New York diary


I do not know what it is like to live there, but as a visitor, no matter how many times I’ve been to the city before, New York does not fail to impress. Like Venice, Paris, or Mumbai, its character assails you the moment you step into the city. Arriving by train into the New York Penn station, the same passengers who were relaxed and laid back when they boarded the train in the suburbs spring into motion, like toys with wound up keys, and march with an infectious purpose through the station into the maze-like streets of Manhattan. The press of humanity that begins here continues unabated, in the subway, the cafes, the museums, and you always know you are in New York because its signature, the dense racial mix, is hard to miss. Mexicans, Indians, Chinese, Africans, Europeans, Americans: all in one subway car, like a grand social experiment designed to observe inter-racial behaviour in a confined setting. The experiment is not a success: nothing much happens, each individual is self-absorbed: immersed in a book, listening to music, or simply lost in thought; communication, when it occurs, is not between members in the car but with someone far away, reached through a mobile phone.

The mobile devices I spotted on the subway were all iPhones. A young woman stood beside me checking her iCalender, switching between a few dates; 14th: Finish Chapter 9, Long NC; 15th: Take your pills!; 18th: Dinner with Mq & Tj. Later, in a cafe, the dozen or so tables were occupied by men and women peering into a screen in front; all those laptops bore the Apple logo, and a bluish tinge in the eyes of many suggested a Facebook page. A master-slave relationship was evident; humans seemed to have surrendered, unconsciously, to machines.

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The private and the public

As the date approaches, the world comes together. In the last two weeks I’ve often felt that we all are being manoeuvred towards that point of collective recollection of what happened ten years earlier. All the media – the Radio, the Television, the Internet, the Magazines, the Newspapers, the Posters – conspire to remind us that ten years have passed. The world changed that day, they all say, so spare a thought.

My world did not change that day. I drove to work, returned earlier than usual, watched news on the television more than usual, and slept. I went to work the rest of the week, and the week after. I bought groceries on the weekends, visited the library to borrow books. Life continued, the weight of daily routine pulling me forward in a well-defined orbit, a cycle I had been following since I arrived in Germany. Occasionally I heard of people losing their jobs, but I did not lose mine. I also heard of people being harassed at airports, bring profiled along racial lines; I was asked to remove my shoes, which I did — it was a price I was willing to pay for the safety of crossing the Atlantic. But as I continued to tell myself that my world hadn’t really changed after 9/11, something entered my life, unbeknownst to me, like an odourless gas that enters a room through the crack beneath a door. I had begun to pay attention to the world, to follow events regularly, at first the ones related to 9/11 and later, broadening my field of vision, other world affairs. My distaste for politics had not decreased, but I could no longer ignore its consequences. The public space had entered my private life.

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