Mumbai attacks: An eye witness report

<em>Time Out</em> Mumbai contributor Bhisham Mansukhani was in one of the hotels attacked by terrorists. He shares his experiences.

The Knowledge

I was at the ballroom in the mezzanine floor of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel with my mother, attending the wedding reception of my friend Amit and his wife Varsha on Wednesday, November 26. Gunshots rang out and shattered one of the windows of the banquet hall, sending us crawling for cover underneath the tables. When the shooting abated, the Taj staff escorted us through the kitchen exit to the Chambers, on the first floor of the new wing of the hotel. Earlier in the night, I spoke to two journalists as well as to several friends. Later, when I thought there was a terrorist outside the door, I started texting. Here’s a transcript of my cell-phone messages.’

10.04pm Me to Siy [friend whom I messaged while I was being escorted with the others through the service corridor to the Chambers floor]: Siy, can you check the news, heard gun fire. Bullets in banquet hall.

10.07pm Me to Siy: I am at taj, wedding. Theyre saying gang war.

10.30pm From Jaideep [school friend, also due to attend reception, said earlier in the day that he would meet me in the lobby, but he was running late]: Are you inside the Taj. They’re not letting any more cars in.

10.33pm Me to Jaideep: Yes, im inside Taj. Amit is still in his room. Im now in Chambers. Rizwan not here either.

10.43pm From Nydia [friend and colleague]: Are you safe?

10.45pm Me to Nydia: Yeah, did get shot at and luckily only got hit by the glass. They got my drink. Damn. Im ok now. Im in one of the halls. But the bar is closed

10.47pm Me to Anand [friend]: Best single malt collection in the country and not a drop to drink

10.52pm Me to Sheldon [friend and former boss]: Remember the good times at the Chambers. This one’s more interesting.

11.16pm From Rachel [friend and colleague]: Dude. The oberoi is also attacked. They’re suspecting terrorist. VT also blasts. Duck just duck.

11.37pm From Rizwan [friend who was running late and was due to meet me in the lobby]: Is everything ok?

11.37pm Me to Rizwan: Yeah Rizwan, im okay. Amit is in his room but he’s okay. I could use a drink

11.42pm Me to Siy [who is stuck in Press Club because of the shooting at CST and outside Metro Cinema]: Are you out of press club. Have they closed the bar

12.14am From Shinibali [friend]: Bhisham, pls. Take care. Fiona says u r at d taj. Stay safe.

12.33am From Purva [friend from Delhi]: F*** u! watch tv if u can..

12.37am From Anahita [friend and newspaper journalist]: Pls sms n tell me if yr ok. Am really worried abt u

12.37am Me to Anahita: Heard the blast. What is happening outside. Can’t hear bullets. Is the fire coming here. People here want to make a run for it.

12.40am Me to Rakhee [cousin]: What is on tv. Is the fire serious. Is the army inside the hotel?

12.40am From Rakhee: Dome is on fire. Blasts heard. Fire is spreading. Where are you?

12.42am Me to Anahita: Is the whole hotel on fire?

12.44am From Dad [he lives in Jakarta and learned of the crisis on television. He messaged to check on me and my mother]: Whats going on at Taj, VT? Police
officers assassinated? Where are you? Where is Mom?

12.46am Me to Dad: Don’t worry Dad, mom and me are home safe.

12.49am From Dad: God is great. Pls stay home.

12.48am Me to Dilnaz [friend and journalist]: What are they saying? Do you think the terrorists know where we are?

1.15am From Dilnaz: 2 gunmen frm oberoi escape in cop van

1.32am From Eva [Friend who lives in Frankfurt]: Bhisham, are you alright? Just read TOI [Times Of India] online and saw that you were at the Taj when it happened. Whats going on in Bombay? Am thinking of you. Take care! Eva [I later called the two journalists I had spoken to at the beginning of the attacks and had my name and location withdrawn.]

1.17am Antoine [friend and colleague]: Bhisham, r u still in the hotel?

2am Me to Anahita: They are talking about a possible evacuation soon. Are there commandos in the building. Are some of the terrorists dead.

2.22am From Anahita: Taking it off [confirming that my name and location has been removed from the online article].

2.23am Me to Siy: Siy, is it true that they are going room by room shooting. My friend Amit is on the second floor.

2.30am Rakhee: MILITARY IS IN TAJ NW DNT WRY> KOL ME WHN U R SAFELY OUT M AWAKE

3.46am From Anahita: Fire brigade dousing fire

4.10am Me to Anahita: Waiting for evacuation. People in hall.

4.12am From Anahita: Am headed to taj

4.23am Me to Siy: Evacuation aborted. Shooting in passage. Dnt know if commandos there anymore. Man shot in stomach. Mom with me. Shut lights. Waiting.

4.32am From Rakhee: Commandos and navy out there. Should be a matter of time. Dnt worry.

4.30am Me to Chiranjeeta [friend from Delhi]: This could be it

4.35am Me to Sheldon [echoing his personal motto in the face of adversity]: So what : )

4.45 am From Chiranjeeta: Cant get thru to you. Fire still on. Ppl jumping off. Are you there.

5.07am Me to Amit [he and Varsha had just escaped from the second floor window by jumping on to the firemen’s ladder. Amit later told me the lady in the room next to him had been shot just minutes before]: Amit, are you out. Is Varsha okay? Pls respond.

6.52am Me to Anahaita: There’ heavy firing outside

7.23am From Antoine: Hang in there, we’re all waiting for you

7.26am Me to Antoine: I hope I get out I hope everyone does

7.38am From Antoine: Im sure u will. The police are almost in control

8.27am From Minal [colleague]: Hey Bhisham, I can understand what you must be going thru right nw, I was shocked to knw what hapend, pls keep praying frm wherever u are, dnt lose heart, we all r praying for ur release, this too shall pass my friend, be strong nothing wil happen 2 u, minaal bijal Fiona, payal sonam, Antoine devang

8.55am From Abha [colleague]: Hi, please take care. Hope u r safe…we are very concerned. Rgds abha

9.04am From Roshni [colleague]: Bhisham, heards last night that you were at the Taj, but Nandini said not to call. Are you okay?

9.10am From Deval [friend]: Hi hope you are fine Read in paper that you were involved in some incident at Taj. Deval.

9.44am From Tanya [friend]: I know u don’t have bat….But in case this gets to u.. We all praying for ur safety…Txt if and when u can.. Stay strong bhish

10.42am Me to Rakhee: We’re out. Far too lucky to be alive. Saved four times. Taj staff and Commandos saved us

10.56am Me to Siy: Out of it Siy. Too lucky. What about the trident.

11.32am From Antoine: Have you guys eaten or drunk anything? Gun battle happening near bootleggars as well. Can’t lv the building

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