Yes. The high alert is still on. Mumbai is bracing itself for.... for.... I don't know. The cops aren't saying. The silence is ominous. And revisiting the venue that has become a ghastly symbol of the 26\11 terror attacks, is a little like self-inflicted pain. But nothing can keep me away from a hotel that has such a strong connect. The Taj is just not another gracious and grand hotel. It is an emotion. These were my words in an article I'd been commissioned to write by the editor of the Taj Magazine, Fatma Zakaria ( she's the same lady who'd given me my first break as a national columnist by asking me to contribute a weekly piece to the Sunday Times way back in the early eighties - an association that still continues!). Well, it was 'Raksha Bandhan' and my son Aditya did want to treat his sisters.... so, there we were at our old haunt, The Sea Lounge, ordering the best dahi puri, bhel puri and sev puri in the world. Looking around the spacious place we tried to figure out what had changed ( it reopened recently). Got it! It was the people. Sea Lounge was only half full. Before the attacks ( and the recession), it used to be difficult getting a table, especially at lunch. Entering the hotel these days is challenge number one - it is not a pleasant experience given the super tight security measures in place. I guess this puts off people. The Taj has been converted into a fortress, sand bagged extensively, fortified and barricaded, which spooks guests. It is old faithfuls like us, who gamely go along with the triple screening, knowing it is in our own interest.Even so, it is still disturbing to walk into a much loved meeting place and find sections of it closed ( lots of exciting openings and events in the offing later in the year, but as of now, it remains eerily empty ).
As we sat at our favourite table and Arundhati decided to indulge herself ( Cafe Viennoise - loaded with calories, but so irresistible!), we watched dozens of tourists on the footpath outside, taking souvenir shots of the hotel. I could see them pointing to the floors that were set on fire, and taking close- ups of the magnificent dome ( how can anyone forget the sight of that dome blazing?). While we were celebrating the festival, Qasab was wondering who would tie a raakhee around his wrist. I mean.... get real. Which woman in her right mind would want Qasab, a mass murderer, as a raakhi brother??
I've been asked why I have not written about the other Raakhi ( Sawant)? Frankly, she now bores me. Her old spontaniety has been replaced by a certain calculated cunning that I find most unattractive. Besides, I hate being manipulated by these absurd reality shows with their 'fixed' programmes and fake winners. I cannot bear to watch any of them. However, one must hand it to Raakhi - she coyly disclosed her own 'honour code' on camera when she said, she was willing to do anything for money, but she won't 'do that'! Wow. Does one call that a free ride ??