By Yambem Laba
IMPHAL, May 6: It was on a hot summer afternoon in 1981 that we parted ways.Jupiter my younger brother was heading for America.Not as a qualified doctor or an engineer with a job waiting for him there,but as a young undergraduate volunteer counselor for Camp America an outdoor programme that was run in the summer months.Prior to their departure Indira Gandhi had called him and his group for breakfast and had christened them as India’s “young ambassadors”.I was headed for St.Joseph’s College,North Point Darjeeling to teach in our school in the hills where we had both attended and had learnt of love and ABC,skinned our hearts and skinned our knees.Jupiter was kept in charge of an adventure camp that was primarily meant for visually handicapped children and years later his fellow American counselors recollected how on one trek he had carried a sick boy on his back to reach the top of a hill they were climbing for the day. Such was his determination and commitment to his cause.
After his stint with Camp America he stayed back and enrolled at the State University of New York at New Paltz and worked his way through college and later joined the hospitability industry.He moved up the corporate ladder that the land of the big apple provided.I also left teaching and became a journalist and in 1991 when I had visited the USA as member of the Group Study Exchange programme of Rotary International he took me upto the top of the World Trade Center where we watched aeroplanes flying below.Such was the view from one of the tallest buildings in the world.
Jupiter adapted to the American way of life preferring to stay in suburban Beacon of New York State commuting to the city to work.He also teamed up with American folk song legend Pete Seeger in the Hudson River Revival group and campaigned for a cleaner Hudson river.In 1991 he married his college sweet heart Nancy McCardle in a classical Vine Yard wedding where Pete Seeger sang.He was to sing again at his memorial 10 years later in his memorial service also held on the banks of the Hudson river.Jupiter however never forgot his Manipuri roots and by the late 1990s he had founded the North American Manipuri Association so that the second generation of Manipuri expatriates settled in America do not forget their Manipuri roots and culture.
By 2001 Jupiter’s great American dream was beginning to take concrete shape.He had a house by a river, a 1,00,000 plus dollars as salary per year an American wife and a dotting son whom they affectionately called Santi for peace with a Manipuri alias of Chinglailakpa or dragon tamer.He had shifted job and had joined the Windows on the World the world’s tallest restaurant located on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center as its Senior Banquet manager.The Windows on the World was not just another fancy restaurant but it was a place where multi-million deals were negotiated and clichéd over corporate breakfasts,lunches and dinners and his clientele included the high and mighty of New York’s corporate giants and the likes of Hillary Clinton and the late Elizabeth Taylor.
It was to supervise a corporate breakfast meeting that he left home at 4.30 A.M. on the 11th of September 2001.By 6.30 AM he had called his wife to tell her that he was already at work,The same evening I sat thousands of miles away from New York in Manipur and literally froze watching in horror the twin towers crumbling down.At first I had thought that it was some latest Hollywood movie that had hit the screen then later I saw the streamers that ran “Breaking New World Trade Center under attack”.I recollect telling my friends that is “where my brother works”.I rushed home and tried his number but all lines to New York had gone dead by then.Then tried the net to see if there was anything to see in my e-mail account hoping to see “am alright”.But my inbox drew blank.Then at 2.30 early next morning I got a call from a journalist friend in Delhi informing me that he was able to get through to Nancy and confirmed that he was at work when the planes came crashing in.
The Statesman in its edition dated 17 September 2001 had carried the news item “Terrible Tuesday claimed Jupiter”.The news item also added that Jupter was the first Indian fatality to be confirmed.Earlier the day Nancy had called to inform me that the New York police have recovered Jupiter’s body.He was cremated in New York but his ashes were brought home where it was sprinkled over the Loktak lake and at Tiger Hill and the North Point grounds in Darjeeling where Jupiter had made his mark as an outstanding athelete.There were condolences meetings held in Darjeling.Calcutta,Canada in London and in Australia as well as Imphal.His death was not only personal but felt internationally across by friends.The next year I accompanied our late father Yambem Tombi who was 82 years of age then for the journey of distance and mind to Ground Zero to pray for Jupiter’s soul and for the first time in my life I saw my father wept and he walked up to two New York Fire Department personnel to shake hands with them and thanked them for their valiant effort to save the situation then.
Then the war in Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden began.It had been one agonizing wait for nearly ten years now and every year when we hold Jupiter’s memorial service here at home we keep wondering when the US would finally get the man responsible for my brother’s and thousands of other deaths in the most infamous attack on humanity.The relief came two days back when a fried in Delhi text me that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in a CIA operation in Pakistan.
It was a great relief for I now know that Jupiter’s soul can now finally rest in peace.It was not a sense of avenging his death but that one of poetic justice ,for justice has finally been done for Jupiter and “may Allah the merciful have pity on Bin Laden’s soul”were the last thoughts that crossed my mind.