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Havoc wreaked on iconic Taj saddens tourists, Mumbaikars

National, Sat, 29 Nov 2008 IANS

Mumbai, Nov 29 (IANS) For 65-year-old Anilbhai Bhatt, who spent hours in his childhood playing in the courtyard of the Taj hotel, the sight of flames leaping out of the heritage structure and the gutted rooms after the gunbattle with terrorists was over Saturday, made him feel as if he had consigned his own childhood to flames.


Bhatt is not alone in his feelings of sadness at the state of one of the city's most famous and photographed buildings.



Scores of people in Mumbai and many living elsewhere in the country, who have never set foot in the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, and Hotel Trident-Oberoi, are upset that these two landmark luxury hotels facing the Arabian Sea should be the target of terrorists.



Every time Bhatt, a retired employee of a jewellery firm in Mumbai's popular jewellery market at Zaveri Bazar, saw flames leaping out of the Taj windows as terrorists set off a fresh explosion, it caused him intense pain.



'Though I was born in Fort in south Mumbai and lived there till I got married, I never had an opportunity to go to the Taj Hotel. But as a child, I always used to go there in the evening with my friends to play on the large courtyard in front of the hotel. We stayed clear of the hotel because it was out of bounds for us,' Bhatt recalled sadly.



For countless people who visit Mumbai everyday, Taj is on their must-see list, though they cannot afford a simple cup of tea there. Even these visitors are pained to see the devastation wreaked by terrorists on the 105-year-old building.



Said Pradyut Sarkar from Silchar in Assam: 'I first visited Mumbai two years ago. Like all visitors to the city, I had gone to the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Hotel at the Colaba sea front. I have seen many heritage buildings in Kolkata, but I was awestruck by the imposing structure of the Taj and the old world charm it exuded. I feel sad that the magnificent hotel has now been defaced and damaged so badly.'



Every Mumbaikar, rich or poor, has a kind of affinity with the Taj. It is a hotel unmatched in India in terms of its regal opulence, sophisticated grandeur and discreet grace.



Every one of them is saddened today that the hotel that stood unsullied for 105 years has been ravaged since 27/11.



As inveterate party-goers Anil Dharker and Prahlad Kakkar said, it is as if 'a beautiful, charming virgin has been raped at gun-point by brutes'.



Taj regulars are upset that the beautiful carpets laid all around the hotel's interiors and on the floors of each one of its 565 rooms are now blood stained, and damaged.



Actor-activist Rahul Bose said he could not bear to see the draperies of the hotel being stained with blood, the carefully arranged crockery strewn around the floors.



'The priceless antique paintings that adorned the walls are now either hanging in skewed angles or splotched with ugly gun-shot marks,' he sighed.



'I wonder if I would be able to go to the Taj to cover any entertainment event there with the same happy feeling as I used to do until now. I will be haunted by memories of the fierce gun battle that raged continuously for three days,' said entertainment journalist Indramohan Pannu.



The feeling is echoed by others who visited the heritage Taj regularly.



Stanley Fernandes, an employee of a now-defunct automobile publication, who lives at Mahim in central Mumbai, woke up with a jolt in the morning of Nov 27.



Until a few years ago, he used to regularly visit one of the second floor rooms in the Taj to take briefs from his employer, Kishu Gidwani.



Gidwani had migrated to India after the partition in 1947 and since then had been living in the Taj till 1983. After making the Taj his abode for 36 long years as a 'permanent guest', he later shifted to the National Sports Club of India at Worli in south-central Mumbai.



'Although Gidwani passed away some years ago, somehow I dreamt that he was lying in one of the rooms in a pool of blood,' Fernandes said.



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