We were at the airport heading to Phoenix for Thanksgiving when my mother called to see if we knew what was going on in Bombay. She said the Taj Hotel had been attacked, and was burning.
For an instant, I felt like I was back in my room at the Taj -- a hotel I had lived in for months while working with MTV to relaunch the channel in India. The Taj represents to me, and many around the world, the charm of a bustling city that captures old and new worlds. I thought about the open lobby, the nightclub, hanging out in the coffee shop. Walks along India Gate...
Undoubtedly, the terrorists who planned these attacks knew exactly the effect of targeting the Taj, the Oberoi Hotel, Cafe Leopold and other spots in the city. These are the places that business people hang out in, that the expats frequent, that high society socializes in. These are the places that are not touched by the religious tensions, the poverty, the harsh realities of a city - a country, region and world -- that has extremes of every kind.
Within an hour, while still at the airport waiting for our flight, we had connected with our friends living in Bombay, as well as those who were visiting India on business. One was stuck in the Marriot Hotel, intermittently texting my brother for information about what was going on outside his room and reassuring him he was still around. I obsessively texted my brother from the airport for updates.
But the horror is that it never ended. I read on CNN about my friend, Manuela Testolini, being at the Oberoi when the gunshots started. I emailed her and heard back within 1/2 hour that she is ok. Her passport is in her room at the burning Taj and now she has to figure out how to come home.
In her email she writes about what happened -- "then suddenly a gunman was coming into the restaurant. we left everything and ran thru the kitchen. 2 busboys tried to stop him and they were shot. but thankfully the gunman did not come in to the kitchen. we all ran because were heard more gunshots and ended up in the ballroom of the hotel where we stayed for 2 hours listening to gunshots and bombs in the darkness. "
This is the new world. We are so intimately and instantly connected. I breathe a sigh of relief knowing my friends are ok.
And, yet, how hopelessly disconnected we are at the same time. As I reflect on my nostalgic days at the Taj Hotel, this is what stays with me...
A chasm -- a disconnection between people and cultures -- that has always existed is expressing itself more and more in todays world.
The Taj is burning. The Taj -- and all it represents -- is burning...
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