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'I escaped without the Devil in my way'

Matthew Schneeberger in Mumbai | December 04, 2008 18:13 IST

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For Singapore-based businessman Rahul Welde, Wednesday, November 26, will forever remain the day his life changed.

By himself on the sixth floor of the old wing of the Taj Palace, Rahul was one minute watching India stomp England [Images] in a fifth straight ODI.

The next minute, he heard gunshots on the street below, which he suspected to be gang-fire.

Minutes later came confirmation that Mumbai was under siege; then, the sight of two bodies down by the pool.

Alone, with little knowledge of what was going on around him, Rahul turned off the lights and stayed away from the windows, using SMS to keep in touch with friends, which, as he says, helped him to "stay sane".

Nervously, he nibbled fruits and nuts, as the silence was intermittently interrupted by tremendous explosions and the prattle of gunfire. Periodically, he heard screams and shrieks.

Welde, 40, was not in touch with other guests. He was not aware that terrorists had set-up base on the sixth floor, his floor. He did not look out the windows.

Instead, he thought about his 10-year-old twin sons and his wife, in Singapore. He managed to phone her at around 2 am, some four hours into the nightmare.

But the mammoth fire on the sixth floor began creeping towards his room, and he foresaw disaster if he had stayed put. Incoming SMSs told him of the severity of the situation, and of the fire.

"After 3 am, the flames were getting vicious and the room was full of smoke. I knew I had to make a run for it. I don't know if I would have made it, if I waited another 30 minutes," he says.

At about 3:45 am, he dashed from his room and into the hallway, searching for a fire exit. "It was all instinctual," he points out. "I just ran in the opposite direction of the fire and the gunshots. I managed to escape by the skin of my teeth, in sheer denial of allowing fire and smoke to swallow me. By God's grace I managed to make the run down six floors without the Devil in my way."

He found the fire exit and ran outside, to where police had gathered. As he was uninjured, he had no need for medical treatment, so he headed to a friend's house and called his wife. That very day, he was on a plane back to Singapore to see his family.

On Wednesday, he wrote an e-mail about the incident, which he forward to a circle of private friends. Here, with his permission, an extract:

'In the modern day world, risks are a plenty. Terrorists, tsunamis, earthquakes: the list can go on. None of these check on your profile, company, religion, class or seniority when they hit. They just hit. And we know now it can happen anywhere.

Here are a few things we could all do to keep it safer and better.

Firstly, value your family and friends.

Then, I strongly recommend you:

1. Make sure you are covered well by insurance. Even if you are well off, leave them better off if the unfortunate were to happen.

2. Let them know details on things like bank accounts, investments, etc. Keep a portfolio with your spouse and close family.

3. Use every waking moment to cherish what you have: family, friends, nature. Stay smiling, laughing and caring.

Admittedly, these aren't things I thought about deeply till now. I shudder at the thought of what if.

The last few days I have heard/read a lot about peace marches and candles and politician bashing and police bashing and whatever else. I am sure a lot of energy will go into all that. Having been there, I can only say that every soul -- the cop, the fireman, the medico and even the common man on the street -- was doing the best he could. I don't blame anyone.'

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