On September 11th, 2001, Kushal Choksi started his day like many of us do — running late to get to work. He was rushing for his meeting at the World Trade Center when, in a matter of seconds, everything changed. Kushal decided to change his story from being just a 9/11 survival statistic to sharing his journey coping with trauma in hopes that it can help anyone going through a similar situation. The Jersey City resident and co-founder of the artisanal chocolate company, Elements Truffles, walks us through through the events of that day. Keep reading to learn more about Kushal’s story and his soon-to-be published book.
HG: What was your job/profession during 9/11?
KC: I used to work as a quantitative analyst with Goldman Sachs in lower Manhattan.
HG: Can you walk us through your morning on 9/11?
KC: I ascended the escalator and began my predictable journey. My body was navigating the mezzanine floor of the World Trade Center, but my mind was in its own virtual reality; flooded with thoughts about my never-ending work, my demanding boss, an argument with my girlfriend. BANG! A deafening sound pulled me out of my reverie.
It was a massively high-decibel blast, followed by a ghastly hissing sound. It was as if a high-pressure steam pipe had just burst open. All I recall about that chilling moment is that it was dreadfully frightening. Not knowing how to react, people around me were screaming in fright, and a frenzied dash for the exit doors had commenced. A moment ago, the world was spinning as usual, but in the blink of an eye, it had completely changed. And at that moment, I was suddenly and forcefully ejected out of my own virtual reality. At one level, besides the frightful sound, there were no signs of anything out of place. Yet, the swarm of commuters was gripped by the fear of the unknown.
‘A bomb has gone off. It’s mayhem here.’ I overheard a gentleman screaming down the phone while he ran for the door. A strange fear of an imminent end had gripped the atmosphere. At that moment, my entire life flashed before me.
HG: Do you recall the exact moment you realized something bad had happened? What ran through your mind and what were your next steps?
KC: At that moment, nothing made sense. How does a plane crash into a building like that? What should I do next? Should I inform my colleagues that I would be late for the meeting? How do I reach my family? Ironically, I had left my cell phone at work the day before. My brain was in overdrive but somehow I managed to walk away from Ground Zero.
Just as I reached Water Street on the other side of Manhattan, a ghastly rumble was heard in the distance. The rumble turned into an ear-piercing roar, growing more intense every second. An enormous cloud of debris and smog was moving rapidly towards me, engulfing everything and everyone along the way. The North Tower of the World Trade Center was collapsing.
HG: How did you make it home?
KC: At a distance, a commuter ferry was pulling out of Pier 11. I ran towards it with all my might. The gangway had already been pulled in. The captain saw me running towards the boat. He paused. My momentum allowed me to leap on board.
The ferry pulled back. The cloud of dust and debris came so close to me and, almost as if disappointed that it missed me, it swirled around and enveloped the entire skyline in its angry grasp. As I stared blankly at the frothy waters that the vessel left behind, it occurred to me that I was the last person on the last boat leaving Manhattan that day.
HG: Do you recall any acts of kindness on that day?
KC: First responder heroes displayed tremendous kindness and resilience that day as they willfully walked into the burning towers. While there was a lot of chaos on the surface, underneath it a spirit of deep kinship and community was galvanizing. Everyone was looking after each other in small ways. Some people were handing out water, those driving were giving rides to 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 path on Wall Street, appears completely consumed in chasing the proverbial American dream until one day he finds himself in the burning World Trade Center. Against all odds, he miraculously survives 9/11. He becomes a statistic. Life as he knew changes. He experiences a void he never encountered before. And then something unexpected happens. He runs into the master of consciousness and reluctantly learns a powerful breathing technique called SKY Breath.
What follows is a ride of a lifetime – struggling with the stereotypes, trying to make sense of some mind-blowing metaphysical experiences from a perspective of a left-brain, humorous encounters, and intellectual concepts morphing into a tangible experience.
In WWII, American aircraft pilot,Hugh G Ashcraft Jr. brought his severely damaged B-17 aircraft, call sign ‘Southern Comfort’, in for a landing “on a wing and a prayer”; an expression that describes how distress can turn one’s face toward the higher power. For the author, it was surviving 9/11 that blew up his world and propelled him on a compelling journey within.
‘What is the point of all this?’ – if this question or a related thought has remotely ever crossed your mind at any point in your life, then this book is for you.
Editor’s note: the book is available for pre-order now.
HG: What inspired you to want to share your story?
KC: I stumbled upon this transformative breathwork called SKY Breath that changed the course of my life. And I’m grateful for that. I am grateful that I’m not bitter and I’m grateful to have found the strength to share my journey and hope that it will help others who might be going through a similar struggle.
In addition to writing, Kushal and his wife Alak run Elements Truffles, a gourmet-chocolate shop with foundations in Ayuervedic practices. The shop has an e-store, and the chocolates can be found at shops nationwide. Check out Elements on Facebook and Instagram.