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Stunning history of terror at the Taj
on 4 January 2014
I had the pleasure of staying at the Taj nearly 5 years after the terror attacks so was immediately drawn to this book. The first thing to say is that the research appears to have been incredibly extensive spanning the backgrounds of the terrorists and victims alike, the historic, political and cultural contexts of the terrorist groups, Pakistan and India, along with the intimate workings of the Taj itself, and of course extensive interviews with many of those involved. This creates a convincing and compelling narrative. Yet, despite that, this is not an exhaustive history, it focuses on events at the Taj, with only brief explanations of what happened at the other locations attacked. Similarly, it tells the personal stories of relatively few of the hundreds drawn into the maelstrom. For me that made it so much the better, a report on every detail of the attacks was not what I wanted (and apparently has never been produced, not even by the Indian authorities), but the sampling of events to provide a complete picture of the whole and the timelines in which they unwound is brilliantly done and, along with the RIP section at the end, provides a fitting record and tribute to the victims. The means by which young men were drawn to the call of jihad is covered objectively. The way in which innocent people, ranging from lowly hotel staff to the super-rich, found themselves plunged in moments from their routine working life or enjoyment of pleasurable activities in the Taj, including a wedding reception, into absolute terror, sometimes drawn out over days, is chilling and horrific. The stories of heroism on the part of hotel customers, especially the staff, and some police are incredible and uplifting. The book gives a clear image of the authorities' failure, they turned a blind eye to warnings, they were grossly under-prepared, they were pathetically armed, they were sluggish, bureaucratic and inefficient in their response. It would be easy to condemn, but one has to remember cultural, historic and economic perspectives. I found this book utterly compelling, entirely readable, utterly horrific, but at times uplifting. There seems little hope that we will see the end of such events in the immediate future, but we can only hope some of the lessons will be learned and that such events pass each of us by. I cannot recommend this book enough.