By Saturday morning, the end of Mumbai's nightmare was practically at hand. The day before, two of the three hostage sites in the city had been secured: the Oberoi Hotel and Nariman House, the site of the Jewish hospitality center, were finally wrested from terrorist hands. The siege of the Taj dragged on into the night, however, despite assurances earlier on Friday from authorities with the National Security Guard, an elite Army unit, that the agony of the ornate and historic hotel was nearing an end. As most of the city slept, the Taj suffered at least six more massive blasts into the early hours of Saturday. But by day, unconfirmed reports had the last terrorist gunman run to ground. Now, as the city slowly comes back to life, its residents are grappling with the attacks' emotional and financial impact.
Mumbai has always been proud of its resilience, but there is a profound sense that the city will not recover as quickly as it did after the blasts of 2003 or the train attacks of 2006. Ashish Contractor, a doctor who lives in Colaba, near Nariman House, explained that this week's attacks brought terror into the lives of Mumbai's most privileged, those who always thought of South Mumbai as an oasis from the rest of the city. "This is a totally different segment which always thought of itself as immune," he says. "Everybody in South Mumbai knows somebody who was at the Taj... The false calm is shattered." (See here for pictures of terror in Mumbai.)
That sense of unease is making it difficult for lifelong Mumbaikars to return to the lives they knew before the attacks. Sheetal Mafatlal, owner of the retailer Mafatlal Luxury and member of a prominent local business family, went to her office in Nariman Point today mainly to shore up the morale of her employees. "It shows a lot of courage that they decided to show up," she says. "We must get back to work." But she is unsure what the future will hold. "There's an economic meltdown on top of this. It's going to take a while to recover." She has shelved plans for a boutique in South Mumbai. "That's a very far away possibility."
Friday, however, had shown the government finally taking control, quelling much of the chaos that broke out on Wednesday night. Commandoes from the National Security Force,, began their assault on the Oberoi at about 11:30 a.m. local time. Within half an hour, the first batch of released hostages were coming out. By 2:30 p.m., the battle for the hotel was over, and the leader of the NSG team said that two terrorists had been killed in the fighting. In all, 148 people both hostages and those who had been trapped in their rooms were brought out safely. The bodies of 24 hotel guests were also recovered.
Their release gave the rest of the world a glance at what the siege looked like from the inside: hotel guests survived on drinks and snacks from the mini bar, with no official information reaching them. Among the first batch of released hostages was Kareem Sharif, an American-Canadian citizen, looking shaken but relieved. He said he'd been in the spa when the terrorists came in at 10:30 on Wednesday night and unleashed mayhem. He says they fired indiscriminately, and people took shelter wherever they could. David Jacobs, an Australian, said it wasn't the lack of food and water that worried him most; it was the fire raging right outside his hotel room as the commandos moved closer.
The 12-hour siege of Nariman House began dramatically, as an Indian Air Force helicopter dropped commandos on the roof of two adjacent buildings at about 7:30 a.m. local time. They came in three sorties of 10, 15 and then five men, the last group also bringing a lot of equipment. By 9:30 a.m., the gun battle between the terrorists and the commandoes had begun, and would continue sporadically throughout the day. It was a bizarre scene: in the thickly populated neighborhood, with the gunfire raging in a cluster of buildings, people went about their lives just beyond the police cordons. The vegetable sellers in the nearby open market set up shop today, although most other businesses remained closed. The Nariman House siege ended in the evening only after the commandoes blasted each floor of the five-story building to make certain they were cleared of terrorists. When the operation was finally declared over, people shouted patriotic slogans in the streets.
With reporting by Madhur Singh/Mumbai