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Back to 9/11, with forgiveness & fear
Indian families sigh, don’t celebrate
A family photograph shows Jupiter (second from left) feeding his son Shanti on a visit home.

May 2: For the Yambem family of Imphal, the news of Osama bin Laden’s death brought a sense of calm satisfaction. In faraway Hyderabad, the relatives of Deepika Kumar Sattaluri expressed similar sentiments.

The families of some of the NRIs who died in 9/11 were largely restrained in their reactions to the killing of the attack’s mastermind, their relief tempered by fears of reprisals.

“This is the greatest day for the family and all those against terrorism. Now that the symbol of terrorism is dead, my brother Jupiter’s soul can rest in peace,” Laba Yambem, Jupiter’s elder brother, said in Imphal.

Jupiter, then 41, was supervising breakfast at the Windows on the World, a restaurant in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, when the building was attacked. Jupiter, the manager of the eatery, died, leaving behind his American wife Nancy McCardle Yambem and their five-year-old son Shanti.

Manipur’s capital had long power cuts this morning, which meant the Yambems had not caught the news on TV. It was around 10am that a cellphone message from a friend in Delhi beeped on Laba’s cellphone.

He let out a sigh of suppressed happiness as he read the SMS: the man responsible for the death of his brother and thousands of others was finally dead.

“My first reaction was that Allah had been merciful to my brother’s soul. We can only wonder what heights Jupiter would have scaled if he were alive today,” Laba said.

Jupiter left India after he was selected as a co-ordinator at Camp America, a youth exchange programme, in 1981. He stayed back in America and married Nancy, a music therapist, and they settled in New York.

“I have mixed feelings,” Nancy said over the phone from the US this evening. “It’s a great end to a chapter, a justice that everybody in the US had been waiting for a long, long time.”

She added: “The families weren’t sure if they would ever hear this. But at the same time, it brings back memories and a lot of negativity. I just visited my son in school to see if he was feeling fine.”

So is it time for celebration for the Yambems in Imphal and New York?

“I am not very comfortable with the idea of celebrating this. My husband was murdered and killed. I know what it feels like. Although Osama needed to be brought to justice, and death was probably the only way to do it, I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of celebrating a killing,” said Nancy, who comes to Manipur every two years.

“I would not be able to live in my shoes had I not been able to forgive Osama.”

The show of emotion was restrained in Hyderabad too. Deepika’s cousin Malleshwari Deverakonda recalled her agony during the months it had taken to receive final confirmation that the 28-year-old IT professional had died in the attack while at work in her office at the World Trade Center.

“A complete list was never given and we came to know about her death only after months,” she said.

Malleshwari’s brother Gopalakrishna wasn’t sure if this was the end of terror. “I don’t know whether I should be celebrating the news of Osama’s death. Can we hope there won’t be retaliation?” Gopalakrishna, who works for an international airline, said over the phone from his home in Chicago.

Among the 41 Indians said to have died in the attack, around seven to eight traced their roots to Andhra Pradesh. Most of the state’s residents in the US are doctors and engineers.

“I am relieved at a world without Osama,” said J.A. Chowdhary, convener of the IT committee of business chamber CII’s Andhra chapter. Chowdhary said he knew “at least a dozen-odd” IT professionals working in the US at the time of 9/11.

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