Anjali and Michael Pollack know Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel really well. The New York-based couple was married at the Taj in January 2004. Anjali's parents, who live in Mumbai, were also married at the same hotel.
During their trip to Mumbai last week, the Pollacks decided to have a night out, leaving their two young kids with Anjali's parents.
On Wednesday, November 26, they went to the Taj for dinner at the Golden Dragon restaurant with their Mumbaikar friends Shiv and Reshma Puri. All of them became hostages as gun battles waged between the terrorists and the commandos.
Now back in New York, the Pollacks — Anjali, 33, and Michael, 32 — still visibly shaken up, sat with Aseem Chhabra in their Upper West Side apartment. They said they were speaking to rediff.com simply to honour the real heroes who saved them: The Taj staff and the young commandos.
Anjali: I think our reservation was for 10 pm and I wanted to buy a book at Nalanda (the bookshop at the Taj. So Reshma and I walked across to go the Nalanda. We walked back and ran into Mike and Shiv at the Harbour Bar. They said the table is not ready so let's go and have a drink. While we are drinking, the host from Golden Dragon walks in and says 'Hey guys, I can move your drinks. Your table is ready.' We said no we'll finish our drinks. The guy literally moved away when we started hearing shots outside.
Had you ever heard gunshots before?
Michael: Yes, when you go hunting. The first one we thought was a tray crashing. But when you hear 20 others, you know something is wrong.
Aseem: And where was the sound coming from?
Anjali: Right outside the corridor, between the rest rooms and the restaurant. Pop, pop, pop, in quick succession. At that time people in the Harbour Bar were trying to find out what’s going on.
Michael: People were still in a bit of a shock. Shiv and I took a chair and tried to break the window, but the window wouldn't break.
Anjali: By this time everyone else in the bar was crouched on the floor.
Michael: If the stairwell connecting the Harbour Bar to the Japanese restaurant Wasabi hadn't been there, we would have been killed.
Anjali: The hostess maintained her position and said she had seen a dead body in the corridor and ushered us up the stairwell. Shiv had a presence of mind, because he knows the back area of the hotel pretty well. He ran through Wasabi into the kitchen.
Aseem: It sounds remarkable that the hostess after seeing the dead body was still being a perfect hotel employee, escorting you up the staircase.
Michael: If you step back and think why we are talking to you, it's really to thank the staff. The most important thing is that these guys felt so duty bound to us, to serve us. We feel duty bound to honour them. And just as 9/11 had its heroes, we want to in our small way to deify these people.
When you listen to our story, it is like a Die Hard movie. But what we want to do is to celebrate what's right in India and not want to sensationalise the story.
Image: Anjali and Michael Pollack at their apartment in New York. Photograph: Paresh Gandhi
Also see: On the trail of the terror boat