“Good afternoon. Taj Mahal Palace and Tower. How can I help you?”
Just hours after a deadly siege ended, staff at Mumbai’s landmark hotel were back at work, giving the impression of business as usual.
Defiance is a common trait in India’s financial capital. Mumbaikars may have been temporarily cowed by the wave of coordinated attacks in the city that left nearly 200 dead, but nothing can stop them working — and making money.
Just as the hotel sought to get up and running again, albeit with the phones to reception diverted to another location, nearby businesses reopened. Locals, too, flocked to the iconic red-domed hotel, hoping it would bounce back soon.
“The Taj is an institution in itself. It may belong to Ratan Tata but it belongs to the people of Mumbai and the people of India,” said Kiran Kurundkar, the director of tourism for the government of Maharashtra state. “The Taj is a symbol of Mumbai’s cosmopolitan culture. It’s a melting pot, just like the city. It will definitely rise again.”
Built in 1903, the Taj Mahal was the vision of a Parsi industrialist called Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata. He commissioned the building after being refused entry to the Apollo Hotel, which had a strict Europeans-only policy.
It quickly developed into the city’s best hotel, seeing off the Apollo, which later closed, and became the place to stay and be seen for everyone from visiting monarchs and heads of state to rock stars and millionaire businesspeople.
Among the dignitaries who have stayed are Queen Elizabeth II, former Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser and John Lennon.
As emergency service workers in gloves and facemasks began the grim task of sifting through the charred building for bodies on Saturday, hundreds of locals were curious about what had happened to the city’s most famous building.
“It is a treasure of our nation and a pride of Bombay,” said shopkeeper Ahmed Yusuf Kazi, 53, surveying the damage from the British colonial era Gateway of India monument opposite. “I feel bad. [Ratan] Tata said he will fix it. That should be done. We hope that it should be just the same as it was before.”