Monday, December 1, 2008

Attack On Taj & My Tryst With Terrorism In Past

On 26 November when Hotel Taj in Mumbai was attacked by terrorists, me and my friend Dinesh found ourselves in déjà vu situation . On 25 August 2003, at the same place we witnessed terrorist attack – a mighty bomb blast !! We were lucky enough to have narrowly escaped then.
Those days Dinesh & myself were on official business tour for a corporate project “Product Intelligence & Benchmarking against competition”. After lunch at Mumbai office – which is bang opposite to new Taj – we took time to have a casual stroll at Gate-Way of India. After enjoying the coastal breeze, the free flying pigeons & panoramic sight of Arabian sea, we decided to be back in office – not before giving in to an insisting commercial photographer for getting clicked at the back drop of Gate-Way.
Hardly having reached ground floor of our workplace, we heard a bib bang, an ear-deafening sound. Initially I thought about collapsing some part of this 100 year old office building. But at the same time, I clearly heard somebody shouting “Bomb Blast” “Bomb Blast”.
I turned back and saw a huge cloud of black smoke leaping towards sky.
The pigeons were horribly flying scattered & making some weird sounds.
Crowd went berserk.
People were running for their life.
Some were wounded, some were terrified, some were shocked, some were confused and some were speechless after being a witness of such devastating sight.
It took few minutes for both of us to realize what has happened there. The place where we have been moments back was in blood bath. The thought of fortunate escape caused shivers in us. We tried to analyze the situation but mind has become numb.
“Bomb exploded in Taj parking, causing many causalities at Gateway”, I heard somebody screaming.
I remember Mumbai police van rushing to the spot, minutes after blast. I also remember to find some pieces of taxi – in which bomb was planted – have flown out in our office parking. We have been advised to go inside. As expected, network was jammed. Even landlines were not working. We checked on net and understood that earlier similar blast had occurred at Jhaveri Baazar. Gate-way blast was yet to make news.
There was very animated police action happening near Taj, The entire area was sealed. Taj parking was looking like a war-field where we could see barricades, sandbags, dog squad, ambulances and gunned policemen. The environment was full of fear, anxiety, grief & restlessness.
Hours after the incident, we were allowed to go at out staying place. The severity and magnitude of these attacks was captured by news channels pretty well by running detailed coverage. The whole night and next day we were under trauma caused by seeing the mayhem firsthand.

The troubled memories of this day were made alive on 26 Nov after my colleague Dhananjay called me up around 11 PM and told me about the attack on Mumbai and especially on Taj.
This time, siege at Taj continued for more than 60 hours. Terrorists have attacked the monument of glory & economic strength of modern India. We finally annihilated all militants but not before they had marked a severe dent causing some real irrevocable loss.
I don’t know when the government and systems in this country will take loss of innocent people’s life seriously. I am not sure whether we will learn a lesson or two from it. I am clearly disappointed to see the apathy in common people. Nobody trusts politicians any more. But where is the patriotism at grass-root level? Where is the sensitivity?
The calamities like this are going to decide whether India deserves to become a developed country or its fortune is going to sink owing to lack of disaster management.
P.S. - Whenever I saw this photograph - taken few minutes before the explosion- the old wounds of being helpless and tormented by outsiders get opened.

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