Today is a Monday that is quite unlike any other Monday this year. It is the 10th Anniversary of the terror attack that shook my city. An event that forever changed the fabric of Mumbai.
Memories of the Taj
For many a Mumbaikar, the Taj Mahal Hotel holds special memories. I remember it as a place my friends and I would sneak in from the rear entrance for a quick pee in the opulent surroundings. It was definitely better than our stinky loos in college nearby.
We also frequented it albeit rarely as college kids to celebrate a special event where we would spill out our loose change on the table to pay the tab!
Then as newly weds we would go to the rooftop bar for my favourite Mai Tai while we watched the lights flickering below. The Shamiana and the Patisserie were popular with the children who looked forward to the Chocolate Fuffle ( truffle) cake that was insanely chocolate.
And I can’t count the number of times we entertained our foreign visitors at the Tanjore. It was a wonderful place to introduce the foreigner to the Indian palate with some Indian Culture on the side. The Golden Dragon and later on Wasabi became our go-to place for a special treat.
Apart from the restaurants I used to love browsing in the book shop and the shoe shop . And of course the lobby was a great place to people watch while I waited for many a visitor to show up.
The Taj used to be like that in the old days – laid back and easy to walk into. Today it has become a veritable fortress. The rear entrance is completely sealed off . The side entrance is shut too. And even if you are dressed for a wedding, you have to go through a rigorous screening process that includes putting your bag through an X ray machine and have a gun detector run over your body.
Besides, the exorbitant prices, miniscule portions and the proliferation of fantastic stand alone restaurants in the area, have reduced our trips to the Taj.
But I still get nostalgic when I pass by and would like to share my thoughts on this iconic hotel that has become the face of Mumbai’s Terror attack.
This post first appeared as http://mumbaionahigh.com/2008/12/taj-after-attack.html
Just watching last night’s news item covering the re-opening of Mumbai’s premier hotels which were under attack a mere three weeks ago, brought me close to tears.
Not one for crying, I found it hard to watch the footage of the brave Staff of the Taj as they solemnly walked into the hotel. They got a standing ovation from the 1000 special guests invited for the opening. For some strange reason a deep sadness enveloped me and I wanted to go to the Taj.
So, this evening we drove past and actually stepped in.
Getting there was not easy. We could only enter from one of the rear roads, stopped by two security guards who checked the boot, the bag inside the car and asked us what we wanted before allowing us to go. As we went past the Northcote side, we saw the old place boarded up. While going along the seafront, we caught a glimpse of a chandelier in passing. We saw the blackened space which was the Wasabi. Once the finest dining experience in Mumbai it was now known as the place of the last pitched battle .
My tiny handbag went through the scanner and I followed through a metal detector. We entered the lobby to hear the sweet, innocent voices of the Blind School’s choristers from singing carols . As the Yuletide songs filled the air, the Christmas tree with bows and doves presided over a strangely bereft and sombre lobby. Once, it was a bustling place place bursting with activity. Important looking people in business suits, bejewelled women and curious tourists filled the place. Today it was sadly empty, forlorn and desolate.
The corridor leading to the old Taj was cleaned up. Partitions neatly boarding off the Harbour Bar, The Golden Dragon and the lifts to the Heritage wing, with the efficiency only the Taj can boast of, cleverly hid the destruction behind.
In the courtyard, a fine granite plaque, with names of those who had lost their lives inscribed on it, reminded us that though things seemed normal, they were not. We walked past the shopping arcade and went inside the Patisserie. We wanted to buy something just to show our solidarity with the Taj , but found nothing suitable.
Our lives at home had changed too : with the children gone,there was no one to eat the chocolates and the pastries and puffs!
We came away, saddened beyond belief. One part of me wants to go there . I want to patronise the restaurants for old times’ sake . I want to re-establish another tomorrow but another part feels hollow : how can we go back and “enjoy” a meal where just weeks ago so much blood was shed?