Russi M. Lala is the author of For the Love of India—The Life and Times of Jamsetji Tata and Sharda Dwivedi is a historian and author of the unpublished manuscript—Taj of Apollo Bunder. The authors relate some not so well-known facts about this heritage property:
• The Taj, which opened in 1903, had no formal foundation stone-laying ceremony at the site. A small, traditional ceremony took place in 1900. A Parsi diva (oil lamp) was lit and a coconut broken during the ceremony.
• The Gateway of India came up only in 1924 and till then the Taj offered the first view of the city to ships sailing into port.
• The building was designed in such a way that most rooms faced the sea. The U-shaped wings were positioned to trap the late afternoon breeze at this then non-air-conditioned hotel. It had high ceilings and wide corridors to facilitate air circulation. At the time, Jamsetji Tata expected the clientele to be largely from outside India and he endeavoured to make the hotel as cool as possible.
People take photographs of the damaged Taj Mahal hotel. Gurinder Osan / AP
• The Wellington Mews, another property Jamsetji bought, behind the hotel was where the horses and carriages were housed. These could roll in directly from the west side of the hotel.
• When the hotel first opened, it had a large staff of waiters but only seven guests.
• It was Mumbai’s first public building to be lit by electricity.
• Jamsetji Tata personally went to Germany to order electrical equipment from Dusseldorf and chandeliers from Berlin. He also made sure that if electricity failed, a back-up system of gas lights was in place. There was an in-house soda bottling plant, an electric laundry, fans from the US and the first spun-steel pillars which he bought from Paris, France. These pillars, 100 years later, held up the ceiling of the ballroom.
• The hotel also boasted of a Turkish bath.
• The hotel has been featured in a lot of books, including Louis Bromfield’s One Night in Bombay, which in fact is centred around the Taj.
• Maharajas become great patrons of the Taj and invited the hotel to cater at special events in their states. The Chamber of Princes met here regularly every January, hence the “Princes’ Room” at the southern end of the building.
• For a long time, most of the hotel’s profits went to charitable trusts. Even after the company went public, a part of the profits still goes to these trusts.