Even in a terror attack, seeing the best of India

Even in a terror attack, seeing the best of India

Even in a terror attack, seeing the best of India

The Mumbai hotel under attack.

I fell in love with India when I was a child. My parents were both born in Bombay, and we went back to India frequently. I was staying in Room 624 of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower. It’s my favourite place, and I’ve been there so often the staff recognises me and always tries to make me feel at home. I had a hectic day filled with meetings. And when I finally got ready for an evening meeting, I was in such a hurry to meet my driver that I forgot my BlackBerry.

I was headed to the Oberoi Hotel, a beautiful complex that has a restaurant known for its sweeping views of the city. A few minutes after my clients and I were seated, I heard an incredibly loud noise and the room shook. I’m a California girl and I thought it was an earthquake. It wasn’t.

Mumbai was undergoing a coordinated terrorist attack. I didn’t know that at the time. And I didn’t know that the entire complex was being overrun by terrorists. But I knew we were in trouble when I saw two young men with guns coming out of the elevator. There are details I don’t remember about the next few hours. Some remain crystal clear.

I remember our restaurant hostess, a tiny woman, throwing her body against the doors that separated the restaurant from the elevators. I remember the wait staff trying to direct all of us to safety, which, in our case, was a ballroom area. I remember being huddled in the dark with about 100 people. And I remember a lovely Italian woman lending us her BlackBerry so we could e-mail our loved ones.

I remember the selflessness of the staff as they offered to act as human shields as they escorted groups of us out of the ballroom and across the street. I remember buildings burning and people jumping out of windows to escape the fires. I remember a man whom we hid with through the night, who risked himself to take us to my aunt’s house, so we might get to safety. As we huddled on her patio, shaking and exhausted, we bore witness to more hatred. The synagogue across the street from where she lived was bombed.

People ask me how I deal with the memories. They ask if I’ve lost my love of India. They ask me if I’m afraid when I go back. Surviving that horrendous attack has given me a new lease on life. I was so caught up in my work that I forgot what makes life worth living. Making time for family and friends is what is important. Business is just business.

I had to travel back to Mumbai soon after the attacks for another set of meetings. When I walked into the Taj, which also came under attack during those horrible days, I saw the man who cuts and styles my hair every time I stay there. When he saw me, he fell to his knees and burst into tears. I cried, too. We cried tears of happiness since we both survived, and many of despair since so many people died.

I travel a lot for business and I go to some pretty great places. But it will always be India that speaks to my heart. It was there that I saw incredible acts of selflessness. I saw the best of humanity.

That is India. And that’s something the terrorists can’t destroy.

The New York Times