Tag Archive for 'Taj Hotel'

Q&A with Salman Rushdie

In New York Times, Shivani Vora catches up with Salman Rushdie on Chetan Bhagat, Twitter and his favourite hang-out places in Mumbai/Bombay

The author, who was a guest at the Pierre’s recent Diwali party, agreed to answer a few questions before the event about his connection to Mumbai, his time on Twitter and the state of Indian fiction today.

Q. You’ve agreed to read an excerpt of a new book about the history of the Taj hotel in Mumbai. What connection do you have to the hotel?
A. I’m a Bombay boy, so my connection to the Taj is life long. I went there as a boy with my parents, and as an adult I’ve taken my own family to stay there a number of times, and in general have always made a beeline for it when in Bombay.
Q. Have you visited Mumbai since the 2008 terror attacks? In your view, how has life in the city changed since?
A. Yes, I have. There’s much more security, around places like the Taj and other hotels, of course, and yet there isn’t much of a feeling that the city’s defenses have been improved.
Q. What’s your favorite pastime or place in Mumbai?
A. The secret of Bombay (excuse me for not saying “Mumbai”) is its people, so the best thing to do there is hang out with friends. As to favorite places, I used to meet the late, great poet Arun Kolatkar at the Wayside Inn in Kala Ghoda, a marvelous spot.
And I have a nostalgic soft spot for the Old Woman’s Shoe in the Kamala Nehru Park on Malabar Hill: my childhood playground. more

Mumbai: The plot unfolds, Lashkar strikes and investigators scramble

"After killing 10 people at the historic Leopold Cafe, a second assault team joined the two gunmen at the Taj. "

This is the second part of ProPublica‘s investigation into the plot behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Read the first part. By Sebastian Rotella:

David Coleman Headley seemed like a gregarious, high-rolling American businessman when he set up shop in Mumbai in September 2006.

He opened the office of an immigration consulting firm. He partied at swank locales such as the ornate Taj Mahal Hotel, a 1903 landmark favored by Westerners and the Indian elite. He joined an upscale gym, where he befriended a Bollywood actor. He roamed the booming, squalid city taking photos and shooting video.

But it was all a front. The tall, fast-talking Pakistani American with the slicked-back hair was a fierce extremist, a former drug dealer, a onetime Drug Enforcement Administration informant who became a double agent. He had spent three years refining his clandestine skills in the terrorist training camps of the Lashkar-i-Taiba militant group. As Headley confessed in a guilty plea in U.S. federal court this year, he was in Mumbai to begin undercover reconnaissance for a sophisticated attack that would take two years to plan.

In 2006, U.S. counterterrorism agencies still viewed Lashkar primarily as a threat to India. But Headley’s mentor, Sajid Mir, had widened his sights to Western targets years earlier. Mir, a mysterious Lashkar chief with close ties to Pakistani security forces, had deployed operatives who had completed missions and attempted plots in Virginia, Europe and Australia before being captured, according to investigators and court documents.

Now Mir’s experience in international operations and his skills as a handler of Western recruits were about to pay off. Lashkar had chosen him as project manager of its most ambitious, highly choreographed strike to date. More:

FBI was warned years in advance of Mumbai attacker’s terror ties

Newly discovered warnings about Headley reveal a troubling timeline in Mumbai case

26/11 response a “failure of imagination”

Mumbai’s Joint Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria speaks to the Wall Street Journal:

WSJ: It has been a year since November 26, 2008. What has changed in the past year?

Mr. Maria: What happened last year was a failure of imagination. Nobody had anticipated that something of this kind would take place. What we were anticipating were bomb blasts occurring in the city. Most of the time we used to begin the investigation after the bomb blasts were over.

This was probably the first time that you had simultaneous, random and indiscriminate firing at different locations in the city, you had bomb blasts in the city, there was a hostage situation and you had encounters with the terrorists. The force didn’t anticipate such an attack.

However, now we are prepared for different types of security scenarios and we are prepared for the worst. We have our own quick response teams; equipment-wise, we have got the best equipment available anywhere in the world. There are also various programs to get the citizens involved in security schemes and private security has also been included. To augment intelligence gathering, we have done a lot of recruitment of intelligence officers. So these are some of the measure that we have adopted post 26/11. More:


Unshakable faith

mumbai_terror

The Mumbai terrorist attacks killed two pilgrims from Virginia, but not their companions’ belief that everything, and everyone, is connected. April Witt in the Washington Post:

Naomi bent over the exotic, blood-red flower blossoms that flourished in the ashram garden and breathed in. It was a delicious moment of perfect peace: Naomi Scherr, just 13 years old, her shoulder-length strawberry-hued hair damp from the Indian heat, her face full of wonder at the beauty of a world she was just discovering. It was the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008.

Lingering in a sacred garden on the outskirts of the busy Indian port city of Mumbai was just one more blissful interlude on the 10th day of what had been a joyous spiritual journey for Naomi, her father, Alan Scherr, 58, and 23 fellow pilgrims with an international meditation group based in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Inside the ashram, young monks chanted hauntingly beautiful prayers in Sanskrit for the spiritual tour group from the Synchronicity Foundation. “It was heaven,” recalled Helen Connolly, a yoga teacher from Toronto who was Naomi’s roommate on the trip. Afterward, as their giant tour bus threaded past the tiny motorcycle taxis called tuk-tuks that clog Mumbai’s streets, Helen had the dreamy sense of being inside an orca as it swam through schools of minnows.

Later that evening, in a rented hall in downtown Mumbai, the pilgrims sat meditating with the America guru who had led them to India: Master Charles Cannon. Indian locals wandered in to join them and greet the visiting guru, a trim, quietly charismatic 63-year-old mystic with a down-to-earth manner. Master Charles teaches a holistic view of the universe in which everyone and everything — sunlight and shadow — are one unified consciousness; and in which the events of this world, whatever they may be, are somehow meant to be. As Master Charles brought this night’s session to a close, pilgrims and locals spilled onto the dark streets, still relishing the blissed-out, almost opiated state that some longtime meditation practitioners achieve. Master Charles, however, sensed shadow. As the guru and his followers made their own way back to their five-star hotel, the Oberoi, Master Charles had the incongruous sense that something was about to happen. Be alert, he thought: Ah, it’s very close.

Four days earlier, on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 22, a small boat launched from the Pakistani coastal city of Karachi. Its passengers were 10 young men who had spent months training for this moment. Each carried a large rucksack stocked with Kalashnikov ammunition, two 9mm pistols, hand grenades, an Improvised Explosive Device and a cellphone. The young men, terrorists recruited from across Pakistan, journeyed into the Arabian Sea. They were headed more than 500 nautical miles south — to Mumbai. More:

‘We were told there could be 1 or 5 or 10 or 15 or 20 terrorists in Taj’

JK Dutt, the National Security Guards chief in charge of the operation to tackle the 26/11 terrorist strike on Mumbai, reveals the unknown truth of the operation to Harinder Baweja. In Tehelka:

taj_mumbai1Did you have an idea about the kind of arms and ammunitions the terrorists had?
We did get some feedback on this once we reached Mumbai. In fact, we could also tell from the scenes on TV that they had automatic weapons.

Did you know their numbers? Did the Mumbai Police tell you how many terrorists had entered each location?
No. I didn’t know the precise numbers. In fact, at that time, what was being said over the TV was that these terrorists have come via the sea route. The second pointer was that such terrorist activity is not possible without local support. The third was the fear that the terrorists might have checked into the hotels as guests and might have stocked up on ammunition and explosives. So there were a lot of theories floating around and no real way to verify them. Even the state authorities didn’t have much data. As for the number of terrorists, they told us that they had spread out to different locations, but that there could be one or five or 10 or 15 or even 20 terrorists at the Taj.

This is what you got from the Mumbai police?
Yes, the Mumbai police. The same thing was mentioned about the Oberoi. That the number could be between 4 and 6. In Nariman House, too, they said there could be up to six terrorists.

This was on November 27, one day after the attacks?
Yes, this was on the 27th, the day we landed. More:

Steel amid adversity: Tata after Mumbai

Joe Leahy reports from Mumbai in Financial Times:

ratan_tata

Ratan Tata was at home in south Mumbai late on November 26 when the call came. On the line was a frantic R.K. Krishna Kumar, head of the Tata group unit that owns the city’s luxury Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel.

The unthinkable had happened, Mr Kumar told the Tata chairman. Terrorists had taken over the Taj, the 105-year-old wedding cake-like structure on Mumbai’s waterfront that was built by Mr Tata’s great-grandfather and is the pride of India’s largest private sector group. Scores had been killed. The building was on fire.

Unable to leave his apartment that evening because of the chaos on the streets, Mr Tata made it to the group’s stately south Mumbai headquarters, Bombay House, the following day. As the country’s politicians engaged in a blame game, Mr Tata was one of the few public figures who seemed to strike the right tone on the attacks. He bluntly criticised the state’s lack of preparedness while expressing grief for those killed.

“This is a very, very unfortunate situation which none of us are going to forget. My message really is that the government and state authorities should also not forget,” he told journalists on the steps of Bombay House.

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