September 12, 2001
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'They robbed me of my view'

Aseem Chhabra in New York

Tuesday was like any other early fall day in New York City. It was warm and muggy after the major thunderstorms that had passed by our area on Monday.

A little after 9 am, I was about to leave my son's school on 23rd Street and FDR Drive, when I noticed a group of assistants in the business office huddled up by a radio. The scene reminded me of a number of Hollywood films where directors often try and re-enact moments surrounding President John F Kennedy's death. Small town USA, with no television, and stunned people listening to the radio, hearing somebody like Walter Cronkite, announcing the death of their beloved president.

When I asked what had happened, I was told that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center twin towers. Fearing that it could have been a terrorist attack, my immediate reaction was to call my wife. She works in the Empire State Building, which could have been the next possible terrorist target.

But my cell phone would not work. In the bus riding to work there were several other people desperately trying to make calls on their phones, but no one seemed to have any success. To be in Manhattan and without a functioning cell phone. That can be a scary proposition.

As my bus headed cross town towards the west side on 34th Street, I began to notice a dark gray column of smoke rising above the buildings in the downtown area. When we passed through Third Avenue, I saw the smoke coming out of one the twin towers. That was the last time I saw the two World Trade Center buildings standing.

An hour later, CNN, and the countless other cable and network channels were showing pictures that will remain embedded in our minds forever - the two towers crashing and people -- with smoke and debris chasing them, running for their lives. We have all seen these dramatic special effects action sequences in Hollywood films. But this was real stuff, no Independence Day or Towering Inferno.

One of the most precious things about my 18th floor apartment on the east side of Manhattan was the view of the downtown financial district, including the World Trade Center. I would often take the view for granted. But guests from India and elsewhere were always impressed by the view. The twin towers - two rectangular blocks from my apartment window, especially looked spectacular at night with all the lights on.

In the 20 years that I have lived in the US, including 16 in New York City, I never went up the World Trade Center. I never ate at the Windows on the World restaurant where according to the Zagat guide, "the awesome view was the main course." The World Trade Center was in my city and in my home. I did not need to visit it.

All of Monday as it rained in the city, the World Trade Center was partially covered by clouds. In fact, I always liked that view from my apartment. The mysterious way in which the upper half of the two buildings would disappear. It was a game I would play with my son when he was younger. We would try and guess what had happened to the World Trade Center. But next day the twin towers would still be there, standing tall at the foot of the Manhattan island, watching over the rest of the city.

Well, now my view has changed dramatically. The whole day I stood by my window staring at the huge gray and white smoke as it emerged from downtown Manhattan and headed over to Brooklyn, the Atlantic Ocean and into the sky. The smoke increased in the afternoon when the third building in the area collapsed. It is night time here and I can still see smoke rising from where the two buildings stood.

All of America is united in its anger against the terrorists who hijacked the four commercial airlines on Tuesday morning and then hit some of the major visible man-made structures in this country. But my anger is also personal. They robbed me of my view, and stole one of the simple pleasures I had in my life.

The Attack on America: The Complete Coverage

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