Book Review of 14 hours – An insider’s account of the 26/11 Taj attack

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An image which brings terror and rage to every Indian is the following image of the dome of Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai burning during the terrorist attacks of 26/11 in November 2008. The world watched in horror as one of the legendary landmarks of the financial capital of India was held hostage by a handful of terrorists while many brave heart army officers laid down their lives to save a hundred others! So when I read about the book ‘14 hours – An insider’s account of the 26/11 Taj attack‘ – I was curious to read the story of a survivor who took calculated risks to ensure that not just he is safe but also his hotel’s guests were safe!

14 hours – An insider’s account of the 26/11 Taj attack‘ is the eye witness story of Ankur Chawla, a young hotel trainee who was in the hotel’s bar at the time of the terrorist attack. He was one of the first persons to see a terrorist gun down a hapless guest near the entrance of his bar. He describes this horrific moment in a chilling manner thus:

“A man suddenly toppled to his side right in front of me. A big boned and well-muscled guy came running and halted beside the shivering body. He was wearing a blue cap on his head and had a grey backpack, hanging from his left shoulder. He could easily have been mistaken for a tourist had he not been holding a rifle in his right hand. He squeezed the trigger with his index finger. Bullets fired with sharp cracks into the body of the man on the floor, turning his pristine white shirt red. I could not believe I was not hallucinating.”

Ankur Chawla though an amateur writer, manages to hold your attention by recounting the incidents of that horrific night by clearly describing the layout of the hotel, the escape routes taken by them and how they put the lives of their guests before them. I was very pleased to know that Taj Hotel employees saved many lives by putting their own lives at risk. This piece of information was somehow lost in the coverage by our insensitive media. I was glad that I was able to read this account of heroics by the hotel staff which made me proud to be an Indian! Ankur writes in very simple language which makes it easier to read but a proof read was required as I found few typos in the book.

While reading the book, the part where Ankur and his friends get stuck in the linen room while rest of his colleagues are rescued from other places, your heart goes out to him as you can imagine how he must be feeling being inches away from death but still not able to move much. The rescue operations are well detailed out and you understand how much sacrifice firefighters and police and army officers did to ensure that civilians were saved. I was a trifle disappointed here though that Ankur didn’t get to see much of the action during the rescue but I was happy for him anyways that his calculated risks to hide in the linen room till he was rescued, helped his life! A good read if you want to know about an eye witness’ account of the 26/11 Taj attack but don’t expect any bollywood material story here. For that I guess you need to wait for Ram Gopal Varma’s movie on 26/11 coming soon!

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