The Rediff Special/Aseem Chhabra
Sriram Moorthy continues to hold on to one piece of information. On September 11, at 8.59 am, his father Krishna left a message on Sriram's mother's answering machine that he was fine and was about to be evacuated from his office on the 97th floor of tower two of the World Trade Center.
"We haven't heard from his since," Sriram says, echoing the words of thousands of family members whose loved ones are still missing following the terrorist attacks on New York City's financial district.
In Queens, Raj Thackurdeen holds on to a similar piece of information. His sister, Goumatie, a computer programmer and a colleague of Krishna Moorthy at Fiduciary Trust spoke to her mother and a friend from her 97th floor office to say that she was about to leave her office.
"She spoke for a couple of minutes and then said she had to go," Thackurdeen says. "This was before the second tower had been hit, but I guess they were being evacuated. She said she would call back later. My mom has yet to hear from her."
Three weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center, life in New York City is slowly gaining some semblance of normality. Rescue work continues at the site where the twin towers once stood. And hundreds of family members of the missing have accepted the eventual reality and are gathering around the disaster area, reluctantly acknowledging the site as the final resting place of their loved ones.
But Raj continues to pin his hopes on bits and pieces of news that he has been able to gather. Another colleague of Goumatie called to say she was behind Raj's sister as the two, along with hundreds others walked down the stairs in tower two. Goumatie and her colleague did make it to the 78th floor. Then the colleague took an express elevator down to the street level. But she never saw Goumatie after she boarded the elevator.
"Until the time they reached the 78th floor, tower two had not been hit," Raj says. "There were no clear directions. Some people walked all the way down, while others took elevators. Then there were announcements being made asking people to return back to their offices. I heard from some people on the 45th floor that their supervisors went back to work. I just don't know what happened to my sister."
For the last three weeks the extended Thackurdeen family - sometimes 40 plus people, gather at Goumatie's home for prayer and meditation.
Raj's family migrated to the US from Trinidad in 1977. In addition to Goumatie, 35, Raj has two other brothers and one sister. Raj is also worried about his mother who is now 75.
"My mom continues to grieve and we worry about her. Goumatie was her youngest child, her baby."
When Sriram heard about the attack on the World Trade Center, he made a 30 hour road trip to his parent's home in Westchester County, New York from Dallas, Texas, where he works for a telecommunications company.
Like Raj, Sriram too has made all possible efforts to gather any information he can about his father. Krishna Moorthy, 59 was also a programmer at Fiduciary, where he had worked for a mere four months.
"I spoke to a colleague of my father who had breakfast with him in the morning. They were sitting in the same cube. But I can't seem to place my father after that. No one spotted him on their way down. I also can't seem to place him with people who were stuck there, who were making frantic phone calls to their families and their friends. So we are in a limbo."
For Sriram, the entire exercise has become a long drawn out investigation. He feels he has not visited every hospital and shelter in the New York and New Jersey area. Officially hospitals state that all unidentified people have been claimed and shelters are returning back to their normal set up.
"I keep hoping that someone will give us an inclination that they saw him someplace," he says. "Unofficially I do not know if everyone has been identified. It is exhausting and often gets frustrating. But you have to keep going on and you can't let it get to you."
The thought has crossed Raj Thackurdeen that his sister may never be found. Next Saturday, he and four family members will visit the disaster site.
"I have thought about it, but in situations like this the mind is not clear," he says. "One time I am saying well, it has been so many days now. But then I think maybe she is still in some hospital."
Sriram too grapples with the issue of closure. If it had been a car accident, he says, the family would have known with certainty what became of his father. It is the uncertainty associated with the World Trade Center disaster that haunts him.
"Also understandably, how long can you keep doing this?" he questions, adding that he will soon have to return to his job in Dallas. "But the point is that rather than being a judge of what other people tell you, it is up to each and every person to decide that."
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