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Taj exorcises ghost of terror

November 27, 2009 09:38 IST

The two security guards with bamboo sticks look on sheepishly as guests make their way through metal detectors and X-ray scanners at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. Before entering the hotel, however, a rather stern looking man -presumably part of the hotel's elite security force - was asking them the purpose of their visit.

Understandable, as Thursday was the anniversary of something Mumbai would like to forget - the city was under siege on this day last year.

The atmosphere outside was electric as curious Mumbaikars sneaked into the alleys around the hotel to take a closer look and television cameras were jostling with each other throughout the day to spot celebrities.

Their prayers were answered when Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata and Indian Hotels Vice Chairman Krishna Kumar came in the evening for a closed-door prayer meeting along with the employees and families of staff members to pay respects to those who lost their lives when terror struck.

Unveiling a permanent memorial which has the names of the 31 people who were killed in the terror attacks, Tata said the group had made a commitment to rebuild the hotel brick by brick and stone by stone. "They tried to knock us down but they could not kill us. The attack did not scare us but it made us stronger," Tata said. The powerful choir rendition of Hum Honge Kamayab was in tune with the chairman's mood.

Earlier, hotel staff looked indulgently at curious guests trying to peep through the gaps in the plywood-covered Harbour Bar, which seemed to have served its last cocktail last year when it was gutted - a result of the prolonged gunfight between army commandos and militants.

A year later, armed with chipping hammers and electric drills, labourers are still working round-the-clock so that what was once the city's most elegant destination for a drink reopens this Monday. Harbour, India's first licensed bar since 1933, will have a new international menu.

Another iconic restaurant, the Wasabi, will also reopen on Monday. An international collaboration of designers like James Park Associates, Rockwell Group Design, Lissoni and BAMO are now racing against time to usher guests into the two hangouts in a new avatar.

Taj opened the other restaurant, the Golden Dragon, without much fan fare. The restaurant, the walls of which were peppered with bullets and shrapnels, has been completely redone.

A noble and royal Golden Dragon with a soothing water feature welcomes guests into the restaurant with dragon-patterned panels adorning the walls. Rice paper and etched glasswork are spread over the restaurant space. Bookings were full on the opening night when the restaurant introduced 50 new dishes.

Officials at the flagship hotel of the Indian Hotels Company, India's biggest hotel chain operator, said the 565-room property will reopen fully, complete with its ballroom and grand suites in a phased manner by the first half of 2010. The hotel's Tower wing, which was reopened just 23 days after the attack, was fully booked for November 26.

Guests can request for rooms on the second, third and fourth floor of the hotel by mid-January 2010. The ballroom will be unveiled to guests by mid-March next year and the transformed and themed grand suites by the end of April 2010, said its executives.

So Taj is trying its best to live up to the spirit of Mumbai. The only change seems to be the ubiquitous CCTV cameras and security. But Mumbai's movers and shakers wouldn't mind that one bit.

Swaraj Baggonkar in Mumbai
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