One night at the Taj Mahal hotel - survivor narrates terror ordealDecember 2nd, 2008 - 3:03 pm ICT by IANS
We started our evening casually at The Taj Mahal Palace at the Crystal Ball Room. I got there at 9.35 p.m. Wednesday with my brother Manish for our friend’s wedding reception. We hadn’t been there 15 minutes when we heard sounds we dismissed as construction work or crackers. When the ‘boom boom’ went on and got nearer, it was apparent they were gunshots.The staff started securing all the gates and we were all planning our next move when a window shattered and shots rang through the glass and wooden doors. Instinctively, we ducked, crouched and made our way to the service door, which led to an alcove. We were being ushered by the staff through corridors, kitchens and other areas till we reached the Chambers and Elite Club.
We were joined by more people and soon the place was filled with probably 250 people. The doors were locked and the staircase and elevators were secured as told by the hotel staff.
By then we stopped hearing gunfire and felt safer inside. Phone calls coming in confirmed many places in the city had been similarly targeted. We also turned to laptops for more updates as the TV connections were cut off.
Soon the hotel staff brought in crates of water bottles and juices, and tins of potatoes, sandwiches and canapés.
Though we were all frightened thinking of all the impossible things - by now we heard a few blasts and rumours that the heritage dome had exploded - we weren’t really in fear of our lives. The cops and special forces had come to the building and we were told everything would be cleaned up soon. At no point did we see the gunmen.
We soon heard whispers across the hall that we were going to be evacuated. We heard that the ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad) and the army had arrived.
It was 3 a.m. when we gathered at the service door and were asked to be silent. It was a crush as everyone wanted to be first to be out, but people didn’t panic. Manish, myself and four friends were the 10th or 11th bunch of people to be evacuated.
About 10 to 15 of us were led into a narrow corridor, and that’s when it got chaotic. In the corridor they were fired at. No one knew where the gunshots came from, but they (the gunmen) were close and one of the Taj staff was shot on the left side of his stomach and crying in pain.
It was like a stampede as everyone was reversing and trying to get to the safest corner possible in the hall back where we hd started from. We entered the small Lavender Room just beside the big hall where we were earlier.
We helped the man shot get inside and laid him on the sofa and shut the room door. As the door did not having any system to bolt it from inside, we broke few chairs and bolted the door by sticking the wooden arms into the door handle. Along with the fabric napkin tied as hard as possible, we also drew up a round table close to the door with two chairs on top.
After half an hour, we heard gunfire from the corridor outside. Everyone flattened themselves to the ground. The floor was a tangle of bodies and limbs with around 70 people inside the small room and many were in the bigger room adjacent to ours. We then put off the lights and stayed in darkness till morning without any air conditioner. We were breathing with a hope to see light soon and smell the fresh air.
Firing rounds were then exchanged every 30 to 45 minutes. All what we had with us was the prayers in our minds as we were sure that the terrorists were close to our corridor. We would have gone through over 300 rounds of gunshots in the same corridor throughout the night from 3 a.m. onwards.
We thought that our lives were protected just by the wooden walls and that a grenade or gunshots passing through could decide our fate.
Dawn broke but there was no word from outside and our room smelt of gun powder.
At 8.35 a.m., a commando rushed in and told us to open the door. We did so slowly and the door was being banged from outside. We were still very scared as we did not know who was knocking.
It was a commando and we were then instructed to go slowly through the corridors and walk down the staircases through the fire exit. While leaving the room, the commando asked Manish and me to help in carrying the injured man downstairs, which we did with tears flowing down.
As we left our room and walked through the corridor, we gasped for breath as the smell of gunpowder pervaded the air and we realised that the gunshots we heard all night was just five metres away from our room. There were bullets all over the floor and the fine woodwork and glass was shattered at every place.
We walked through the small fire exit stairs and we saw blood stains and some commando’s guard kits thrown at the side - presumably they would have been injured during their rough ordeal.
We then came out of the hotel and saw daylight and thanked god for giving us a second birth. The injured man we carried was escorted to an ambulance.
It was 9.15 a.m. when we were waiting for a bus with tears of joy in our eyes. We never knew that the bullets that we left behind would again be heard from above; while boarding the bus, there was panic and we once again for a few seconds took cover whereever we got place.
But the commandos asked us not to panic and slowly board the bus. We then left for the Azad Maidan police station for verification purposeS.
I still cannot believe that we are alive after this fierce ordeal and I am writing this article. In the end, I thank all for their prayers and the almighty god who has blessed us with a second life with our families back home.
(Mukesh Berry is one of the survivors of the terror attack at the Taj hotel in Mumbai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)