I have been working on a novel about how a small Indian American newspaper in New York and its staff, including its 87-year-old publisher and editor, deal with 9/11 and its immediate aftermath.
Even as the cash-strapped publisher, Krish Nair is in the midst of selling the newspaper to a plastic surgeon the veteran journalist wishes that something momentous would compel him to drop the sale. Having been a leading journalist for over six decades, mostly out of India, and reported extensively on the subcontinent’s most tumultuous events since the early 1940s his New York publication is more like a post-retirement hobby. However, his instincts as a journalist are as sharp as ever.
The following excerpts relate to the morning of September 11, 2001, as well as something that happened ten days earlier. Since I have picked up from the middle of the first chapter you should know that RR stands for Rizwan Rais, the newspaper’s only reporter, and D’Sa is Gilroy D’Sa, Nair’s old colleague and the paper’s news editor.
……It was 8.46 a.m. when Nair got up from his chair to brew some coffee even as RR lit a cigarette in complete violation of the smoking ban. He took care to stand near the window to blow his smoke out.
It was then that Nair stopped in his tracks and said, “What was that? Did you feel that? I felt a strange thud under my feet.”
Gilroy, ever the wry wit, retorted, “That must be your ego falling, boss. I am glad you are wearing your boots. It would have crushed your toes otherwise.”
“Or may be Mr. Johnson is banging his secretary early morning in 605,” RR chimed in. 605 was the office of an advertising firm next door.
“Johnson has to be quite old to finish it in one thud,” D’Sa said as the two younger men laughed at their own joke.
“Be serious, I say. I know I felt something,” Nair persisted.
A few minutes later a chorus of police sirens was heard in the distance. “You heard that, the sirens?” Nair said.
“Yeah right, New York and police sirens! Never heard those before,” RR said.
“I am telling you I feel something,” Nair said. “Check the wires D’Sa.”
It was around 8.56 am. Gilroy read the wires and said nonchalantly, “The AP says a plane hit the North Tower at the WTC.” Then realizing the enormity of the news flash he read it again, this time slowly and in a measured tone, “A plane hit the North Tower at the WTC… That’s huge.”
In a second all three men huddled around the PC that was used exclusively for the wires.
“I told you. I am never wrong about this,” Nair said as he asked RR to switch on the television.
CNN was reporting early details of the crash it said did not make sense.
It was around 9.05 that the office phone rang. It was from Bhavin “Bob” Patel, the news vendor at Vessey Street and Broadway, not too far from the WTC, on the line. “Krishbhai, did you hear about the plane crash? It seems something frightening. There is chaos out here,” he said.
September 1, 2001
Venue: The Logan International Airport, Boston
Time: 10.32 a.m.
After his third meeting with the LA cosmetic surgeon in Boston Krish Nair was convinced he had found the right buyer for his newspaper.
The two met on the sidelines of a medical conference at the Harvard Medical School to finalize the details of the sale. Once the basic agreement was reached, Nair left for the Boston airport to catch a flight back to New York.
In the check-in line standing before him was a stocky man with thick eyebrows and closely cropped hair. He wore a black Lacoste T-shirt and white pleated trousers and carried a Tumi duffel and travel satchel.
Nair was humming a Hindi movie song that seemed to distract the stocky man preoccupied with something troubling. As the line moved sluggishly Nair remained oblivious to the surrounding and kept humming and whistling.
Not being able to contain himself, the stocky man turned and said, “You are happy today. Are you from India?”
Nair stretched out his right hand and said, “That is quite an intuitive leap—being happy and therefore being from India. Krish Nair. From New York but originally from Delhi.”
The stocky man shook hands with Nair and said, “Atta from Hamburg, originally from Cairo. I am going to New York. And you?”
“New York as well,” Nair replied.