When India faced one of the worst terrorist attacks, an anxious nation watched The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Mumbai, billowing fire and black smoke for days. Unwittingly, this captivating Indo-Saracenic structure facing the Arabian Sea became the symbol of India’s fight against terrorism and Mumbai’s resilience. “The Taj Mahal Palace has been a living monument and a symbol of the city’s strength,” said Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Sons, during the recent release of a coffee-table book, The Taj at Apollo Bunder by Charles Allen and Sharada Dwivedi.
The book was conceived more than 32 years ago but various factors delayed it for years. It was finally launched on the hotel’s 108th birthday. The proceeds from the sales of the picture-heavy book will go to Taj Public Service Welfare Trust. The book gives a glimpse of Mumbai’s Apollo Bunder area even before the hotel was built and talks about founder JN Tata’s vision in restoring the faith of plague-affected Bombay. It also dismisses the myth that Tata built it after being turned away from a hotel by the British.
The Taj had once become the second home for the country’s Maharajas. It was also a preferred stop for celebrities visiting the city, from actor Gregory Peck to Beatle George Harrison. The book narrates how a special bed had to be made to accommodate the very tall Peck. The pages hold interesting nuggets like George Harrison of the Beatles growing his moustache and trimming his hair to remain incognito during his stay at the hotel with wife Patti. But he had to flee to Srinagar when news of his visit leaked out.
When another Beatle, John Lennon, checked in with his then-girlfriend Yoko Ono, they chose to remain locked up in their suite for five days.
Thus, despite a self-congratulatory tone, the book is important in tracing the cultural and social changes in India.