I really enjoyed this snippet from Anand Giridharadas, who writes for the International Herald Tribune. You can read the whole thing and other excellent updates on the Mumbai situation at The Lede blog.
"Anyone, anywhere who has lived in Mumbai was gasping at the sight of a burning Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel. That is because it is not your average hotel.
It is not another Sheraton or Hilton in the business district of another world city. It is the aorta through which anything glamorous, sentimental, confidential or profitable passes in Mumbai. Its major role is to serve its guests, who come from around the world and elsewhere in India. But it also serves the local city in a way that few hotels in the world could claim to do.
If a momentous infidelity is being committed on a given night, or a billion-dollar business deal being inked, or a recklessly brilliant idea being hatched, there is a fair chance it is being committed,
inked, hatched at the Taj. Mumbaikars who can afford it have their most romantic meals at its Wasabi restaurant, accept marriage proposals in its Sea Lounge, land job offers in its coffee shop.
Non-guests are forbidden to use the pool. But so many Mumbaikars enterprisingly bring a towel, furnish a fake room number and dip into its manmade lagoon.
It stands across from the Gateway of India. Those who would not dream of paying $3 – a decent daily wage – for one of its fresh-lime sodas sit outside the hotel, leaning against the stone wall on the sea. They take in the scene; they admire the finely dressed people breezing in and out. They know that it is not their time for the Taj now, but, should a fortune bless them, it is in the Taj they will spend it.
Few other hotels of the world could say they were built out of spite.
Legend has it that J.R.D. Tata, a nineteenth-century industrialist, was once turned away from a hotel in British-era Mumbai because he happened to be Indian. He decided, in a strange kind of revenge, to
build the best hotel in the country, outfitted with German elevators, French bathtubs and other refinements from all around the world.
The hotel became, for many Indians, a symbol of the overthrow of the indignities of the colonial age. And it became a symbol of the best that could be had in a city paved with dreams."