On September 11, 2001, Kushal Choksi started his day like many of us – late for work. He was rushing to meet at the World Trade Center when, in seconds, everything changed. Kushal decided to change his story from a simple 9/11 survival statistic to share his journey through trauma in the hope that it could help anyone going through a similar situation. Resident of Jersey City and co-founder of the artisanal chocolate factory, Elements Truffles, guides us through the events of that day. Read on to learn more about Kushal’s story and his soon-to-be-released book.
HG: What was your job / profession during September 11?
KC: I worked as a quantitative analyst at Goldman Sachs in Lower Manhattan.
HG: Can you explain to us your morning on September 11?
KC: I climbed the escalator and started my predictable journey. My body was navigating the mezzanine of the World Trade Center, but my mind was in its own virtual reality; inundated with thoughts about my endless job, my demanding boss, an argument with my girlfriend. CLICK! A deafening noise roused me from my reverie.
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It was a massive explosion of decibels, followed by a horrible hissing sound. It was as if a high pressure steam pipe had just opened. All I remember about that freezing moment was that it was terribly scary. Not knowing how to react, people around me were screaming in fear, and a frantic race for the exit doors had begun. A moment ago the world was turning as usual, but in the blink of an eye it had completely changed. And at that point, I was suddenly and forcefully ejected from my own virtual reality. On one level, other than the creepy noise, there was no sign of anything abnormal. Yet the swarm of commuters was gripped by fear of the unknown.
“A bomb exploded. It’s chaos here. I heard a gentleman scream into the phone as he ran for the door. A strange fear of an imminent end had taken hold of the atmosphere. At that point, my whole life was parading in front of me.
HG: Do you remember the exact moment when you realized something bad had happened? What went through your mind and what were your next steps?
KC: At that time, nothing made sense. How does a plane crash into a building like this? What should I do next? Should I let my colleagues know that I will be late for the meeting? How can I reach my family? Ironically, I had left my cell phone at work the day before. My brain was overworked but I managed to get away from Ground Zero.
Just as I reached Water Street on the other side of Manhattan, a horrible rumbling sound was heard in the distance. The growl transformed into an ear-piercing roar, growing more and more intense with each second. A huge cloud of debris and smog was moving quickly towards me, engulfing everything and everyone along the way. The north tower of the World Trade Center was collapsing.
HG: How did you get home?
KC: In the distance, a suburban ferry came out of Pier 11. I ran towards it with all my might. The gangway had already been pulled. The captain saw me running towards the boat. He stopped himself. My momentum allowed me to jump on board.
The ferry backed up. The cloud of dust and debris came so close to me and, almost as if disappointed that I missed me, it whirled around and enveloped the entire horizon in its furious grip. As I gazed at the foamy waters the ship left behind, I realized that I was the last person on the last ship leaving Manhattan that day.
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HG: Do you remember any acts of kindness that day?
KC: The heroes of the first responders displayed extraordinary kindness and resilience that day as they voluntarily walked through the burning towers. While there was a lot of chaos on the surface, a spirit of deep kinship and community galvanized beneath. Everyone looked after each other in a modest way. Some people distributed water, those who drove drove strangers.
HG: Tell us about your book, “On a wing and a prayer“
KC: The book is set in New York where the protagonist, an Indian immigrant who has built a thriving career on Wall Street, seems completely engrossed in the pursuit of the proverbial American dream until one day he finds himself in the World Trade Center in fire. Against all odds, he miraculously survived September 11. It becomes a statistic. Life as he knew it is changing. He experiences a void he has never encountered before. And then something unexpected happens. He meets the master of consciousness and reluctantly learns a powerful breathing technique called SKY Breath.
What follows is a race of a lifetime – fighting stereotypes, trying to make sense of some mind-boggling metaphysical experiences from a left-brained perspective, humorous encounters, and intellectual concepts turning into a tangible experience.
During World War II, US aircraft pilot Hugh G Ashcraft Jr. brought his badly damaged B-17 aircraft, call sign “Southern Comfort”, for a “one-wing and one-prayer” landing; an expression that describes how distress can turn its face to the higher power. For the author, it was the survival of September 11 that blew up his world and launched him on a fascinating journey inside.
“What’s the point of all this? – if this question or a related thought has ever crossed your mind at any time in your life, then this book is for you.
Editor’s note: the book will be available for purchase on October 15, 2021.
HG: What made you want to share your story?
KC: I came across this life changing breathwork called SKY Breath. And I am grateful for it. I am grateful that I am not bitter and am grateful that I have found the strength to share my journey and hope it will help other people who may be going through a similar struggle.
In addition to writing, Kushal and his wife Alak run Elements Truffles, a gourmet chocolate factory with foundations in Ayuervedic practices. The boutique has an online store and the chocolates can be found in stores nationwide. Discover the elements on Facebook and Instagram.