We were 21 and had spent the last six weeks travelling around India. That day was the day we were due to fly home, Mumbai to London. Back to university, to our families, to a world that seemed so slow and monochome and safe compared to the one we had just experienced. We'd checked out of the hotel earlier in the day and spent a few hours buying last-minute gifts. When we returned to collect our bags, the men at the desk were very excited. To begin with, I had no idea what they were talking about: something to do with planes and New York. It wasn't until they led us into one of the rooms and turned the television on that I started to piece together what they were saying. We sat on the bed and watched the footage, transfixed and horrified. My boyfriend (now husband) couldn't stand it; he went to buy some Indian sweets for a friend back home. I stayed to watch some more, unable to hold back a few hot tears. I remember thinking, now the whole world's gone mad, where can this lead?
Somehow we managed to get back to London only a few hours later than scheduled. This was despite the fact that the scanning machines at Mumbai airport weren't working and they had to search all bags by hand, and that no one wanted to get on the plane. This didn't seem to be so much a matter of fear, but more that people just couldn't drag themselves away from the television screen, knowing that there would be no further source of news for several hours.
It's a cliche, but those six weeks spent in India changed the way I perceived the world: it was a lot crueller, entirely unjust, and far, far less safe than I, in my naive, idealistic, privileged state, had hitherto grasped. And it will forever be tied up with those images of New York, which felt, at the time, like the beginning of the end.