Edgy but defiant, Mumbai inches towards normality as hotels scarred by terror reopen

December 22, 2008

Eight priests from across faiths conduct ceremony to emphasise city’s unity. Randeep Ramesh in the Guardian:


The newly reopened Taj Mahal hotel lights up the Mumbai seafront. AFP

The newly reopened Taj Mahal hotel lights up the Mumbai seafront. AFP



Until gunmen entered the Taj Mahal hotel in the early hours of 26 November, Praful Patel had known no other home for 16 years. Room 1017 was his residence, a sanctuary from which he ran his investment business amid statues of his favourite Hindu deity, Ganesha, the elephant-headed “remover of obstacles”.

During those hours Patel, who is British, “died more than once” as the sound of gunfire and explosions reached the bed he hid in. Indian commandos rescued him the next day, walking him out through pools of blood.

Last night he checked back into his room, part of a collective act of defiance against the gunmen whose rampage left more than 170 dead. Guests had been allowed back in the Taj’s modern wing, and its 268 rooms bore no trace of the violence inflicted. The blood stains around the swimming pool had been cleared, the grenade blast in the cafe was a distant memory and the bullet holes in the lobby were nowhere in sight.


Mumbai – The things you don’t forget

December 22, 2008

Andrew Buncombe in the Independent:

IT starts when you unpack your bag. You throw your clothes into the laundry basket, unzip your lap-tap, push your shoes under the bed. And then you wonder what else you’ve brought back.

For me, it was a single image that I encountered in the rear of a crematorium, five days after the militants stormed ashore and began their killing spree in Mumbai. Somehow, three weeks later I’ve not been able to shake it.

The occasion was the funeral service for the family of Karambir Singh Kang. Mr Kang had been a general manager at the Taj Mahal hotel, the historic hotel on the seafront which four gunmen had seized. His wife, Niti, and two sons had died from the flames that swept the building, barricaded inside their room on the 6th floor. All the while Mr Kang had worked without sleep to rescue other guests trapped inside the building – even when he learned of them death of his family.


Mumbai: city of death

November 30, 2008

The terrorist attacks on Mumbai finally ended on Saturday, leaving at least 195 people dead. The Sunday Times has this story — how the siege began, and ended:

The charred lobby

The charred lobby

First contact with the terrorists came shortly after 8pm on Wednesday night, when a small yellow and black inflatable dinghy pulled up to the shore at Sassoon Docks, near the financial district that marks the southern tip of the Mumbai peninsula.

In the boat were about eight men in their twenties, all wearing casual western clothes that would help them blend in with the tourists and affluent young Indians who populate the area.

“Six young men with large bags came ashore, after which the two who remained in the boat started the outboard motor and sped off,” said Suresh, a local man who witnessed the landing.

“They said they were students. When we tried to find out what they were doing, they spoke very aggressively, and I got scared.” He was right to have done.

A few blocks inland, in the Colaba district, it was a typically noisy night at Leopold cafe, where generations of backpackers have swapped travellers’ tales over one of its four-pint tubes of beer.

The bar had character of sorts: bistro-style tables and chairs strewn around brown and cream pillars, kitsch pictures of the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China, and ancient metal ceiling fans that barely outpaced the waiters. Guidebooks grumble about too many backpackers and expats, and the western-centric menu, but there were always a few Indians too, usually young and western-leaning, on a date or celebrating a birthday or promotion with friends.

Wednesday night was busy as usual. Harnish Patel, a young chartered surveyor from Havant, Hampshire, was there with Joey Jeetun, 31, from Bethnal Green, London, whom he had met earlier on a boat trip. They were talking, over loud music, of his plans to spend a month touring India.


And there’s more here

Suketu Mehta: The terrorists attacked my city because of its wealth

November 28, 2008

Suketu Mehta is author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found and a professor of journalism at New York University. From the Guardian:

suketu_mehtaThe first time I went to the Taj in Bombay, it was on a date, but not my own. I was 12, and the third wheel between my uncle and his fiancee; I had to be taken along for propriety’s sake.

We sat in the Sea Lounge, overlooking the harbour, amid the Parsi matrons arranging marriages and the British bankers drinking gin with American aid officials. My uncle had brought my future aunt here because he wanted to impress her with the hotel’s opulence, and I had the most expensive bhelpuri of my life. The Taj is to Bombay what the Empire State Building is to New York: it is what you see on a postcard of the city, a building that does not need to be further identified. It is, simply, “Bombay”.

People who are seeking position or money in Bombay often use this one hotel, this one citadel of empire, as a mark or measure of their progress upward through the strata of Bombay.


Tycoon described hotel drama before his death

From the Guardian:

A British tycoon killed in the attacks on Mumbai had gone to the Taj Mahal hotel for dinner because he heard they served the best food in the city.

Andreas Liveras, 73, whose fortune is estimated at £315m, owned Liveras Yachts, which charters “superyachts” and boasts of offering “the finest luxury yachts afloat”.

The businessman, who was in Mumbai for a boat show, had just sat down when he and his party heard machine gun fire in the corridor.

Liveras described the chaos at the hotel to a journalist shortly before he died. He told the BBC: “We hid ourselves under the table and then they switched all the lights off. But the machine guns kept going, and they took us into the kitchen, and from there into a basement, before we came up into a salon where we are now.


Dispatch from an anxious Mumbai

November 28, 2008

Naresh Fernandes, editor of ‘Time Out Mumbai,’ in The New Republic:

Employees and guests use curtains to escape the Taj Mahal hotel. AFP

Employees and guests use curtains to escape the Taj Mahal hotel. AFP

As columns of smoke rose from the Italianate dome of the Taj Mahal hotel in downtown Mumbai on Wednesday night, I came upon a woman standing a short distance away from the building, waiting for her friends trapped inside. She’d just ordered a steak when she heard gunfire as terrorists stormed through the establishment. The woman, who had been rescued through a window by the fire brigade after hours of hiding under a table, said that her name was Dalbir Bains. I recognised it from the society pages of the newspapers. She’s the owner of a fancy lingerie store in the beachside neighbourhood of Juhu, and, amidst the chatter of gunfire, I found myself involved in a brief discussion about edible underwear.

Everything that evening had been surreal. At 10:15pm, shortly before the attack, I’d been handed a visiting card that read, “George W Bush, Former President, The United States of America (currently seeking employment).” Sipping my glass of merlot, I shook hands with the man who had given it to me. He wore a dark suit and a giant rubber Dubya mask. I was at the premiere of “The President Is Coming”, a mockumentary about six young Indians taking part in a competition that offered the winner an unforgettable prize: the opportunity to shake Bush’s hand on his imminent visit to the subcontinent.


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