The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book After the Fall: New Yorkers Remember September 2001 and the Years That Followed. Edited by Mary Marshall Clark, Peter Bearman, Catherine Ellis, and Stephen Drury Smith, “After the Fall” is an unprecedented cross-section of New Yorkers telling the story of how their lives changed due to Trade Center events and their aftermath, selected from interviews for the Columbia University Center for Oral History 9/11 Oral History Project.
Interview of L. Somi Roy by Gerry Albarelli I was born in Imphal, which is the capital of Manipur. People often ask me, “Where do you come from?” And I say Manipur. And I wait for the silence that follows. Usually there is a silence. There’s very little knowledge about this area, even in India. It’s on the border of Burma. It’s a very small, discrete culture. People are of mixed Tibetan and Burmese ancestry, and throwing in a bit of—depending on how far you want to go back—the Mon and the Khmers and the Thais and so on. So that’s where I grew up.
So do you want to talk about September 11, is it okay?
Things never really quite die; you never quite lose people in your lives. I remember on 9/11 I was living in a loft downtown in the South Street Seaport area and, of course, that was totally cordoned off. There was no power and there was this dust everywhere. For some reason I came back home almost every night, like a homing pigeon. I was [getting around] on my bicycle. I’d always hated cargo pants but I really found the advantage of cargo pants that summer. In the weeks after 9/11, I had the cell phone in one pocket and water in the other, and my charger, and flashlight, and my PalmPilot. I was totally connected. And there I was on my bicycle, going up and down the East River Park because that was the only route where you didn’t have to go through a lot of police [road] blocks. But I used to come home every night and there was no power.
When you don’t have power you wake up early. You become more diurnal; you wake up with the sun; you sleep with the sun. So I woke up very, very early one time. I remember my batteries were kind of running low on my cell phone and I was thinking of Jupiter. I missed him a great deal because he was the only person in New York, virtually in America, that I could speak my own language to. Every time I thought of a cheesy bilingual joke, who else could I call, you know? I’d call him and say, “How about this one?” And he would laugh quite appropriately and encouragingly. So I missed that.
And so I didn’t know who to call. So just on an impulse, I took out my phone book, I looked [Petros] up in the phone book and there he was on Eighty-first Street, so I dialed the number and he picked up. And I said, “Petros?”