Bombay: wealthy owe lives to hotel’s cummerbund heroes

From

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article5254371.ece

Bombay: wealthy owe lives to hotel’s cummerbund heroes

Staff shielded guests from gunmen’s bullets

A hotel worker is helped by a colleague after jumping from a higher floor

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A hotel worker is helped by a colleague after jumping from a higher floor

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They were heroes in cummerbunds and overalls. The staff of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel saved hundreds of wealthy guests as heavily armed gunmen roamed the building, firing indiscriminately, leaving a trail of corpses behind them.

Among the workers there were some whose bravery and sense of duty led them to sacrifice their own lives, witnesses said.

Prashant Mangeshikar, a guest, said that a hotel worker, identified only as Mr Rajan, had put himself between one of the gunmen and Mr Mangeshikar, his wife and two daughters.

“The man in front of my wife shielded us,” Mr Mangeshikar said. “He was a maintenance section staff member. He took the bullets.” For the next 12 hours, before Mr Rajan was finally taken out of the hotel, guests battled to stop the bleeding from a gaping bullet wound in his abdomen. It is not known if he lived.

The Taj Mahal had been renowned for its sublime service for decades. Few of the hotel’s wealthy patrons would have predicted, however, that the men and women who delivered their meals and carried their bags – people earning a fraction of the sums of those they served – would display such courage and composure as the death toll quickly rose around them.

As the terrible events of Wednesday night unfolded, the staff of what had been Bombay’s finest hotel leapt into action. Scores of tales later emerged of unnamed workers hiding guests, barricading doors, tending the vulnerable and issuing orders.

Dalbir Bains, a British businesswoman, was with friends beside the hotel pool when the first crackle of automatic gunfire was heard a short distance away. “We heard shots and saw a man who’d just been shot. The terrorists were just behind us as we ran,” she said.

She made her way upstairs to Sea Lounge, a café on the first floor of the hotel, where the guests were still unaware of the fast-approaching threat. “Within seconds the staff had locked the doors, turned off the lights and told everybody to get on the floor,” she said. “They were fantastic. They saved lives.” Yesterday, as the most sophisticated terror attack to be mounted in India moved into its third day, Indian special forces from the crack Marine Commando Force (Marcos) gave an account of their mission to liberate the Taj – and the scenes of horror that staff and guests had witnessed.

The soldiers said that they were led by a hotel employee as they fought a sequence of running battles with gunmen in corridors and rooms strewn with dead bodies and seriously injured guests.

They also described the ferociousness of the gunmen. “They were the kind of people with no remorse – anybody and whomsoever came in front of them they fired at,” said a senior Marcos officer, clad in black, his face masked to protect his identity.

Faced with conditions that the troops, India’s toughest soldiers, said had tested them to the limit, the staff of the Taj Mahal remained astonishingly composed, witnesses said.

With the gunmen only metres away, a waiter at the Golden Dragon, the hotel’s Chinese restaurant, barricaded the doors. The staff then led the diners to the hotel’s business centre, which became a makeshift bunker for hundreds of guests. Parizaad Khan, 26, who sheltered there, said: “They handed out blankets, drinks. Despite the chaos all around they didn’t stop working for a second. They were amazingly calm.”

Before the attacks, the Taj Mahal was possibly one of the most civilised places on earth, largely thanks to the people who worked there.

Everything about them was just so, from the impressive moustaches of the impeccably dressed porters who opened guests’ car doors, to the perfectly pressed waistcoats of the bartenders and to the silk saris of the female concierge staff.

This army of workers had been brought together from the four corners of the world – Japanese sushi specialists served daily delicacies; there was a Turkish head chef at the famed Lebanese restaurant, Souk, an establishment favoured by the wealthy Arabs who regularly pass through. For an ordinary citizen of Bombay, a city where half the population lives in slums, a trip to the Taj would leave a memory that would last a lifetime. The hotel staff prided themselves on serving maharajas and princes, heads of states, tycoons, captains of industry and modern-day corporate nomads.

The Taj’s architectural influences are Moorish, Oriental, Indian and Florentine. Public areas have vaulted alabaster ceilings, hand-woven carpets and crystal chandeliers. And the staff were just as classy as the décor.

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Mumbai terror rage ends after 60 hours, 195 dead

Mumbai terror rage ends after 60 hours, 195 dead

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Indian commando soldiers are given roses and thanked by residents of Mumbai after they retook control of the Taj Mahal Hotel after hours of gun battles militants in Mumbai Saturday, Nov. 29, 2008. Indian commandos killed the last remaining gunmen holed up at the luxury Mumbai hotel Saturday, ending a 60-hour rampage through India’s financial capital by suspected Islamic militants that killed people and rocked the nation. Associated Press © 2008

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People congratulate Indian commandos after the completion of an operation against terrorists at Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, India, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2008. Indian commandos killed the last remaining gunmen holed up at a luxury Mumbai hotel Saturday, ending a 60-hour rampage through India’s financial capital by suspected Islamic militants that killed people and rocked the nation. Associated Press © 2008

A 60-hour terror rampage across India’s financial capital ended Saturday when commandos killed the last three gunmen holed up in a luxury hotel engulfed in flames. At least 195 people died.

After the final siege ended, adoring crowds surrounded six buses near the hotel carrying weary, unshaven commandos, shaking their hands and giving them flowers. The commandos, dressed in black fatigues, said they had been ordered not to talk about the operation, but said they had not slept since the ordeal began. One sat sipping a bottle of water and holding a pink rose.

“What happened is disgusting,” said Suresh Thakkar, 59, who reopened his clothing store behind the hotel Saturday for the first time since the attacks. “It will be harder to recover, but we will recover. Bombay people have a lot of spirit and courage.” Mumbai was formerly known as Bombay.

Officials said they believe just 10 well-prepared gunmen were behind the attacks that brought the city of 18 million to its knees for three days.

“Nine were killed and one was captured,” Maharshta state Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh told reporters. “We are interrogating him.” Another official said the captured attacker is Pakistani and the gunmen were constantly in touch with a foreign country.

With the end of one of the most brazen terror attacks in India’s history, authorities were searching for any remaining victims hiding in their hotel rooms and began to shift their focus to who was behind the attacks, which killed 18 foreigners including six Americans. At least 20 Indian soldiers and police were also among the dead.

A previously unknown Muslim group with a name suggesting origins inside India claimed responsibility for the attack, but Indian officials said the sole surviving gunman was from Pakistan and pointed a finger of blame at their neighbor and rival.

Islamabad angrily denied involvement and initially promised to send its spy chief to India to assist in the investigation. But it withdrew that offer on Saturday, saying it would send a lower-ranked official instead.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari blamed the about-face on a “miscommunication” with India. However, the reversal followed sharp criticism from some opposition politicians and a cool response from the army, which controls the spy agency.

A team of FBI agents was on its way to India to help investigate, and President George W. Bush pledged full U.S. support.

“As the people of the world’s largest democracy recover from these attacks, they can count on the people of world’s oldest democracy to stand by their side,” Bush said at the White House.

About 300 people were wounded in the violence that started when heavily armed assailants attacked 10 sites across the city Wednesday night.

Read the rest of the story at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97602358&ft=1&f=1004

Interview with Reva Bhalla regarding the Mumbai violence

Reva Bhalla is the director of Geopolitical Analysis, at Stratfor, a private geopolitical intelligence company in Austin, Texas. She has offered her analysis on the current situation in Mumbai through major media entities like NPR and CNN.

The DFW Desi interviewed Bhalla today on her views about the unfolding situation in Mumbai.

DD: How are the current attacks different than the previous bomb blasts?

RB: The biggest difference in these attacks are they are planned at a strategic level – strategic as far as the location of targets, as well as the people impacted.

The choice of the Taj and the Oberoi hotels, where most of the foriegn dignitaries congregate, as well as the Chabad House to cover the Israeli angle are noteworthy. This has immidiately given international exposure to the incident – with pressure on both India and Pakistan to show leadership at this time of crisis.

The second difference is the level of planning behind these attacks – this shows that these attacks have been planned quite a bit in advance, leading to speculation about who is really behind these attacks.

DD: So who is behind these attacks?

RB: Given the pre-operational surveillance, planning and coordination of this unprecedented attack, it appears that the domestic elements involved in the operation received outside support, most likely from al Qaeda in Pakistan, which already has close ties to many of the groups operating in India, particularly Lashkar-e-Taiba. That one of the militant name game attacks targeted the Jewish Chabad House (an atypical target for the more indigenous Islamist militants operating in India) indicates more of a transnational jihadist linkage. Groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harkat ul Jihad al Islami and the Student Islamic Movement of India are all Islamist militant groups that have collaborated with each other under the Kashmir banner and appear to have now coalesced under the name Indian Mujahideen. The group Deccan Mujahideen, which claimed the Mumbai attacks, is likely an affiliate of the group. In the bigger picture, however, the militant name game is unimportant, since it is meant primarily to confuse India’s security forces. What is important is the link that can be drawn back to the Pakistani ISI.

The Mumbai attacks covered a large number of Western-focused targets over an extended period of time. While the attacks did not require the skills of a bomb maker, they did require scores of young men who were dedicated enough to essentially launch a suicide operation. Such an attack requires a high level of planning, training and coordination that has not been seen by the more homegrown Islamist militant groups operating in India over the past several years.

It is quite possible that these Islamist militant groups received substantial support from intelligence elements in Pakistan in carrying out the attack. Since 9/11, the Pakistani government and military’s command and control over the ISI has become more nebulous, as many of the handlers who worked directly with the militant groups have struggled to maintain a balance between obeying orders from above to crack down on their militant proxies and assisting in operations against India and the United States. In any case, it is up to the Indian government to decide how far it will take the Pakistani link in its response to the attacks.

There is also a high probability that the Mumbai underworld was involved in this attack. Mumbai has a very active organized crime scene that has a great deal of influence over the city’s ports as well as the country’s movie-making industry. The triangular marine area between the coastal regions of India, Pakistan and Dubai is concentrated with organized crime elements that are heavily involved in smuggling operations. Many of these criminals are Muslim and harbor pro-Islamist and anti-India sentiment. To transport the number of militants and ammunition used in this attack, particularly by boat, could very well have required some level of cooperation from Mumbai’s organized crime scene. In fact, there is historical precedent for this: Mumbai organized crime had links to both the 1993 and 2001 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

DD: So what happens now?

RB: As Stratfor has emphasized, the Indian government will not be able to downplay its response to an attack of this magnitude, raising the potential for India to spin up the Pakistani linkages in the attack to create a crisis along the Indo-Pakistani border. Stratfor has learned that discussions are already taking place among senior Congress officials in New Delhi to amass troops along the border in Kashmir, a situation reminiscent of the Indian response to the 2001 parliamentary bombing in Mumbai that led to a near-nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan.

From the Pakistani side, arrangements are being made for the ISI chief to come to India to offer assistance. It is yet to be seen how this olive branch is accepted by the Indians.

Hindi notices in the polling station

I voted at the polling station in Las Colinas (Dallas), TX today – why wait till the last minute? because I went three times to the early voting location, but everytime the lines were 30-40 min long. However at 8 am today, I had to wait 10 minutes for my turn, and voted uneventfully.

However, the interesting thing was on the door of the location, there were signs in Chinese and Hindi (along with English and Spanish) giving directions like “Enter” etc.

How many Indians do you think came to vote and could not read English? and of those that couldn’t, how many could read Hindi?

:0

In Dallas this week…(Oct 13-18)

Ahh…no travel this week! Its great to sleep in your own bed…

What’s going on in Dallas this week? New Bollywood movie Karz releases in both the major desi theaters here, Karva Chauth is being celebrated by lots of women across town, and NetIP has a mixer tonight…

Diwali is coming up, and there is a huge Diwali Mela at the Texas Stadium…but nothing like the bustle of Delhi markets, the card parties and festivities around Diwali in India…

Where am I this week? (Oct 6 – 7, 2008)

In lovely Ohio, of course!

Flew into Columbus and had dinner with some friends – Arpana and Manav. Arpana recently married Manav and moved to OH from New Delhi, and is working at Citigroup. Manav sold the company he co-founded to EDS/HP and is running the operations at that company.

Interesting discussion of what its like to be a young couple in America’s heartland, with not too many desi people around…especially at the height of the desi holiday season. I’m sure much has been written about this…maybe a good topic for the e-zine one of these days.

If you’d like to share your experiences, feel free to blog here…

Currently in Dayton, OH, where had dinner with a Canadian Indian – get a very different perspective on desi life in small Canadian cities….

Dr. 420 – Sona Patel, MD

A compilation of articles and blogs about Dr. 420:

1. ABC News 7 report:

Availability of medical marijuana questioned

California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996. It was meant for patients with serious illnesses, such as AIDS, cancer or glaucoma. However, there are new questions whether medical marijuana is too easily available, especially for people who aren’t even sick.

To get medical marijuana, you need a doctor’s note stating that you have a serious condition. One young doctor from Hollywood is making a very good living at it with patients up and down the coast.

Chances are you’ve never met a doctor like Sona Patel. She’s the cover girl for medical marijuana. We first interviewed her at a medical marijuana convention in Los Angeles.

http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/iteam&id=5738428

2. Reporter Dan Noyes blog:

Tonight’s I-Team investigation questions whether Dr. Sona Patel follows state law when she prescribes medical marijuana. Our producer was able to get a medical marijuana recommendation from Dr. Patel, without showing any documentation of a serious medical condition. This is a publicity shot Dr. Patel uses in advertisements for her medical marijuana centers in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Doc420

Dr. Patel tells us she has about 700 medical marijuana patients now, and about 3,000 patients in her family medicine practice based in Los Angeles. She received her medical training at Ross University School of Medicine in the Caribbean.

http://iteamblog.abc7news.com/2007/11/doc-420-the-med.html

3. Dr. Patel’s website: http://www.doc420.com/