Today I can’t bring myself to wax eloquent about the “who’s who” and “wear’s what” of Mumbai glitterati.
Today I need to tell you like it is.
What started out as an average Wednesday in Mumbai (laced with just enough excitement for an evening of disco salsa with new friends) quickly spiralled into a night of total terror as I watched my Mumbai burn. I had plans to meet my friend for drinks at Dragonfly which happens to be bang opposite the lobby of the Trident Oberoi. Ironically, I had suggested we meet in the hotel lobby at 9:45pm since it would be easier for his cabby to find. By what feels like much more than a stroke of luck I happened to arrive early and decided to head up to Dragonfly instead and told him to stop and call me when he took the “INOX left.” Literally 30 seconds after he stepped out of his taxi we heard (what I immediately assumed to be fireworks) and saw sparks flying around the main entrance to the Oberoi lobby. (I recall my brain trying to rationalize this odd display cricket celebrations? perhaps a prank?) and I blurted out, “Haha it’s either fire works or gunshots, either way maybe we should go upstairs!”
The next 20 minutes were spent learning disco moves with the good natured salsa crew I’ve been raving about (with even more reason now.) Even two tremors later (apparently the grenades that set the Oberoi ablaze) we couldn’t possibly have imagined what was really going down. I think it only really hit me when the owner of the club told me “I have bullet proof glass, come I show you.” And whisked me away to the adjoining restaurant and pointed at a freshly lodged bullet in one of the tall glass windows. From this point on the night is a blur of frantic phone calls, SMS updates, angry reminders of “keep-away-from-the-glass, please!”, phone-battery lows (or woes) news-channel surfing, friendly sniffer-dogs, tablecloth blankets, and two failed attempts to leave. We watched stunned, reports flooded in of explosion after explosion and the death toll kept rising as this mindless conspiracy unravelled itself.
I don’t think I will ever be able to erase the memory of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel dome engulfed in flames or the agonizingly young and bitter face of an AK47 wielding terrorist. Even now, the chilling realisation that I remain unharmed while so many lives have been erased in an instant humbles me. At 5:00am when we finally made our way home, full of trepidation and fear dawn brought us an eerie sense of calm as oblivious joggers made their daily trek up marine drive while the battle ragged on less then a kilometer away.
I don’t know if this qualifies as insensitive or resilient, but I do know this; in times of crisis, when we need it most, a motley crew of Mumbaikers will always pull out all the stops and show you the love. Thank you Pankhil, Shaneen, Derek, Anshul, Avan, Kaytee, Shyaam, Swati, Sahiba, Nasir, Tarana, Diana, Magalie, Aalia, Andrew, the generous guys who dropped us home, and the life-saver girl with the phone charger (I still have it!) I feel like I lost a little faith but gained a lot of friends.
One Spirit, One Love, One Mumbai.
Listen to my reports for The Take Away: