A Colaba resident and a regular at Taj Hotel, Gitanjali Gurbaxani talks about her near escape from the terror attack
WHAT do you do when the coffee shop that you have been visiting for years falls prey to terrorist attack? For Gitanjali Gurbaxani, a Colaba resident, the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower was a place she visited quite often. So it was a close call when on Wednesday, November 26, Gitanjali went to have coffee with a friend at Shamiana restaurant at around 7 pm. Talking about her experience, she says, “When I went to Taj on Wednesday evening, things were normal. I was at my usual coffee outing with a friend. Had I been at the lounge area browsing through the shops, I would have become one of the victims.”
Since the start of the month, Gitanjali says that except the main tower entrance, the hotel had closed the other entrances (the hotel has four entrances, two each in heritage and the tower). Even the cars were not allowed inside and had to let off the passengers on the road.
A regular patron of the hotel since childhood, she says, “I stay behind Radio Club, which is just walkable distance from the Taj. I would visit the hotel one or twice a week strictly for coffee outings at Sea Lounge and Shamiana.” So it’s scary when such a thing happens at a familiar place, according to her. “When we were growing up, the restaurant culture was hardly there. So Taj was frequented more,” she recalls.
Gitanjali says that she got out of the hotel minutes before the terrorists attacked the hotel and was walking home when she heard a thud and saw people running to safety and the shops and restaurants closing down. When she reached home, she realised what had happened.
In fact, Gitanjali was not the only one who escaped the terror attack, even her sister dropped her plan of going for dinner at Leopold CafÃ© after hearing the gunshots. However, a friend wasn’t so lucky. He was trapped at Taj and was freed by the army yesterday morning. “My friend who was trapped inside said that how a uniformed staff was among the terrorist group. I heard that some of the terrorists worked there as staff and that’s how they knew their way in the hotel,” she claims.
She believes it was luck or destiny that she escaped the attack. During the Gateway blast in 2003, Gitanjali was in the vicinity. She says, “I was entering Taj when the blast occurred. I thought ‘Oh my god!’ and headed straight home. But in the evening I returned to Taj as it hadn’t happened in there.”
As for the situation in her area, Gitanjali says that she went to Radio Club pier for a better view yesterday and there were hardly 50 or 60 people. “The place is usually crowded with around 200 people. Counting by the low turnout you could judge that people were afraid,” she says.
(Published in Sunday Mid Day on 30th November, 2008)