British Curry King survives to tell tale of Mumbai terrorNovember 28th, 2008 - 1:30 pm ICT by IANS
London, Nov 28 (IANS) Two British tycoons were caught in the terror strike at Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel. Mumbai-born Sir Gulam Noon, known as ‘Curry King’, lived to tell the tale. Leading yacht maker Andreas Liveras could not.Liveras was the lone Briton to die in the attack. In contrast, it was for the second time that Noon had a miraculous escape in a terror strike in Mumbai. He had earlier escaped unhurt during the 1993 bomb blasts and he was staying at the Taj hotel at that time too.
Noon, Britain’s most famous Indian-origin businessman, had booked a table for four - his brother and two businessmen were the guests - at the hotel’s restaurant. But he felt a little unwell at the last minute and decided to have the meal in his hotel room. That probably saved his life as the first place attacked by the terrorists Wednesday night was the restaurant.
When the firing began, Noon thought they were wedding fireworks. A moment later, a bomb went off, shaking the entire hotel. At first he thought of coming out of his room, but again fate intervened.
Noon changed his mind and instead called the duty manager who, surprisingly, was still present his desk. The manager told him not to stir out of his room as armed people were in the hotel asking for American and British passport holders.
The businessman told The Times that he was stuck in his room till 6 a.m. Thursday.
“The gunfire was continuous all night. We were told, ‘Don’t come out of the room because the commandos could shoot you by mistake’. We saw two terrorists on our floor, we heard the gunfire just outside our room. It was a very frightening experience,” he said.
The ordeal finally ended for him when a fireman broke open the glass window in his room and escorted him down the steps of a crane.
“At the bottom the general manager of the hotel was waiting to greet us with a bottle of water. The staff were amazing, they stayed all night, risking their lives.,” Noon said.
Noon said he would keep visiting Mumbai. “I live in London but I still love Mumbai. I can’t believe this has happened to my city.”
Unlike the Curry King, multi-millionaire Liveras was not lucky. He had gone to the Taj hotel for dinner Wednesday night because he heard they served the best food in the city. He was among the first few to fall to the gunmen’s bullets, the Guardian reported.
But Liveras had spoken to a BBC journalist shortly before he died. He had said: “We hid ourselves under the table and then they switched all the lights off. But the machine guns kept going, and they took us into the kitchen, and from there into a basement, before we came up into a salon where we are now.
“There must be more than 1,000 people here. There are residents and tourists and locals. We are not hiding, we are locked in here - nobody tells us anything, the doors are locked and we are inside. All we know is the bombs are next door and the hotel is shaking every time a bomb goes off. Everybody is just living on their nerves.”
Liveras was pronounced dead on arrival at St. George’s hospital at 9.30 p.m. Wednesday, a spokesman for the hospital said.
At least seven injured Britons were being treated in hospital, including retired teacher Michael Murphy from Northumberland, who had to have his spleen removed after he was shot in the ribs. His wife, Diane, was shot in the foot and hit by shrapnel.
Another survivor was Vinay Kuntawala, a 68-year-old British pensioner from Surrey, England, who was holidaying at the Taj hotel with his son, Deepak, when the militants struck. They were having a final snack on the first floor of the Taj before heading to the airport to fly back to Britain when Deepak noticed a boat pulling up to the pier in front of the hotel.
He told The Times: “It was full of these young guys in casual clothes. A few moments later, I noticed everyone running away from the waterfront and I heard some shooting. I thought it was a parade at first, then a fight. Then they started coming up the stairs into the hotel.”
They rushed into the nearby banquet hall where the entire board of Unilever, the multinational, was having a meeting. They all waited there for five hours. By this time they had heard the gunmen were looking for Americans and Britons.
When the gunfire was heard barely metres away from the hall, they smashed the window panes, ripped the curtains, tied them into ropes, and managed to get out of the hotel. Vinay slipped at the last moment and broke his leg when he hit the ground.