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A small scar and Ode to Joy on Taj's re-opening night
December 21, 2008
A large shop display window, located in a corridor directly opposite the entrance to the now-boarded-up Harbour Bar, that was decimated in the 26/11 attack on the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, has a simple message mounted on a tricolour background:
We salute all those who sacrificed their lives so that the rest of us could be informed.
But if you carefully touch the glass of the window you realise it isn't there. It probably cracked, or was blown away, during a grenade attack or gunfire on November 26, or in the hours after that, when 31 people, including 12 Taj staffers, including seven chefs, were killed. It is a small scar, still visible in the newly re-opened hotel.
Ever since the Taj Mahal Tower hotel -- the palace or heritage wing remains shut for an extensive restoration job that will be completed only next year � opened its doors again on Sunday evening at 7 pm, with heavy security in place, Mumbaikars have flooded the hotel.
Some sit in the lobby serenely listening to pianist Moreno, smart in black and white, play Ode to Joy, popularised in Beethoven's ninth symphony.
Others pose in the centre of the lobby, in front of the brighty-lit,spangled Christmas tree [Images] for photographs. The lobby blazes with lights and cheer, a tad forced. The portico outside is decorated with lit wreaths. About 100 staff members float around welcoming people/guests and managing the crowds of curious Mumbaikars.
Little knots of visitors float down the corridors to the pool area and the lobby of the old Taj, a portion of which is open, peeping at the just re-opened Ravissant (a luxury goods shop) festooned in marigold garlands, the brightly-lit Louis Vuitton handbag showroom and the Indian Textiles. They pause, quietly, and look at the glass-less window display.
Garlanded guests, who have just checked in, a number of them foreigners, head to the bank of elevators.
At the big window looking out to the glowing Tree of Life memorial for the 31 victims, located in the open-air atrium, opposite the popular Nalanda bookshop, amidst a sea of candles, Christmas trees and reindeer, patrons new and old gather. Some solemnly snap cell-phone pictures of the memorial as a souvenir. Others, probably tourists, take out cameras and shoot more special images.
A lady, probably from the North East, stands looking sadly at the flickering candles. She says she used to live in Bandra and decided to come today because she heard the hotel was opening. Moreno, the 'piano man', with a musical note brooch, comes across to chat with her. He recounts to her how during a restroom break, the terrorists came in and started shooting and he thought it was some construction work. But he managed to make an escape right through the main doors of the hotel.
Deepak Parekh, chairman, HDFC [Get Quote], and his wife Smita, sit in the lobby. They are almost certainly among the 1,000 guests invited by Taj Hotels and the Tatas, along with novelist Shobhaa De, Raymond Group chairman and managing director Gautam Hari Singhania and his wife Nawaz, Godrej [Get Quote] group chairman Adi Godrej, actor Rahul Bose [Images], Uday Kotak of Kotak Mahindra Bank [Get Quote], among others, to mark the reopening of the hotel with a puja and a discreet function, after which Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata group addressed the press at dusk, with Taj Hotels CEO, Raymond Bickson standing at his side.
He said, "This is a memorable day in (its) show of strength, a tribute to all those who have lost their lives or those who have saved many lives. It is an indication of our participation in the community of the city of Mumbai."
The Parekhs are probably catching their breath before they carry on to the next function of the evening. A few chairs away from them sits a woman with her eyes closed, motionless.
All of the Taj Mahal hotel's [Images] 278 rooms in the 23-storey tower wing are once again operational. Five restaurants of the hotel have also opened again � the hotel's rooftop Mediterranean eatery Souk, fine-dining eatery Zodiac Grill, its coffee shop Shamiana, bar Starboard and Indian cuisine restaurant Masala Kraft. They are booked out. At Starboard, nostalgic songs like Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight play, as city nightbirds troop in hoping for a table.
Outside the hotel, suited Deepak Datta, an NRI from the US, who says he was the first guest to re-check in after the opening, offers a series of interviews to the The Guardian, Sky News and ITN. "I booked the same room. I have to sleep in the same room tonight. By being the first guest I am doing my small bit," he says.
Text & Photograph: Vaihayasi P Daniel