January - March 2009



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 Editor's Note

 Mumbai 26/11

 Five Main Targets

 - Leopold Cafe

 - CST

 - Nariman House

 - The Oberoi Hotels

 - The Taj Hotels

 Heroes at the Taj


 Two Men & a City

 - Hasan Gafoor

 - Jyoti Krishan Dutt


 Mumbai 26/11
 Lessons Learnt


 Tolerance Targeted
 in Mumbai

 Parsis & Jews of


 Deccan Odyssey

 Bombay to Mumbai


 Taj - Mumbai's
 much-loved icon



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Mumbai 26/11

Heroes at The Taj

"We must commend the fine people serving these hotels for not deserting their guests, for standing up when it mattered, for showing the whole world`s hotel industry what the real meaning of `hospitality` is. Thank you-dear Indians, thank you-people of the Taj, Oberoi, Trident, thank you - you brave, brave souls." – Cory Doctorow, Canadian journalist and science fiction author

When the terrorists stormed into the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, the Trident and the Oberoi, Mumbai hotels, firing indiscriminately at anybody and everybody in their range, escape was not an option. The stunned and still-vulnerable survivors were guided to safety by an equally vulnerable hotel staff, risking their own lives, and going beyond their call of duty in protecting and caring for their guests till the time that security forces took over.

Dalbir Bains and Michael Pollock were at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel that tragic night – one with business colleagues by the poolside, and the other with a spouse and friends at a bar. This is a story of the selfless and the heroic response of the staff at the Taj.

"Far fewer people would have survived if it weren't for the extreme selflessness shown by the Taj staff, who organized us, catered to us and then, in the end, literally died for us. They complemented the extreme bravery and courage of the Indian commandos, who, in a pitch-black setting and unfamiliar, tightly packed terrain, valiantly held the terrorists at bay", says Michael Pollock, a survivor at the Taj

Entrepreneur Dalbir Bains gave a graphic account of that fateful night to The Observer. She was at the pool bar at the Taj, with two business associates from Britain, when she heard loud bangs at about 9.40pm, followed by shots at close quarter, and then saw two men running towards them. Instinctively, she and a few other people ran into the Heritage wing, and followed a group up the grand staircase. While running up the stairs, she fell down. The crowd pushed past her, but a Taj staff member helped her up. "We made it to the Sea Lounge - a bistro on the first floor, where the staff very quickly herded us in, locked the doors and turned the lights off." Following two huge explosions, the staff barricaded the doors with furniture and asked everybody to turn off their mobile phones and stop communicating information to the outside: " text message from the restaurant's chef had been instantly relayed on the frenzied news network NDTV across its Indian channels, providing, as it were, a live feed to the terrorists of our whereabouts."

By 3am, a fire was blazing in the adjoining area. A Taj staff member then sent a text message to a contact outside the hotel who got one of the fire engines to position their ladder at the Sea Lounge windows. "That bit of common sense changed everything".

At 4.30am, as she climbed down the ladder of the fire truck and reached the street level Dalbir was mobbed by the media. "I'm sure the media's presence added to the security threat, and the number of casualties. They just had a free run and it was tragic. There I was on a Colaba street corner at 5am, surrounded by hundreds of media people, and I had to walk down the road and ask the guest of another hotel for a lift in his car to get home. The media chasing me for 'Just one interview and we'll leave you alone ...' It was shocking."

Michael Pollack, writing in The Forbes, expresses his gratitude and pays tribute to the staff of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, "who sacrificed their lives so that we could survive. They, along with the Indian commandos, are the true heroes that emerged from this tragedy. "

He and his wife, together with two friends, were at the Taj for dinner at the Golden Dragon - a Chinese restaurant in the Heritage wing, also known as the Taj Mahal Palace. They arrived there at 9.30pm, a little before their scheduled reservation, and as their table wasn't ready, they walked next door to the Harbour Bar. They had barely begun to sip their beers when they were told that their table was ready. They decided to stay and finish their drinks. Seconds later, they heard a smashing sound," followed by 20 or 30 similar sounds and then absolute silence. "

The terrorists who were a few feet away, were firing indiscriminately. "The Harbour Bar's hostess, who had remained at her post, motioned to us that it was safe to make a run for the stairwell (that led to the Wasabi restaurant on the floor above). We believe this courageous woman was murdered after we ran away. We later learned that minutes after we climbed the stairs, terrorists came into the Harbour Bar, shot everyone who was there and executed those next door at the Golden Dragon. The staff there was equally brave, locking their patrons into a basement wine cellar to protect them. But the terrorists managed to break through and lob in grenades that killed everyone in the basement."

"We took refuge in the small office of the kitchen of Wasabi restaurant. Its chef and staff served the four of us food and drink and even apologized for the inconvenience we were suffering."

Pollack’s group of four secured themselves in the room by pushing a massive wooden table against the door and turned off all the lights. The kitchen staff remained outside - no one had run. The terrorists repeatedly slammed against their door, and asked the chef if anyone was inside the office. He said "No one is in there. It's empty." That was the second time the Taj staff saved their lives.

Soon after, they were escorted by other hotel staff to The Chambers, a members-only area of the hotel, where about 250 people, in six rooms, were being served sandwiches and drinks, by the hotel staff.

"But then, a member of parliament phoned into a live newscast and let the world know that hundreds of people--including CEOs, foreigners and members of parliament were "secure and safe in The Chambers."

A staff-assisted attempted evacuation, at 2.00am was aborted by grenade blasts and automatic weapon fire. Many people in the fire escape stairwell and many staff members trying to protect the guests were shot and killed. The terrorists went to another part of The Chambers, and systematically executed everyone.

The commandos arrived in the early hours of the morning and soon secured the corridor. "When one woman asked whether it was safe to leave, the commando replied: "Don't worry, you have nothing to fear. The first bullets have to go through me."




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