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Down but not out

It is now a year since the attack on the World Trade Center in New York. LAKSHMI VISHWANATHAN finds that the city's vibrant spirit has helped it emerge stronger than before.

I LOVE New York deeply. I would like everybody to love the city like I do. New York belongs to everybody. It is the biggest city in the United States, the Big Apple as people refer to it. It is the U.S. to much of the world. And over the years, I delight in the discovery that New York contains something from all over the world, and of the U.S. too. Nobody knows everything about the city and New Yorkers too, like the visitors learn something new about it every day.

What I learned this summer is that the city's spirit is still vibrant. A city with many faces cannot be seen or understood by looking at a few of them, or just by reading about her pains and aches. This mighty metropolis faced her worst pain, a year ago, and now she wants everyone to know that she can survive.

But she will never forget that day. Like the rest of the world, New Yorkers too, were completely still, glued to their televisions as the disaster unfolded. Within minutes of my arrival in New York, several friends dropped by to greet me. Hesitantly, I searched for words to bring up the topic, but they did not wait. They started talking, each one recalling the events in detail and consoling themselves. This is what they have been doing for a year ... talking about what they have seen, heard and experienced, to come to terms with the fact that their lives have, in some way, changed for ever.

New York is much more than her celebrated skyline. Driving into town from Kennedy airport, one knew where to look for each stunning marvel of architecture. This summer, my eyes moved again with marvel at the familiar landmarks — the Empire State building, the Chrysler spire, the Citicorp tower, the magnificent bridges — and finally rested on the space where the twin towers had stood. An eerie feeling of loss gripped my mind, as I am sure it did many others. Much later, when I was swept by the hustle and bustle, hurry and scurry of the city, I could see that New York had survived — her spirit and determination, seeming stronger than ever before.

New Yorkers don't talk much about Osama bin Laden unless he is in the news of the day, or has been the butt of jokes in the "Late" show. They speak of personal losses, sacrificed lives and the need to help each other. An off Broadway play "The Guys" pays unique tribute to the fearless fire- fighters who risked and lost their lives on that fateful day.

People flock to see movies about national heroes. The sum of all their worst fears had suddenly become reality. Their fierce optimism makes them hope it will never happen again, anywhere. And all the time, they now live for the day, for in some way they have come to understand that life itself is more fragile than before.

New York's millions live and work in this city that never sleeps. They crowd the bars at sundown, exchanging words to keep them connected with the life of the city. They dress smart like Sarah Jessica Parker and her friends, and disappear every night into tall buildings, only to re-appear at dawn with a purposeful step to contribute to the economy of this rich city. Like nomadic tribes, suited men pour into the city by train, ferry and bus every morning, and stay all day to connect their trade with the rest of the world. In the evening they move again in crowds to their quiet suburban haven to bond with their families.

New York is a young man walking 20 dogs in Central Park. New York is two old men playing chess in Washington Square, or children running up the steps to see the Metropolitan museum. New York is a crush in the subway during rush hour or the echoing quietness of narrow streets flanked by towering buildings in the Wall Street area on a Sunday morning... leading finally to the breath-taking view of ocean liners going out towards the Atlantic.

New York is all these things. But above all, New York is its people... in their total variety of all races, all tongues, all creeds, all national origins. They are each a part of New York as the United Nations is part of New York. New York would not be New York without them.

Now more than ever before, they feel together. In their hearts they may sing the blues for the trauma they have gone through, but their faces will wear a smile and they will choreograph a contemporary dance to keep their creative minds dancing.

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