Instalment #1, below. More to follow.
Outside the Taj, I climb onto a broad step on the Gateway plaza -- part of some future construction, clearly -- to get a better view of the building. There's nothing much to see, especially because the police have established a wide empty space between where we are, behind barriers, and the Taj. With good reason, of course.
Like ET's long finger, a ladder from a fire-truck creeps up, reaches up, past the ornate eaves and windows, past the pigeons and scattering them but they quickly reposition themselves on a sagging wire -- up and up, to a large french window on the top floor of the hotel. Two firemen are in the crow's nest on top, and as they get close to the window, one sticks out his ... leg. He seems to want to kick the window in. I don't see him make any useful contact, though. From the hotel through the window, some people seem to get in to the cradle -- "seem", because the sun is dazzling, the day is hazy, and it's far enough that I can't quite tell what's going on. But then ET's long finger starts contracting slowly, bringing them to the ground.
And minutes later, there's some scrambling, a siren sounds, and an ambulance peels away and off, carrying those people. The previous such load, I had seen because the van shaved past me as it turned towards Regal Cinema. Nobody inside looked hurt, so I suspect this load is similar.
In front of me is a collection of blue-uniformed Rapid Action Force men, sitting on the lawn under the Shivaji statue. A few other men in fatigues and helmets come running over from the left, with steel container of food. It's hot, these guys must be thirsty and hungry.
Everyone around me is talking of the terrorism, but there's an air of bonhomie about. Plenty of backslapping as friends catch sight of each other, good cheer and chuckling. Are we used to terror now, and is that a good thing or a bad thing?
There on the stop, I suddenly feel a hand on my shoulder. Then my other shoulder. Thinking it must be a friend -- I've already met one, this morning -- who has found me, I turn and it's actually an older man, thickly made, wearing a satiny kurta-pajama, orange tilak on his forehad. He is using the support of my shoulder to get down off the step. He nods to me to say thanks, I tilt my head.
Then he stops and asks me, are people still inside?
I open my mouth to reply. It's must be a measure of how starved we all are for news that this little exchange immediately perks up several ears around us. Possibly because I've got my little diary out and am taking notes, and have my little camera slung over my shoulder, four or five people step over quickly to hear how I respond to this man. Pity is, I'm as much in the dark as them.
I say, I think some people are being evacuated. You can see them being taken away.
No, he says, are they still alive or are they dead?
He means the terrorists.
I say, I don't know.
The thickset man turns away and spits out one angry word of abuse. Behanchod.
Does he mean the terrorists? Or me? I watch him go. The men who perked up their ears, they smile at me uncertainly.