It’s a ritual. Every time Nicholas Coleridge, managing director, Conde Nast International comes to town we meet at the Taj poolside for a coffee, before heading to the office. Last night I doubted the ritual would ever be repeated. The Taj and Oberoi are second homes for corporate Mumbai. Our guests stay there, our clients launch brands there, our families celebrate there and we don’t need an excuse to meet friends for a drink there. We know the management, the staff, the restaurants— everyone has a favourite table, a personal story.
Then like a reality show gone wrong, a bad dream played out over and over again on our television screen. Cricket one minute, insanity the next. Terror struck at the heart of the known, the familiar. With disbelief and rage I watched the images that will forever stay in my mind. Smoke billowed out of the The Taj hotel—this was my World Trade Center. Juxtaposed against that image I kept seeing the face of the young terrorist, almost playing to the camera. Looked like any one of those youngsters at a mall: T shirt, track bottom, hip sneakers and cool haversack. The only give away were the glazed eyes and the automatic weapon.
Many calls, smses, muster and whereabouts of Conde Nast colleagues, reassurances to family and friends with calmness I did not feel—it began. That feeling of impotent rage. In the face of the utter audacity of the attack. Just two weeks ago everyone was talking about the audacity of hope. This was the audacity of terror.
Then, the total lack of communication. There was no credible spokesman. Emergency meetings as late as 16 hours after the attack. Then one knee-jerk reaction after the other.
Was the counter attack a well organized, precise operation? I will reserve judgment simply because I know the TV cameras cannot tell even half the story—they too were spectators like me. There must have been moments of great heroism—split second decisions on which human life depended had to be taken, hundreds calmed, emergency medical aid provided. That I salute. Only this time don’t talk to me about the resilient spirit of Mumbaikars. Don’t insult the dazed, blood splattered men and women on the road. Don’t tell me the trains are running again and that life is back to normal. Blast after blast, attack after attack, life does not return to normal. Everything erodes. Every single thing. People get back on the trains because they have no choice; they have to earn a living.
Every time I am on a boat returning to the Gateway, the beauty of the Taj dome never ceases to mesmerize me. But last night’s image of the burning dome has destroyed that. Or has it? In the middle of the carnage, the madness, Taj released a statement saying it is defiant and will rebuild the icon to its former glory. Now all we have to do is rebuild our lives. And confidence.
I have just received a mail from Nicholas Coleridge on the Blackberry. He wants me to pass on a message to Raymond Bickson at the Taj. Saying that he will be back to stay. As for me? I look forward to that coffee by the poolside.
Alex Kuruvilla is managing director, Conde Nast India