Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When time stood still

I am in New York again. It is the city I have visited the most in USA. Each time I visit NY, the memories of the 9/11 tragedy floats before my eyes. I was in New York during 9/11 and had put up at the Millennium Hotel near the then World Trade Centre. I always used to stay at the Millennium Hotel due to its close proximity to the UN building. I have travelled to New York most of the time to attend the various UN conferences and meetings.
I remember it was September 9th 2001, I along with Mr Prabodh Chandra Sinha (Prabodh babu), Minister, Government of West Bengal, were waiting in front of The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City for Ranjan Gupta - my friend from Kolkata who had recently settled down in the City. He was to take us around the City. Prabodh babu and I were scheduled to attend the World NGO meet from September 10 to 12 at the UN Office and were also to attend the Executive Committee Meeting of WFUNA. After spending about two hours at the Times Square, Ranjan dropped us back at the Millenium Hotel. We fixed up an appointment with Ranjan for 4:30 pm the next day (Sept 10th) to visit the World Trade Centre. On the 10th of September, after the inaugural speech by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and a series of other meetings, we could meet up with Ranjan at around 6 pm only. After visiting the famous statue of the Wall Street Bull, we reached the World Trade Centre quite late. There we met a Bengali gentleman who introduced himself and said that he too, along with few of his friends, had planned to visit the WTC. He suggested that we could visit the place together the next day (September 11) around 8:30 am. We decided to meet at the lobby of the Millennium Hotel around 8 am to visit the WTC.
On September 11 (2001) morning around 7:30 am I got a call from the Indian Mission to UN that it would be better if we met Ambassador and permanent representative of India to the UN Mr Kamlesh Sharma and his Deputy Mr Satyavrata Pal at the office of the Indian Mission to the UN at 9 am prior to the meeting at the UN that was schedule for 9:30 am.
I was also told that an official from the Mission would accompany us to the Indian Mission and requested us to be at the lobby by 8:45 am. When I informed the official from the Indian Mission who had called up and told him that we had other plans, he very politely said “No problem,” and said we could carry on with our program and that he would fix up some other time for us. He said that he was requesting for the meeting because as our UN meeting was to follow at 9:30 am. I discussed the matter with Mr Sinha and we decided that it was better to postpone the trip to the WTC and visit the Indian Mission to UN.
At about 8:30 am on September 11, 2001, I was chatting up about the locational advantage of the Hotel with the waiter Naiyer, who was from India, and had brought my breakfast. The room I was in had glass panelling on two sides and a clear view of the Lake and the tall imposing WTC tower. As we were talking I heard a loud boom and saw there was only smoke outside the window as an aircraft crashed into the tower. I came out in a shock when I heard a voice in the public address system announced that there was a situation of emergency and the crash into the WTC could be an attack and not an accident. I stood stunned and speechless. I rushed down the stairs from the 17th floor of the Hotel and called up Prabodh babu’s room located on the 7th floor on the other side of the Hotel and asked him to come down.
Soon we both were in the Hotel lobby and the officials from the Indian Mission were there as well. I had the presence of mind and told Probodh babu that we should bring our passport and tickets. We took the Hotel’s service lift and dashed to get our travel documents. As I was collecting my documents I turned and saw from my window another aircraft circle around the WTC before crashing into the second tower. I shook from top to bottom as the very idea of being at the WTC, as per our plan, sent a chill up my spine. Within 10 minutes we were in the premises of the Indian Permanent Mission to the UN sitting in the room of Mr Kamalesh Sharma watching the TV. Suddenly Mr Sharma exclaimed, “Oh! My God,” and at the same time the tea cup dropped from the trembling hands of Prabodh babu as we saw the tower coming down on TV.
One of the Indian dailies had already published my and Prabodh babu’s name in the missing list of Indians and there was no way we could immediately inform home about our well being.
There was no way we could come out of Manhattan. How I spent those two thinking about the incident and had nightmares. 
Left to Right: Mrs Rajni Gupta, Mr Prabodh Chandra Sinha, Sundeep Bhutoria.
On the 13th morning an Indian official dropped us at the residence of Mr Ranjan Gupta on our request. Ranjan and his wife Rajani were very nice to us ensured that we were comfortable physically and more so mentally. They took us for a drive to the Atlantic City where Donald Trump’s world-famous Taj Mahal Casino is located (picture).
There were no seats available on flights to India and it was only after 6 or 7 days, with the help of the Indian Mission officials did we manage to book a seat on a flight for India. I remember that while checking in I was told by the Airline officials that I could go and my baggage would follow later and I did exactly that – left New York without my baggage.
Sometimes when I think about what could have become of me on that fateful day had I kept my 8:30 am appointment and gone to visit the WTC on September 11th 2001. Well, for sure, I wouldn't have been writing this blog.
That was the incident when not just me but the whole world held its breath.
ess bee

1 comment:

  1. Life is so incredible and mysterious at times... I am so glad that your plan had changed. World is in need of more good people like yourself.