On the 15th anniversary of the Mumbai terror attack, Karambir Kang, who was the General Manager of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai when the 26/11 terror attacks occurred, shared the painful memories of the attack when he lost his family – his wife and two young sons. Discussing the same with Humans of Bombay, Mr Kang said that he lived with his family on the sixth floor of the hotel.
“The day was just like any other-I went for my team briefings & then left for an event at 7:30 PM. By 9:15 PM, I got a call that said, ‘We can hear some gunshots at the hotel.’ My 1st thought was-it might be another gang warfare. But in the next 5 minutes, I got 10 different calls saying the same- ‘Something is happening in the hotel!’ I rushed back. The moment I stepped out of the car all I could see was chaos. TV reporters were looming over the site. As I stepped into the hotel, I saw my worst fear coming true. People were howling & there were grenade residues on the floor. Taj didn’t feel like the Taj anymore. A staff member informed me, ‘The terrorists are moving around the hotel. They’re killing people & taking them as hostages.’ I called for a staff meeting. The only security we had were 2-3 police officers & hotel security personnels. The 1st question that I asked was – ‘How many terrorists are there?’ Some said 4, some said 6, & the others said 10. No 1 knew! There were almost 2000 guests. Some were stuck in the restaurant, some in the conference room, & some in the hotel rooms,” he said.
Mr Kang stated they called every room and asked the guests to switch off the lights so that the rooms looked unoccupied and also helped guests on the ground floor to escape through the back entrances or the lobby.
“At that time, I called my wife, Neeti & said, ‘Don’t come out of the room. Keep Samar & Uday close to you. Hide somewhere safe.’ And she just said, ‘Karam, don’t worry. We’ll be okay.’ It was a long & lengthy night. In a city where the beat of the traffic is the loudest, the sound of gunshots had taken over. Every other minute there was a gunshot. I was just going with my instincts. Little did I know, it was only going to get worse… At 3 AM, I called Neeti again & said, ‘As soon as I get the chance I’ll come & take you all. Just hang on till…’ Even before I could complete my statement, I heard gunshots on the call,” he added.
The former manager continued, “The call got cut. Someone said, ‘Sir they’ve lit the 6th floor on fire.’ I went numb – my family was there! I rushed, the floor was covered in smoke, my room was on fire. I tried entering it, but I was physically held back. This wasn’t supposed to happen. My sons were only 12 & 5! I couldn’t breathe.”
He added that he centred himself and got back to his job. After three days, when all the terrorists were killed, the city felt safe again. However, for him, the nightmare had just begun. “All the emotions I’d locked away came back. Taj was the place where I met Neeti when I was 23, & Taj became the place where I lost her when I was 40. Neeti & the kids’ bodies were taken out. I chose not to see it, I couldn’t,” he said.
After taking a break, Mr Kang went back to the hotel while it was being built. He said that “seeing it built brick by brick helped me heal piece by piece.” However, he never had the courage to enter his room on the sixth floor.
“I walked past it many times but never entered it- How could I, right? And after 1.5 years when the Taj was rebuilt completely, I knew my job was done there,” he added. Mr Kang took a transfer and moved to Pune. “26/11 is etched in my memory and by choosing to move on, I’m defeating it, everyday,” he added.
Currently, he is settled in the United States. He also spoke at the first UN Global Congress of Victims of Terrorism last year. “My wife and two young sons could not escape and perished during the attack, I lost everything. My staff members armed only with courage and the deep-rooted culture of the family, which the TATA and Taj group stands for, stood strong without any weapons, we lost many brave colleagues and this heroic act saved thousands of lives that night,” he added.
Mr Kang went on to say that while the terrorists who entered the hotel met their fate, the people who planned it financed it and organised the attack remained free. He said, “Today I call upon the international community to work together to seek justice nationally and across borders, as our own act of defiance to the terrorism, we opened the hotel which was totally destroyed in 21 days.”