industry and medical profession thrives in the modern world as eminent professor BM Hegde reminds us time and again.
The latest to join this bandwagon are play schools. Hefty fees are charged all in the name of “preparing your child” for school. Disturbingly, new-age parents are leaving their two-month old child in play schools (and mind you these are not crèches). If you look at Bangalore, every independent homeowner has successfully transformed his garage into an activity ground for the play school students. All of them deserve a standing ovation for the most innovative names that they come up when it comes to naming their play schools.
I know of one such play school near our area, which uses the AOL brand name to attract students and charges them exorbitant fees. The teachers in this school are paid a pittance in relation to the hours they put in. On top of it, they are also expected to be ayahs and nursemaids to the tiny tots. It looks plausible that in the future, some of the new-age mothers will directly drive down to a play school from the maternity ward in a hospital.
It is worthwhile to think calmly about the reason for the mushrooming of such professions. The truth is that people’s emotions, fears and hopes are being capitalized as a wonderful business opportunity. If we all did what our forefathers did (simple living, modest expectations, balanced diet, safe investments, etc) then we really do not need to spend money on this. One man’s pain becomes another man’s gain.