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The child who lost his mother

By Monika Joshi in New York
Last updated on: September 11, 2006 18:14 IST
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Five years ago, when American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 tore into New York's Twin Towers on a sunny morning and brought down both buildings 103 minutes later, 41 Indians lost their lives.

Many other Indians saw their future take a different course after the tragedy. They nursed the wounded, aided the victims' families and helped the the US government in the aftermath.

To mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11, in a week-long series, brings to you the stories of some of those Indians for whom September 11, 2001 changed their lives forever.

Today: A child who lost his mother in the World Trade Centre that terrible Tuesday.

Amish Sattaluri lifts the putter and swings it high, his eyes fixed on the television screen in front of him. A swing sensor rests near his feet, on the off-white carpet of his apartment in Plainsboro, New Jersey.

The 12 year old is enjoying a game of XaviX Golf, a sport application that allows players to experience realistic action at home.

His father Kumar asks him to stop after a few minutes, mindful that their two visitors want him to settle down and chat. It takes some persuasion though for Amish, a chirpy boy on the threshold of his teens, to abandon his game.

Lanky and freshly tanned from a weeklong camp trip last week, he is dressed in a blue Polo tee and white shorts. He comes to chat, but manages soon enough to cajole one of his visitors into a game of Scrabble.

Ever since he lost his mother Deepika, who worked with global professional services company Marsh & McLennan at the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001, Amish has avoided talking about her.

Four years ago, as he sat with this reporter and rummaged in his laptop for a game he wanted to share, he abruptly asked his father to change the wallpaper. It was his mom's picture.

"He is still the same," says Kumar.

Amish goes about his business while Kumar describes the pictures in the collage he has made of Deepika's photographs. Here she is seen in her wedding finery; elsewhere, she poses with wax statues of the Beatles at Madame Tussaud's in London (the family lived in Leeds, England, for two years before moving to New Jersey).

Another photograph has her and then six-year-old Amish, all teeth and spectacles, cutting his birthday cake. There are also some of her childhood pictures -- as a little girl posing self-consciously with her father, his hunter friend, and a tiger fresh killed.

There are two such collages, mounted on simple wood frames. On the floor rests a small shrine with a picture of her, and a folded American flag that the New York City government presented them.

Amish obeys when his father asks him to go inside and bring the other collage into the living room. He does it with no visible expression of sentiment; he goes, and he returns, without a word.

A few minutes later, he accompanies his father and the visitors out of the second-floor apartment, alternating between walking and skidding on his Heelys' roller sneakers. (These are very popular athletic shoes with a single wheel in the heel that pops out when the foot is pointed upwards.) On his wrist is a purple silicone wristband with 'heart'
inscribed on it.

Kumar is devoted to his son. Five years ago, he looked on with pride when Amish, then 7, un-jumbled the most abstruse of words; a few months later he was anxious when Amish started showing signs of distress.

Today, he hangs around as Amish arranges tiles on his letter racks during the Scrabble game, often dropping a suggestion. The 'Kasparov Alchemist' and Geosafari games in the built-in closet in Amish's room are gifts from his father.

August 24, Amish's birthday, Kumar and his brother-in-law, who flew in from Chicago, took him to a Mets baseball game.

It was because of Amish that Kumar decided last year to shift to Plainsboro from Edison, New Jersey. People had suggested that the change would do the boy good. Plus, the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District is one of the top achieving districts in New Jersey.

School is where most of Amish's time is spent — he leaves around 7.15 am, and stays on till about 3 pm, or even later if there is after-school program, which happens throughout the year.

Last year, Amish played table tennis in the after-school program; this year he had to settle for 'gourmet,' since his first choice -- debate -- had filled up. Yes, there are other boys in 'gourmet,' he says, and it is more of a demonstration class where they roll out delicacies such as lasagna.

His favorite foods include Paneer Curry, Samosa and pizza. "But I can't have it (pizza)," he says, with a sideways glance and a smile, teasing his father.

What if the father is busy elsewhere one day, and he could do whatever he likes?

"I'll order three boxes of large mushroom-olive pizza, and watch as many movies as I can," he replies. Stuart Little is "too tiny for me," he says, but okays Jungle Book'

He is allowed to watch television, but the caveat is homework should be complete. In addition to the Fear Factor and Formula One on the Speed Channel, he enjoys Hindi television. Kumar subscribed to Zee TV so his son can be in touch with the language. "He knows Hindi only because of Zee," he says.

A friend of his father has a house spread over six acres and housing a personal golf course, and Amish is often invited. He busies himself with the other games when he goes to various camps during summer. His favorite activity is banana boat racing.

He is, on the surface, just another all-American boy. You have to peek into his silences, into the wallpaper that no longer adorns his computer, into the stoic calm with which he fetches that collage of his mother's pictures, to sense, even briefly, the tragedy he tries, with the fierce, focused determination of a 12 year old, to ignore.

This feature first appeared in a special issue of India Abroad, the oldest and largest circulated weekly newspaper for the Indian-American community, which is owned by

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Monika Joshi in New York