The Taj's Tree of Life
The valuable collection of art and antiques inside the Taj Mahal Hotel Palace and Tower had a miraculous escape. More than 90% of the hotel’s eclectic collection, which was carefully gathered over a century, was unscathed. And the best news, as vice chairman of Indian Hotels R K Krishna Kumar puts it, is that “not a single of work of art has been destroyed beyond redemption”. The collection comprises 2,500 paintings and innumerable antiques and artifacts, and was reportedly valued at over Rs 1,000 crore, by the erstwhile Bowring Art Auctioneers, during the hotel’s centenary celebrations in 2003.Even as the terrorists indiscriminately sprayed bullets in the marble lobby of the grand hotel, the precious red mural by M F Hussain that was tucked behind the front desk, escaped without a single bullet hole.But the most emotional escape is that of the ‘Tree of Life’, a six-foot-tall metal Bastar tribal sculpture made of brass, bronze and alloy casting. It is an integral part of the hotel’s art collection, and originally stood on the fifth floor in the grand staircase area, under the dome. A little more than a fortnight ago, it stood in the lobby near the all-familiar red and beige dome that went up in flames a few hours after the terrorists barged in. The entire area was gutted, walls were charred, ceilings were dented, furniture reduced to ashes, but this piece of art was left unscathed. In many ways, the Tree of Life, which is a powerful symbol of immortality in many cultures, survived. “It was fully covered in soot when we discovered it, as soon as we were allowed to enter the hotel. That’s when we found our memento, which symbolises the spirit of the Taj and the rest of Mumbai,’’ said Kumar. On Sunday, it was grandly displayed near the waterfall in the main lobby, and thousands of distinguished guests paid homage to it. The ‘Tree of Life’ stood between two other brass plates, one inscribed with the names of those who had laid down their lives in the terror attack, and another inscribed with an inspiring tribute them. “The Tree of Life is the most ancient cross cultural symbolic representation of the universe’s construction. It can be seen to dwell in three words—a link between earth, heaven and the other world. It is the perfect symbol of salutation to those who laid down their lives on November 26,’’ read the plate put on display. The hotel management has decided to hold annual tribute before the sculpture to commemorate the dead.
Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Sons, said in his speech, alluding to the spirit of Bombay and sending a message to the people who terrorised Mumbai: "We can be hurt, but we cannot be knocked down." He's too much of a gentleman to say, 'Screw you'.