Thirty one people, guests and employees of the Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai, died on the twenty sixth of December 2008 during terrorist attacks that spanned coffee shops, another five star hotel, a railway station and a hospital. There is a plaque on a wall at the Taj that has a list of the casualties at the hotel. The last name is the name of the dog on duty that night, Lucy. A wall fountain with water flows next to the plaque, like washing away constantly the blood of that night. I mention that night gently in a few of my conversations with hotel staff. They are not allowed to speak about it. Yet some still do. Unlike Leopold Cafe near by which was also attacked and which has maintained some of the bullet ridden windows, at the Taj there is no other sign of that night.
The Harbor 1 Bar, the first bar in India, license number 001 was shattered too. It is not something that is mentioned when we have our drinks there one evening. We have a drink that is one of the most fantastical I have drunk. Stories of an American sailor who comes ashore in the early 1900s and asks for something special at this bar when he hears that prohibition had been lifted in America. The drink, a mix of fruit juices and alcohol set on fire at the table like a flambe´is magical, like a fire lit on evenings when lamps and lanterns must have adorned these walls. Yet I feel a certain pathos. I wish there was a drink that remembering the lives of those who died that night.
I feel disrespectful and inquisitive asking questions when another employee tells me how some tourists and guests in the hotel in the past have asked for gory details such as “Can you show me where the bodies were?” or “Can you show us where people died?” I blanch when
I hear that. Human curiosity is merciless. Another employee tells me sadly that many of his friends, chefs in the main restaurant that night, died.
I look around me at the polished surfaces, the gleaming chandeliers, the views of the sea and the Gateway of India, I eat the best food I have eaten so far in this trip to India. I cannot but still feel that the sadness and senseless brutality of that night lingers beneath the glamor. It is a hotel I will go back to because of all of that.