On November 26, 2008, when Ankur Chawla, a 25-year-old trainee at the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, sat down with a hotel guest to discuss Indian history, little did he know that he was going to be a part of it himself. Chawla, who has come out alive from one of the biggest terror attacks that India has ever witnessed, reminisces the experience of the 14 hours that he spent fighting terror, fear and securing the lives of the guests in the hotel.
“I heard a sound and thought that a champagne bottle may have been broken. When I went outside, I saw a man with a gun running behind another. Being from Delhi, I thought that two guests may have had a heated argument. Not for once did I think it could be a terrorist,” he says, describing his first brush with the attacks. And what unfolded through the night was a tale of grit and determination of these regular hotel employees going beyond their professional brief. “We pulled out guests who were stuck in their rooms, brought women and children to safety. That night I realised what it means to put the lives of other people before your own. I had numerous chances to leave the hotel and be safe, but I did not, rather, I could not,” he shares.
And now, the Delhi-based Chawla has penned down the nerve-chilling experience in a book titled, 14 Hours: An Insider’s Account of the Taj Attack, which is set to release soon. “It took me four long years to write this book. It was difficult to pen down those accounts. The thought of that night still makes me scared,” he says.
Speaking on the execution of Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist who was captured alive after the attacks, Chawla says, “I am happy it happened secretly. We should celebrate the peace that many people would have got and not celebrate his death. A weight from our hearts has been removed with this.”
The experience, however, has made him a stronger person. “Ever since, I have learnt to face things and take life easy,” Chawla signs off.