Posted by: Manjeet Krpalani on December 23, 2008
On Sunday, December 21, both the Taj Mahal Hotel and Oberoi’s Trident Hotel reopened their doors to customers - just three weeks after the terrorist attack on Mumbai had devastated the city and the hotels.
Just half of both hotels reopened - restoring the other, destroyed halves will take a year. The Oberoi had a press conference and a multi-faith prayer meeting; the Taj had a more emotional return. On Sunday afternoon at 4 pm, a few hundred invited guests gathered at the lobby of the Taj. The hotel showed no sign of destruction. Everything had been cleaned, cleared and the ravaged areas elegantly boarded up.
No sign of any attack, save a white marble memorial, with the names of the 31 guests and staffers who died, engraved in gold. The memorial stood in front of a giant waterfall in the lobby, and next to it was a bronze sculpture of the tree of life - so meaningful to all faiths. The six-foot-high sculpture typically stood right under the famed dome of the Taj - where the most severe damage was done by the terrorists. It stayed untouched, unmarked, unharmed. It’s presence was significant. Lit candles stood in profusion in front of the tombstone.
After prayers by the Cardinal of Bombay, the high priest of Zoroastrians in India, the top Muslim cleric, Hindu and Sikh priests, Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata group, gave an emotional speech.
He dedicated the reopening to those who lost their lives, and with the determination that it will send the right message. “And when the old wing - the heritage wing - is restored and rebuilt to the extent that it could be then we will send an even stronger message not only for the Taj but for the whole city that we can be hurt but we cannot be knocked down. And the old Taj will stand again for the next 100 years as it has for the last 105 years.”
Then, in a parade which received a standing ovation, he introduced his staff, the over 500 employees who had been in the hotel that night, and worked ceaselessly for the last three weeks to reopening. Tea, said a Tata executive, will now be served.
And in one magic moment, to those assembled, it seemed that life had gone back to the way it was - a kinder, gentler time, where the pleasant and formal ceremony of having a cup of afternoon tea meant that civility prevailed and all was well with the world.
Tea was indeed served - but the world had changed. The hospitality of India’s hotels, we now know, extends beyong serving a pleasant cup of tea - your waiter can also save your life, and at both the Taj and the Oberoi, they did, many losing their own in the process. India’s hospitality has set a new standard for service in the global hotel industry.
And safety will no longer be taken for granted anywhere. “We enter a future more dangerous, and leave behind a civilzed and gentle past,” said R.K.Krishna Kumar, the vice chairman of Indian Hotels, which owns the Taj.