'Nothing to worry about. The first bullet will go through me’
How a wedding reception at the Taj Mahal Hotel turned into a life lesson for Mint reporter Parizaad Khan.india Updated: Nov 28, 2008 01:04 IST
The evening started rather innocuously in The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower’s Crystal room, with a glass of juice. We got there at 9.30 p.m., for the wedding reception of a friend.
At the Crystal Room in the old wing, we met friends and got our drinks. We hadn’t been there 15 minutes when we heard sounds we dismissed as construction work or crackers. When the boom-boom went on and got nearer, it was apparent they were neither.
The staff had secured the doors by now. We were planning our next move when a window shattered, and shots rang through. Instinctively, we ducked and crouching, made our way to the service door, which led to an alcove. Then were ushered by the staff through corridors, kitchens and other areas till we reached the Chambers, an elite club.
The staff kept ushering new refugees in, and soon the place was full — there were probably 300 people there. The doors were locked and the staircase and elevator secured, we were told. By then we’d stopped hearing gunfire and felt safer. Phone calls coming in confirmed many places in the city had been similarly targeted.
That’s when the Taj staff kicked in. Crates of water bottles came in, followed by tins of potato chips and trays of sandwiches and canapés. Soon, we had towels and crisp sheets.
Though we were frightened — by now we’d heard a few blasts and rumours that the heritage dome had exploded — we weren’t really in fear of our lives. The cops and special forces had come to the building, we were told, and everything would be cleaned up soon. At no point did we see the gunmen.
We soon heard whispers that we were going to be evacuated. Media friends on the outside started sending messages that the ATS had arrived, the army had arrived.
It was probably 3 a.m. when we gathered at the service door and were asked to be silent. It was a crush as everyone wanted to be first to be out, but it was also orderly and people didn’t panic. I was probably in the fourth or fifth bunch of people to be evacuated. About 10 of us were led into a narrow corridor.
That’s when it got chaotic. In the corridor, we were fired at. We couldn’t tell where the shots came from, but they were close. We turned and ran back inside. There was almost a stampede-situation. After half an hour, we heard gunfire from the corridor outside. Everyone flattened themselves to the ground. The floor was a tangle of bodies and limbs. The lights were off. We stayed that way till morning. Dawn broke but still no word. We heard from phone calls that the rest of the building had been evacuated.
At 8.30 a.m., a commando rushed in. We were asked to line up. Just then, some commotion caused us to panic — I can’t remember if it was more shots but someone shouted get down, and we all dived. “I want you all to stay calm. Listen to me, there is nothing to worry about. The first bullet will go through me, I’m leading you out,” the commando said.
We got back up and stepped out into a corridor. We walked down a flight of stairs and through corridors, into the lobby and were finally led out into the sunshine on the porch.
But it wasn’t over yet. As a cop van and BEST bus pulled up and people started getting in, shots rang out at the vehicles from the hotel. Some gunmen were still inside. We all ran back to the lobby doors, but there was not much fear; the presence of the commandos and other personnel gave us courage. My friend and I were soon put into a BEST bus. Some of us didn’t lift our heads till we got to Azad Maidan police station.
We heard later that many police personnel and hotel staff had lost their lives. We’re probably alive because of them.