Post-action, they came to see Taj but it looked different

Written by Sulekha Nair | Mumbai | Updated: Nov 30 2008, 07:48am hrs
A disquieting silence. That is what one notices as one reaches the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai on Saturday. The crowds are back at the Gateway of India, standing like of yore (before the terror strike) and looking at the Taj. But this time things have changed. Some people stand with their hands to their chin and some stare unblinking at the soot-stained five-star hotel. And there are some who are freezing the bruised Taj to memory on cameras and cell phones.

For 35-year-old Gaurishankar Chandranarayan from Hyderabad, the journey to the Taj Hotel was undertaken explicitly to see for himself if what he saw on TV cameras matched with reality. This is a historical monument, he related. How could anyone enter this beautiful building and attempt to burn it, pump it with bullets Now that he was seeing it, what were his feelings I am shocked and saddened. I hope the Tatas rebuild it.

The milling crowds in and around the Gateway were murmuring. Soft whispers. The area usually is buoyant with the shrill noises of the jetties, the hoarse yell of the boatmen calling out for short rides, queues of people waiting to board the boats, buggies waiting for riders that take them past the Taj and hawkers selling everything from postcard memorabilia to trinkets to noisy whistles. All that were missing on Saturday, three days after the Taj Mahal hotel was taken hostage by a group of terrorists. There are no boatmen, no hawkers, no noisy calls.

A lady, who said she was a reiki practitioner, was seen putting her palms aloft and `blessing the structure, she said, so that it would be `safe and hold up for generations. The place in and around the Gateway, where movement of people are allowed (the area around the Taj is cordoned off), swarms with uniformed men - the black cat commandos, Army, RAF men, fire brigade personnel and the local police. Many were keen to know about the operations from them. Some went up to the red-coloured BEST buses where the commandos were seated, congratulated them and then after the preliminary, We are proud of you. We thank you for the work done, ask the inevitable How did you know the terrorists from the hostages etc etc.The commandos had just one answer. A smile.

A foreign photojournalist, (name withheld on request), said she had covered 9/11but what surprised her about the Taj was, How could a few terrorists hold up the city for ransom. She pointed out to the Arabian sea and said, Even now, there is no patrolling. Why is security so lax here

Some like 22-year-old Shweta Patil, a Mumbai resident all her life, was making a trip to the Taj Mahal Hotel for the first time. She never visited the Gateway of India as a picnic spot even in school No, she said. She was never tempted to visit this area before No, she replied. I have come now for I want to see for myself how it looks before it is restored.

Some tourists remark that the Taj Mahal Hotel will now become more famous than The Taj, Agra. Why For, this is a structure that has withstood a terror strike. This is a place that is known for luxury. It is a living monument, said 46-year-old Rakshita Mehta.