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Indian American woman named to WTC Memorial Board

January 31, 2006 23:25 IST

When the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in 2001, Savita Bhan Wakhlu was in Jamshedpur watching the tragedy unfold live on TV. At the time she did not even think that one day she would be part of a board that would lead the building of a memorial at Ground Zero for those killed in the tragedy.

But she had seen and suffered terrorism and tragedy in her native state of Jammu and Kashmir for 15 years. "So what happened in New York was nothing new to me, at once I could feel the pain of the people," said Wakhlu, who was named to the board along with Howard Lutnick, chairman of Cantor Fitzgerald, the company that lost the highest number of employees at the tragedy and Julie Menin, a downtown community leader. The board has 32 members.

'We gladly welcome these three impressive individuals to the board of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation," chairman John C Whitehead said. "Howard, Julie and Savita have generously committed to helping the foundation to build the Memorial.'

'Savita offers international connections as well as a personal knowledge of the devastation of terrorism,' said Gretchen Dykstra, president and CEO of the foundation. 'Members of Savita's family and her in-laws have been victims of terrorism in India, so she acutely understands the need to create a memorial which not only commemorates those we lost in the terrorist attacks, but also stands as a symbol of our resolve to end hate and foster tolerance,'

'I consider it a great honor. It is humbling to be part of the creation of the memorial,' said Wakhlu, managing director of Jagriti Communications, a New York firm specialising in human development. 'This edifice will be a constant reminder for humanity to strive for global peace, tolerance and harmony.'

The memorial, named 'Reflecting Absence,' is designed by Michael Arad and Peter Walker and was selected from more than 5000 entries from 63 nations. The work for the $500 million memorial will start next month and is hoped to be complete by 2009.

The WTCMF will build, own and operate the Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero that have been planned by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, a city-state entity established after 9/11 to guide the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan.

The memorial features a landscaped public plaza with two voids that cover the original one-acre footprints of the Twin Towers surrounded by a forest of oak trees.  Each void holds a pool of water filled by waterfalls on all sides. Visitors will descend 30 feet underneath the waterfalls to galleries inscribed with the names of those who died.

Adjacent to the two voids, the Memorial Museum will cover over 100,000 square feet underground and will retell the events of the day, display powerful artifacts, and celebrate the lives of those who died. Visitors will be able to touch bedrock and see the slurry wall that vividly conveys the enormity of the buildings and the enormity of the loss.

Wakhlu, who has not yet met with any of the families of the 9/11 victims, said she was happy with the design for the Memorial. "It will become a symbol of peace," she said.

The Foundation will also build two cultural buildings at Ground Zero.  The first building, designed by the Norwegian firm Snohetta, will include the Visitors Center for the site that is expected to greet and orient as many as seven million people a year and will feature 9/11 exhibitions. A Performing Arts Center will also be built just north of Fulton Street, at a later date, to house the Joyce International Center for Dance and the Signature Theatre.

The Foundation, a not–for profit organisation raises money from corporations and public.

Wakhlu moved to New York in 2003 after her husband Bharat Wakhlu took over as president of Tata Incorporated, New York.

She used to interact with the mayor's office, which decided that as a proven communicator -- Wakhlu has for year conducted workshops for major companies teaching corporate mangers the art of communication – she would be an asset to the Foundation.

Wakhlu is a mechanical engineer by training, with over 15 years of experience in designing and delivering training interventions and a well-known trainer and consultant. She was a faculty member at National Institute of Technology, Srinagar for three years. She is also the author of a book Managing Presentations: Communicating With Impact.

She has been training personnel of Fortune 500 companies such as JP Morgan chase, IBM, Morgan Stanley, Merill Lynch, Dupont, and Netpixel. Bakhlu is also scheduled to take over as the president of the Rotary Club in Larchmont, Westchester, NY, soon.

During the height of militancy in Kashmir, Wakhlu's family did not leave Srinagar, though 90 percent of the Hindus left after the increase in militant activities. Her in-laws were kidnapped for weeks and the house of her parents was burned. "Things have improved there but I know how terrorism affects lives more than many others,' she said. She has a son, Govind, a university student in Illinois, and a daughter Sampada, a school student.

George Joseph in New York