‘I don’t think they’ve made it’. Karambir’s voice cracked as he spoke to his mother as he walked down the sea front opposite the Taj Mumbai. ‘I can’t save them’.
It was 4 am on 27th Nov, 2008.
‘Then go and save the others’ she gently replied. ‘You are a brave boy’. She was gutted. But now was not the time to show it.
Karambir Kang, the son of a Sikh army general who fought in the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971, was the General Manager of the Taj Mumbai. When the terrorists came in from the sea on the 26th evening and took over the Taj, Karambir was rushing back from Taj Land’s End in the other end of the city.
His wife Neeti and their 2 boys, Uday, who was 12 and Samar at 5 years were in their plush sea-facing apartment suite on the 6th floor of the Taj Palace. When he reached the hotel at 10.30 pm, the terrorists had already massacred the lobby and had moved upstairs, killing with impunity. His family, along with 1500 guests and 500 staff were trapped.
As the AK-47’s rattled above, he got on with the evacuation. Helping clear the dead bodies on trolleys and shouting instructions to his staff. All the while, hoping for the rescue with his eyes on the 6th floor.
But when he saw the 6th floor blazing in fire at 2 am, he knew he lost them.
Ratan Tata begged him to take time off to grieve. ‘I won’t run away. My team counts on me. The terrorists mustn’t win’ he said.
The Siege at Taj took over 48 hours. Killed 156 and injured 300. But Karambir and his brave staff of Taj stood till the very end.
His mother had named him Karambir: ‘A person who does brave deeds’ hoping he would be a great army man one day.
On those 2 days, Karambir became way more than that.
It’s been a while that I read ‘THE SIEGE: THE ATTACK ON THE TAJ’ by ace investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark. I read it again in the last 2 days. I felt the same kind of intense anguish and anger on the happenings of 26-11 Mumbai. There were many heroes who gave up their lives to defeat the terrorists: Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Gajendra Singh and many members of the valiant Taj staff. Karambir’s story is deeply moving for many reasons.
The story of Mumbai attacks is not just the story of the ones’s who used the guns to kill, but also the ones like Karambir who did their duty in times of extreme personal trauma.
But the book itself is a terrific blow by blow, deeply researched account on the Mumbai attacks with special focus on the Siege at Taj.