Please don’t utter another word about the ‘Spirit of Mumbai’. Or how it is ‘Business as usual’, because the time to be philosophical/stoical about our shattered lives is over. Initial numbness has been replaced by rage and sorrow. Those policemen did not have to die. Those innocents need not have been killed. Mumbai’s abject humiliation at the hands of a few misguided youth, is complete. And there are no answers – how? Why? Gabbar Singh’s menacing question, “Kitney aadmi the?” may never get the correct response from a cowardly and evasive administration that has once again let down the people of this megapolis .It is not about a numbers game. It is about the powerlessness that has paralysed what is considered one of the most dynamic cities in the world.Mumbai today is a city in a coma…. One it may never recover from. Dazed and desperate. As I write this, a mere half a kilometre away from both the hotels targeted by the terrorists, my heart aches, my eyes are heavy, and my throat painfully constricted. Strange how a monumental tragedy affects individuals. Our first thoughts are about the safety of our own – are those we love okay? Yes??? Thank God! Selfish emotions dominate our actions – as they did mine…. I’m ashamed to admit.
My husband and I were at a sitdown dinner in another 5-Star hotel, a few miles from the Taj and Trident. This was unusual in itself…. The newly-opened Four Season’s is outside the ambit of hard -core South Mumbaiwallas like ourselves. But this was no ordinary occasion. The French Ambassador was hosting an evening for Nadir Godrej who had recently received a French civilian honour. Yashodhara, a beautiful chanteuse from Delhi, had just started to croon throatily, when Amrita, Simi Garewal’s sister, came to our table to whisper they’d received a call about a terrorist attack at the Oberoi and Taj hotels. Five minutes later, while all of us were desperately calling our contacts for grim confirmations, we heard two loud blasts –terror came directly at us…. the sound hit me in the solar plexus…. and there was no place to run. Top cops advised us to stay put. But our children were at home!!!! Stay put. Stay put. They repeated. The streets are unsafe, roads blockaded, police vans hijacked…. there are armed maniacs on the loose hurling hand grenades and firing randomely into the crowd with lethal automatic weapons. Now they are attacking hospitals!! Oh no…. they’ve blown up a petrol pump!! Yes. The one close to our home. Look….. the Taj is on fire! CST …. OH MY GOD…. They are moving rapidly …. the airport is next, and the Marriott. It was like being cast in a macabre, surrealistic horror film . But one without a director to call, “Cut’’.
The sight of the Taj burning, is the one that will remain forever etched on my mind – a ghastly and tragic reminder of this city’s vulnerability…. and also it’s grandeur. That is where I was courted, got married.The place I consider my second home. Taj is family. That is where my daughter is getting married ten days from now… or that was the dream…. the plan.Till last night.Today, that beloved heritage building – Mumbai’s pride and joy - is a monument to death and destruction. The Taj has always been an inspiring emblem of India’s defiance and glory when it was built in 1903 by a great son of Mumbai, Sir Jamshedji Tata, to let the British know that there can be a magnificent hotel built by Indians, for Indians. As I watched the flames engulfing the top floor, my tears flowed for those incredibly brave men and women from the hospitality industry who performed such a stupendous job, along with the others, in saving as many lives as possible. The terrorists picked their targets well – by hitting Mumbai’s most-loved symbols of wealth and prosperity, cosmopolitanism and progress, they succeeded in their mission of demonstrating to the world just how simple it is to attack iconic institutions and hold a teeming metropolis to ransom.Yes. My daughter will get married. And yes,the ceremony will be at the Taj - burnt…. but not bowed. We will always love it. Terrorists may destroy a structure. But our souls are our own.