Memories of the Taj

In 1986, I had the opportunity to dine at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai (then Bombay). I was visiting extended family, and for some reason, someone decided that a once-in-a-lifetime splurge at the Taj would be worth it. At the time, I had no idea that a place of such opulence could exist in ...

591248_081208_taj5.jpg
591248_081208_taj5.jpg

In 1986, I had the opportunity to dine at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai (then Bombay). I was visiting extended family, and for some reason, someone decided that a once-in-a-lifetime splurge at the Taj would be worth it. At the time, I had no idea that a place of such opulence could exist in India. Stepping into it, I felt as if I were entering an oasis, an otherworldly bubble with First World conditions transplanted inside.

Mumbai’s air was oppressively hot, thick, and sticky. Inside the Taj, the air was air-conditioned, crisp, and breathable. On the streets of Mumbai, my ears were assaulted with the sounds of horns incessantly beeping and hawkers selling their wares. Inside the Taj, the atmosphere was quiet and serene. Outdoors, I smelled dung and smoke, and walked through overcrowded, filthy streets lined with shacks inhabited by barefoot children in muddy clothes. Inside the Taj, it was odor-free, and poverty-free. Strangely, I don’t remember exactly what I ate there, but whatever I ate, it didn’t make me sick.

Thus, I felt a tinge of nostalgia last month when I watched smoke billowing out of the mighty Taj.

In 1986, I had the opportunity to dine at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai (then Bombay). I was visiting extended family, and for some reason, someone decided that a once-in-a-lifetime splurge at the Taj would be worth it. At the time, I had no idea that a place of such opulence could exist in India. Stepping into it, I felt as if I were entering an oasis, an otherworldly bubble with First World conditions transplanted inside.

Mumbai’s air was oppressively hot, thick, and sticky. Inside the Taj, the air was air-conditioned, crisp, and breathable. On the streets of Mumbai, my ears were assaulted with the sounds of horns incessantly beeping and hawkers selling their wares. Inside the Taj, the atmosphere was quiet and serene. Outdoors, I smelled dung and smoke, and walked through overcrowded, filthy streets lined with shacks inhabited by barefoot children in muddy clothes. Inside the Taj, it was odor-free, and poverty-free. Strangely, I don’t remember exactly what I ate there, but whatever I ate, it didn’t make me sick.

Thus, I felt a tinge of nostalgia last month when I watched smoke billowing out of the mighty Taj.

To see images of the besieged Taj and other sites attacked in Mumbai, check out FP’s latest photo essay, “Mayhem in Mumbai.”

Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Preeti Aroon was copy chief at Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2016 and was an FP assistant editor from 2007 to 2009. Twitter: @pjaroonFP

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