A Taj Story – Manish and Ipsuta Mody
Manish Mody: It was our anniversary dinner at the Golden Dragon and we had reservations for the 3 of us for 8:15, that night. Me, my wife, Ipsuta and our daughter, Trisha.
We were a little late so they seated us at the Apollo Bar till they could give us a table. Ipsuta and I were enjoying our drinks, but Trisha was hungry so she returned to the restaurant. After resolving a billing problem, we caught up with her 15 minutes later.
We were just skimming through the starters menu when we heard a loud BANG!
Ipsuta Mody: When I think about this horrific noise – how it was just the start – and I look back in retrospect I shudder at the thought; had we been even 5 minutes late, we would have been separated from our daughter.
Manish Mody: The second time we heard the BANG and saw people look around perplexed and curious – is when the staff came up to our tables and told us to go under. While we were down a neighboring foreigner gentleman told us it was an AK47 that was firing off in the background.
I don’t know how he knew, I didn’t know what an AK47 looked like or sounded like, but the conviction with which he said it, made me feel like he knew.
By this time, the staff declared that it wasn’t safe for us to be here, so silently we crawled towards the kitchen. The back entrance of the kitchen took us up a floor to the Zodiac Grill. We were there for less than 2 minutes before we were taken through another flight of stairs to the Chambers.
Once we were all inside, the staff barricaded the doors, dimmed the lights and switched on the TV.
I remember, it was the illuminating glow reflecting from the screen that literally shed light on what was really happening. We saw news reporters, camera men, police vans all gathered outside the Taj, and honestly, even with the AK47 firings, the scary silence, the crawling – up until then – we had no idea…that we were in fact in the midst of a terrorist attack.
Isputa Mody: The whole thing felt surreal. This is not something you expect or ever prepare for. You see it in movies and TV shows where hotels and cafes get bombed, but for it to happen in reality – especially to you – is a bit far-fetched. We were calm, still, but that was only because we hadn’t really understood the gravity of the situation.
Then at 9:30, my dad called. He was all geared up to watch a movie at INOX, but my brother-in-law in the US, who was watching the news, informed him about the attacks in Mumbai.
When my phone reflected his name, I had half a mind to just lie, to tell him I was somewhere else. I didn’t want him to worry, but when he spoke, there was something about his voice that made me tell him the truth. It was a mixture of fear and love wrapped in deep concern.
When I told him where I really was, he told me he’d call me back. I don’t know what transpired in those few moments before my phone vibrated again, but this time his voice, though shaky was clear, to say “Ipsu, please listen to me very carefully, neither you, Manish or Trisha, try to escape okay? Don’t leave Taj till someone comes to rescue you.” He was being brave for all 3 of us.
Manish Mody: By 12:30 am the staff were doing everything in their capacity to make us feel comfortable. They served us sandwiches; arranged for pillows or blankets for those who wanted to sleep. It was truly heartening, considering they were at the exact level of risk as we were, and yet as hosts they kept on saying “don’t worry Sir, it’s all happening in the Old Wing, we are going to make it out just fine”, just to allow us those few moments of reassurance.
People around chatted, laughed, some prayed, but generally the atmosphere was optimistic. Majority of why we were so calm was because the staff stood like a layer of assurance between us and the grim reality outside.
Then at 3:30 in the morning, a group of 8 people left and news had it, they made it out alive. Taking it as an opportunity, we decided to escape too.
We were roughly 80 people and the plan was to walk in a single file along the corridor outside the Chambers. I asked Ipsu to stand behind me on one side and Trisha on the other, while I stood in front in the middle of them holding both their hands.
There was a line of 10 people ahead of us. It’s when they walked ahead that the firing started and inevitably the ensuing chaos.
Panic stricken, people ran in all directions and somewhere in the mayhem I realized I was no longer holding Ipsu’s hand. Instinctively I hid behind a pillar with Trisha behind me and in the middle of the commotion I spotted Ipsu in the crowd. In that moment, I was so happy that it was me who spotted her before anyone else did; had it been one of those terrorists, chances were, I’d lose her hand forever.
Ipsuta Mody: I hid behind another pillar just for a bit. The minute I got a chance to run to my family, I took it. By then, I could veritably say, not only had I grasped the severity of the situation, but when I lost my husband’s hand, the feeling that gripped me was beyond hopeless.
Manish Mody: When we got back to the Chambers, they shut the lights and locked the doors. Now that we were aware that death was lurking just outside, everything changed. For one, the staff was no longer with us and two, with all the abuses and grenades we could hear in the background, the atmosphere was no longer cheerful; it was engulfed by an air of despair.
We found a large table with a marble top and hid under it. God forbid, if we got shot at, the marble would protect us. Seeing us sit as a tight unit, more people wanted to come near us. There were 2 Indonesian girls – not much older than my own daughter – who came and hid on top of our legs. I cannot begin to tell you discomfort it caused us, but neither me nor my family had the heart to tell them to move away. They were so far away from home, and like us, I guess they just wanted a safe place.
Isputa Mody: The bathroom was just 5 steps across a small passage from the entrance. Many of us made it to the entrance, but not one of us had the courage to walk across those 5 steps. Men used abandoned wine bottles or glasses to do their business; women squatted behind sofas at the far end.
In some instances, humanity was prevalent, people helped strangers, extending a hand of comfort; in some cases, people were cold, hostile even.
Manish Mody: I’d be lying if I said the thought of me being the next target didn’t cross my mind, but in such a scenario it’s more mentally comforting to think logically how you can survive rather than think about how you are going to die. As victims, we tried to make ourselves as small and insignificant a target as possible.
The attackers would eventually get caught – there was no other way out for them, and till that happened we just had to wait patiently in hiding till they were exhausted.
We maintained that state of mind till 7:30, when a Black Cat Commando rescued us. He led us out the corridor, and that was the first time we actually witnessed someone’s death. It was one of the men who had attempted to escape at 3:30. He was lying sideways on a sofa, completely white, bled out from a bullet he had previously taken.
We saw broken glass shards and bullets on the floor, but we also saw commandos standing at every entrance – every turning, guarding the way.
With each stage of destruction we passed, not one of us stopped to look even once. It was a continuous march till we reached the lobby, then the main entrance, till we got into a police van, reached the station, gave our names and finally left for home.
We took a cab and reached back by 10:00 in the morning. My mother was home, waiting to see us.
Ipsuta Mody: For the next few days I couldn’t watch the news or touch a newspaper. The entire time I was inside, I felt like I had God’s hand on my shoulder. I was thankful for so many things; being reunited with Trisha, the Taj staff watching over us, the terrorists not entering the Chambers, my friends praying for me; my dad calling continuously, even when he knew my battery was low, even when he knew I couldn’t answer. They didn’t lose hope for us. We were so fortunate to make it out; I couldn’t bear the idea of those who weren’t.
It took a while before I settled back into routine; people came to visit, I spoke to all my relatives and friends, time passed and inevitably we moved on.
It’s been 10 years, but not all memories fade that easily. Even now, when I go for movies and I see gunfire or bombing, invariably I’m transported back to that place, that marble topped corner in the Chambers, where we were once trapped.
Manish Mody: For me, this whole incident exposed me to the fragility of life. Up until then, I felt like we lived in an illusion where life goes on unscathed. I’m not sad the illusion is shattered, but if there is anything I learned, it’s that existence shouldn’t ever be taken for granted. Anything can happen anytime and as human beings, we must always be prepared.
Back at home, I couldn’t sleep for many nights and even though I devoured the papers for information and was relieved to find that all 10 of the attackers were either killed or captured, I still found myself looking over my shoulder for days afterwards.
But the day I returned home, my best friend visited me. When he hugged me I began to cry. That was my first actual step towards letting go.
A month later, when Taj reopened, we went back to the Golden Dragon as a means of replacing the bad memory with a good one. I, also wanted to visit and thank the staff members who had taken care of us, last time.
In the end, when you go through something like this as a family, it binds you in a way that you come out stronger. You are so bonded that you can share almost anything, without having to really share it. It’s been 10 years, since that fateful day. My daughter was in her final year of Junior College when it happened; she’s married now and lives in Singapore. When she comes to visit, I can see it, we can sense it. We never really talk about it…we don’t have to.
We just know.