"It will be done, Sir"

Siddharth | Updated: Dec 1 2008, 04:56am hrs
I shifted from Delhi to Mumbai two years back. Taj Mahal Hotel was something you just instinctively associated with Bombay. Everyday from my office perch in Fort, I could clearly see its dome and the upper floors only served to reinforce the sense that Taj was as much part of the mesmeric landscape as was the Gateway of India or the Arabian sea itself. So, early this year when I actually got a chance to stay in the heritage wing for a week as part of an international conference, it was as luxurious and adventurous as it could have been. Of course, I did not stay in any of the super opulent suites. However, roaming around the silent wooden corridors, the magnificent spiral staircase, gazing away somewhat embarrassingly at the dome above it, and having breakfast in the verandah connecting the Palace wing to the Shamiana restaurant was opulent enough for me.

Witnessing the cold-blooded murder of those dear memories over the past 60 hours has been tortuous. To say the least, it is indescribable. Every benumbing second I spent in front of the television, it was impossible to get away from it. I, inadvertently, kept revisiting the Taj in my mind. One day when the conference got over early, I decided to venture out from its door thats flanked by the quaint wooden horses. The sky was overcast but Tajs faade looked as majestic even in the soft light of the dawn. And then, the sky turned a reddish golden as if a million multicoloured floodlights had been switched on. I clambered up the spiral staircase and went and sat at the Sea Lounge, the restaurant on the first floor overlooking the sea. The clouds had vanished and the sun appeared to be acknowledging the mute greetings of the scores of boats of bobbing up and down in the waters around the Gateway of India. Today from what the media tells us, the spiral staircase leading almost up to the dome is gone and as one can see, the faade has suffered serious damage.

The main lobby that connects the Old Taj to the Tower side is probably the liveliest part of the whole complex, day or night. The 30- metre passage is flanked by bars and restaurants and of course exclusive outlets of luxurious brands. It also showcases old black and white pictures of the legions of Indian and foreign celebrities who have stayed in the Taj in the past. During my stay I saw hordes of giggling foreigners, some dressed up in ethnic Indian costumes, posing for pictures like excited kids in Disneys Magic Kingdom. The whole ambience transports you to another era. Probably a reason why these people booked a room here. They wanted to experience the regal past of India of the opulent maharajahs and the khidmatgari that made you feel like a royal even if you probably were on a visit to close a deal for a outsourcing medical transcription services! I shudder to think what has become of that passage and those photos.

There are scores of other delicate memories that keep floating in and out of my mind. How can one forget the excellent service provided by the Taj staff. I made completely unreasonable requests during my stay there. I asked for a hi-end Mercedes at three in the morning and a meal at an equally unearthly hour. But there is one memory I will cherish the most. Once I got a request late in the night from a guest who was scheduled to address our conference. He wanted a lapel microphone! Though we had made arrangements for a podium, I called up my event manager at midnight for help. I can, he said after some serious cajoling, Only if the Taj people let me get in at 6 am. With some trepidation, I called up my contact person at the Taj. The lady, who probably thought I was insane, with just a touch of coldness in her voice, said: It would be taken care off, Sir. Next morning I rushed to the meeting room expecting to see serious electrical work in progress. But lo! The room was spic and span with the sound mechanics doing a final discreet check. It was just 6 am!

Dear Taj and staff members, I pray that you all recover from this tragedy. I am certain you will.

The writer is a Mumbai-based banker