Feel a morbid desire to go and look at Ground Zero; had planned to consciously stay away, but there’s an irresistible pull and I find myself at the immense crater that once held the twin towers. Simply beyond the scope of my comprehension, the sheer magnitude of what happened here, and there’s still a desperately sad cloud sitting over the place. My elderly Lonely Planet copy talks about how ‘the massive twin towers of the World Trade Centre rise 107 floors, 1,350 feet above the ground’; it’s too depressing to linger, and I step back into the fast-forward world of Manhattan. Don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a hyperactive, non-stop sensation in any city before; I feel like I’m in one of those movie scenes where I’m standing still and the rest of the world is moving so fast, it’s a blur. Everyone’s totally immersed in their own worlds, barking down cellphones, reading papers on the run, swigging coffee while sprinting for a cab, buying hot-dogs; yet there’s a singular energy that seems to bind everyone together. Someone once told me that Mumbai’s the New York of India. Boss, this is the real thing; come here once and that notion will be blown out of the water. You’ll feel it even more strongly near the New York Stock Exchange, with it’s Roman-temple facade; of course, these days you might also feel the dull thud of speculators leaping out of windows.
Again, can’t be in NYC and not see the Statue of Liberty. The open secret is this – avoid the terrifying crowds waiting to climb up the lady’s innards and hop on the Staten Island ferry. It’s free, takes you past the Statue and, more importantly, gives you a grand view of the Manhattan skyline. I do exactly this, taking in a reasonably proximate view of Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi’s most well-known work; I’m also subjected to a frisking at the ferry terminal, and a sniffer dog gives my satchel a thorough once-over. Not sure if I’ve been singled out for this; I’d like to believe otherwise. Step off the ferry and perambulate in Battery Park for a while, gnawing on a fairly generic New York hot dog and beginning to feel the city’s spirit seep into me.
The sun’s getting set to bid the day adieu now, painting the sky violent shades of pink, yellow and orange. The reflections in the glass-and-steel forest of Manhattan are spectacular; it’s like there’s molten lava running down their sides. Decide that now would be a good time to walk the Brooklyn Bridge, the first steel suspension bridge in the world. There’s a lovely pedestrian walkway along its length, allowing superb vistas of the river and Manhattan, and the bridge itself is a true marvel of engineering, considering its 125-year vintage. Looking down from its mid section, I see the historic Fulton Fish Market by the river, all lit up and bustling. Manage to find my way there (narrowly avoiding being reduced to my component parts by rush-hour traffic) and stroll along the pier; it’s a wonderfully atmospheric place, with some ancient warehouses and their signs still intact. Happen to turn back and catch an eyeful of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges with their lights on full tilt – it’s not an image that’ll be easily erased from my mind.
Find myself gravitating towards Times Square, the Crossroads of the World. At night, it’s an absolutely dazzling place – loud, brash, and so bright with neons it’s almost like daytime. Once the centre of NYC’s sleazy underbelly, it’s had an image makeover and is now tourist central – Madame Tussaud’s, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, movie theatres, souvenir stores... you can’t throw a nickel here and not hit one of these. Unbelievable frisson about the place, though; it’s garish but great fun. Even better on a stomach-full of Roxy’s famous cheesecake – one slice of their divine blueberry creation is like three square meals rolled into one concentrated sugar hit. Will long remain one of my most memorable culinary experiences; I think I’m still reeling a bit from its potent side effects. Head abuzz, I go in search of some night life, preferably the sort that won’t be financially ruinous (NYC can be very expensive), and I find just the thing at Small’s jazz club. A legendary hostelry, it used to be BYOB, as a result of which entire families used to show up to watch the all-night performances. No longer like that, but the drinks are relatively cheap, the atmosphere’s suitably old-jazz-club and the music is truly top-notch. I leave at 3.30 am, the place appears to be just warming up and there’s not a single cop hanging about outside – fantastic. If only we had the same enlightened attitude towards nightlife in our country; when I think of the outrages being perpetrated by the moral-brigade scumbags in Bangalore, for example, my blood boils.