At the Fariyas Hotel, none of the staff has slept for more than 24 hours, as none of the morning shift turned up today. They are cheery though, the managers dozing in the lobby, and keen to point out to me the besieged Nariman House, with its Jewish centre on one floor, which is only a couple of hundred yards away and can be seen from the lobby steps. A porter takes me to the top floor so I can see the dome of the Taj. It's on fire. Suddenly, the whole attack seems real and sickening. I have never stayed at the Taj, although as a backpacker more than a decade ago I took refuge in the famous Harbour Bar. Seeing the red flames and smoke reminds me of the famous photograph of St Paul's Cathedral during the Blitz.
I walk to the siege sites. I cannot believe how quiet the streets are. The manager told me that by 9pm the area looked as it normally does at 3am. There is now no human presence whatsoever. Even the hundreds of people who normally sleep on the pavements or in cars have vanished. Block after block, the only sign of life comes from the feral dogs, who look surprised to have inherited a city. It feels eerie, like a science fiction apocalypse. I walk down the seaside road known as the Strand in the direction of the Taj. It is empty until about 200 yards from the hotel, where a fire engine makes a barrier. The press pack and cameras are on the other side of the hotel, next to the Gateway of India. Here, besides a handful of policeman manning an unmarked perimeter, most snoozing in their cars, some older men in vests sit smoking on the sea wall, with a small gaggle of teenagers. The roof of the Taj is burning and no water is being poured on the flames, though at this point there is no apparent fighting. Indeed there's no sound except the waves hitting the shore, the quiet voices of the smokers and the low intermittent crackle of the police radio. It's past 2am. Perhaps the security forces are keeping a low profile until a morning attack, though if the guests still trapped in the hotels are really "hostages", as the media here refers to them, it seems odd that so little is being done, more than 24 hours into the crisis.
I cross to the other side of the peninsula to the Oberoi-Trident complex, a hotel that spreads across several buildings. Here there are cameras set up and a bigger crowd on the sea wall. The hotel is lit up but there are no fires blazing and no troops standing guard with the handful of police who shout if you go too far past the line of fire trucks. There is no rope keeping everyone back, no bank of fierce paramilitary or military men of the kind you would find at such a scene in Britain or America. Young female Indian newsreaders look bored between takes - it's the women who get the nightshift. It's as if everyone's taking a break from the crisis until morning.
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