Priya Ramakrishnan and Mahafreed Irani
It was 11pm on Friday when we arrived at Taj Mahal hotel after spending an hour at the Oberoi Trident. As we scouted for a good vantage point from where we could observe movements of the NSGs, we were awestruck at the laidback attitude of several media personnel. While a cat-and-mouse game was being played by armed militants and NSG commandos, several camera persons who has been there since Wednesday, laid down to catch a nap. Some were even snoring, but came alert at the slightest sound of firing.
We settled down between the press and camera crew on the Gateway of India pavement 10.30am where on normal days hawkers occupy the space. There we were, helplessly watching the façade of the Taj Heritage. As journalists, sometimes, we are forced to become spectators. We were clueless as to what was exactly going on inside. A spurt of gunshots interspersed with grenade blasts at regular intervals continued until we lost count of them. Just when we thought that all terrorists were rounded up, they revealed themselves through cruel rat-a-tats as though taunting the commandos.
Curtain movements made us feel that we would be targeted next. Since we were within the range of the AK-47 fire, we retreated backwards, commando style. During a heavy cross fire at 4am, several shots were fired in the direction of the media, causing panic as everyone tried to seek cover behind the OB vans. As the heavens wept, the cameramen sheltered their equipment from the sudden rain showers with umbrellas and tents.
During a lull in the shooting, we noticed furtive movements near the side entrance of the Taj. Lights were going on and off as if someone was desperately SOSing. Suddenly a few people started running fearing that a grenade would be hurled at them, others followed, then lay face down, in a desperate attempt to be safe. Everyone followed suit, including the policemen. However, only later, the cops sheepishly informed us that it was a false alarm.
As a bluish tint hinting dawn appeared in the sky, we witnessed a war-like scene outside Taj. All the journalists and camera men recording live were lying on their stomachs on the wet muddy concrete ground of the Gateway, as the eerie silence of the dawn resonated with loud explosions and gunfire. By now, it was obvious that the commandos were on the final stage of conflict, as huge plumes of smoke enveloped the Taj and damaged the ornate structure of the 105-year-old heritage building.
A body falling down from the first floor window caused unease. Later, we were informed that it was an injured terrorist. The siege ended, leaving behind wounds in relatives and friends of the dead.