Hemant Oberoi on the Mumbai attacks, loss and humanity
January 22, 2021. Series 3. Episode 17
In this first episode of our third series, we talk to Hemant Oberoi. One of India’s best-known chefs, Hemant has cooked for world leaders, Bollywood and Hollywood stars. He is also a man who, when crisis came to his door at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, reacted with a level of courage and selflessness that’s almost impossible to comprehend. In our conversation Hemant talks us through what happened in the terror attacks of 2008 – a few days of horror that left hundreds dead and injured. Thanks to the heroics of Hemant and the staff a significant number of guests at the Taj were saved from certain death at the hands of Islamic terrorists. In the process seven of Hemant’s staff were killed. It is only fate that prevented Hemant from being one of them. A visceral story of how crisis can bring out the very best in humanity when confronted with the very worst.
Hemant’s Crisis Cures:
1. Intuition and the gut feelings first. My intuition never fails me. When I don’t follow it, things go wrong for me one way or the other. It’s the gut feeling – I listen to my inner voice and that’s the way.
2. I think one should be a team leader in a different way. You should be like a pyramid in life. Sometimes the top is down and sometimes the bottom is up. That way you can take the load off others in life.
3. Help others as much as you can. Because you never know when you’ll need it.
Hemant Oberoi Restaurant: https://hemantoberoi.com/
It’s not often that a Hollywood dramatization plays down the real horror of a story. But Hotel Mumbai – the powerful re-telling of the Mumbai attacks – is not a movie that tells the full truth of what happened in November 2008. During my conversation with Hemant he revealed aspects of that nightmarish few days that left me stunned. The film ends movingly with a fictitious character (played brilliantly by Dev Patel) returning exhausted to his relieved family. In reality Hemant did just the same, once he’d secured the safety of his guests. Still wearing his bloodied chef’s outfit, he walked through his front door to find his family, friends and neighbours gathered – not in celebration but for his wake. Unknown to him hours earlier the TV news channels had announced his death. As Hemant says: “I walked in and they thought they had seen a ghost.” A few hours later he was back in the centre of Mumbai, walking through hospitals and morgues trying to account for every member of his staff. Tragically seven of them – including a number of young chefs he considered to be his proteges – were dead. All of them shot attempting to protect hotel guests from the gunmen who unleashed so much havoc and horror across Mumbai. Hemant witnessed some of those murders and narrowly escaped his own execution. Of one of those he found in hospital he says: “He pleaded [with the gunmen] that he was getting married in six months’ time, asking, ‘why are you killing innocent people?’ They shot him point blank. He died in hospital after 8 or 9 days.” The most astonishing aspect of this story is the instinctive behaviour of Hemant and his staff when they found themselves in the midst of the most terrifying crisis. Throughout their ordeal they had repeated opportunities to escape. Hemant gave his team that option, telling them there would be no shame in leaving to be with their families. But they stayed put. As Hemant tells me: “Whatever you do – if you cannot help others, then there’s no point being here. Everything comes back to you in this life. Hell, or heaven is here – it’s not anywhere else.”
Stream/Buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning: https://ampl.ink/qp6bm
Some Velvet Morning Website: www.somevelvetmorning.co.uk
Host – Andy Coulson
Producer – Louise Difford
00:00:00.00 Intro music
00:00:18.17 Andy Coulson:
Hello and welcome to series three of Crisis What Crisis? a podcast designed to be a useful field guide as we all try to navigate and continue to come to terms with a dramatically changed world. Whether personal, professional or both, crisis is without doubt, the new shared experience. I’m Andy Coulson, a former newspaper editor, Downing Street Director of Communications and one time inmate of HMP Belmarsh. For the last five years I’ve put all of my experience, the good and the bad, to use as a strategic advisor to business leaders and I can tell you that the bad has been just as useful as the good. And that got me thinking, as the first lockdown began, that there are plenty of great podcasts out there where you can hear stories of success, but there are far fewer where you can benefit from the experience of those whose lives have properly unravelled.
00:01:05.07 Andy Coulson:
So, in Crisis What Crisis? I talk to the embattled, shamed, courageous, ruined, damaged, resilient, unlucky and lucky survivors of crisis. Some names will be familiar, some less so, our guests share their experiences though with honesty, often with humour, but always in the hope that they might be useful to anyone facing down their own demons and challenges. Put simply, these are crisis conversations worth sharing. Stay tuned at the end of the episode when I’ll give my thoughts and takeaways, the lessons, if you like, for when life unravels. And If you enjoy the podcast, please do subscribe and give us a rating and review. It really helps makes sure these stories reach an even wider audience of people who may find them useful, and that in the end is what it’s all about.
00:01:52.13 Andy Coulson:
Crisis What Crisis? is generously supported by Myndstream, a brilliant company who harness the power of music for personal wellbeing. Whether it be music for meditation, to help focus, sleep, stress relief, yoga and fitness, rejuvenation, even grief and loss, Myndstream is there to improve human performance. I’ve tried it, it works and I’d recommend having a listen to the Myndstream catalogue yourself. Just search Myndstream, that’s mind with a Y, on Spotify. Thanks again for joining me.
00:02:26.05 Andy Coulson:
My guest today is the world renowned chef, Hermant Oberoi. A man who has cooked for world leaders, Bollywood and Hollywood stars, Hermant is credited by the Hindu Times as a true innovator and the most powerful chef India has ever seen. But he’s also a man who when crisis came, when horror in fact came, proved himself to be capable of the most astonishing resilience and selfless heroism. Those of you who’ve seen the movie Hotel Mumbai, will remember the role dramatised but the well-known Indian Anupam Kher who played Hermant. The dramatic scenes that feature him reveal only some of the bravery he and his staff displayed, when Islamic terrorists wreaked havoc across Mumbai, over three days in November 2008 killing 165 people and wounding 300 more.
00:03:18.18 Andy Coulson:
Hermant was working inside the famous Taj Mumbai Hotel as head chef on the night of the attacks. He chose to stay behind and hide the surviving guests from the four terrorists who had taken control of the building, setting it on fire and machine gunning so many other guests at random. He was joined by his dedicated staff, seven of whom were killed as they formed a human shield to allow guests to escape. It is only luck that prevented Hermant from being the eighth. Why did he stay behind when he had countless opportunities to run to safety?
00:03:55.08 Andy Coulson:
Hermant, who now runs his own restaurants in Mumbai, Abu Dhabi and California says, ‘Because the guest is god it was our duty to look after them’. Hermant Oberoi, welcome to Crisis What Crisis? How are you sir?
00:04:09.19 Hermant Oberoi:
Thank you, thank you so much for inviting me for this talk and some time to bring back the memories.
00:04:21.16 Andy Coulson:
Of course, of course. And all I can say, Hermant, is that it’s a privilege to have you here and thank you so much for giving us the time. I know you’ve continued to work hard throughout the pandemic. How has it affected business across your restaurants, can I ask? Are you concerned about the long term impact on the industry that you love so much?
00:04:48.01 Hermant Oberoi:
Customers are still a little hesitant to come out, let me tell you, because they’re not sure about when the vaccine is going to come. I’m not even sure what vaccine is going to make a difference, too much right in the beginning or whatever. But they are still not sure to come out.
00:05:14.08 Andy Coulson:
As we touched on, you have your own restaurant empire now but of course you worked for the Taj Group, Hermant, for more than forty years. In many ways, having spent so many years working for Taj, was that kind of your home? I mean, do you still feel that way, in terms of the years that you spent working for the group?
00:05:38.23 Hermant Oberoi:
In ’74 I was just about nineteen and a half years old when I joined and 1985, ’86 I took over as executive chef of that hotel.
00:05:49.24 Andy Coulson:
00:05:51.01 Hermant Oberoi:
Still being a young boy and I took over that hotel. And then gradually I became the corporate chef for all the luxury hotels all over the world. And I treated that hotel, and still I do that, as my own.
00:06:10.10 Andy Coulson:
Yes, the emotional attachment is very deep for you.
00:06:13.23 Hermant Oberoi:
Emotional attachment when you walk… I mean more than my marriage, it has been there.
00:06:20.12 Andy Coulson:
I hope your wife isn’t going to listen to this podcast, Hermant.
00:06:25.21 Hermant Oberoi:
So it is, marriage has been about forty years and this is about forty-two years of association with them. And it was a long association. And I mean there was not a single day where I was in Mumbai when I was not in the hotel.
00:06:42.24 Andy Coulson:
00:06:44.02 Hermant Oberoi:
That is the kind of attachment we had to the place. And I treated that as my own. And that was kind and the senior management and the owners were kind. And they have given me a lot of freedom to do whatever I wanted to do.
00:07:04.04 Andy Coulson:
There was a brilliant British documentary, TV documentary made by Lynn Alleway, which told the story of the Taj Mumbai. Not just the attacks, there was an episode that looked at the attacks, but it actually looked at the incredibly rich history of the hotel. A beautiful hotel that carried so much significance for the staff, as you just explained, but also for the city itself. I mean, it was a, and is an incredibly important building isn’t it?
00:07:35.02 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes it is, it’s a beautiful city, it’s a city which never sleeps. That’s the kind of a city it is. It’s like, in some ways better than New York. And people dine out, people go, freedom is there. You can see people sitting at 3.00am, 4.00am on Chowpatty Beach and on Marine Drive, which is a sea facing area and people, young couples are sitting out through the night. I mean nobody disturbs, police just walking and they want them to be safe, that’s it. And nobody interferes in each other’s life. So that’s the kind of city in which a million millionaires in that city. So that makes the city so beautiful.
00:08:24.18 Hermant Oberoi:
And the spirit of the city is so beautiful that you know, it comes back, it bounces back in no time. Whether it was the ’93 blast or whether it was the other the riots which took place, I mean, everything within a few days, the city bounced back. And that’s why when this attack happened and our place was destroyed and it felt as though our house had had been destroyed. And how are we to get back on our feet so soon? And I think that the entire team and the entire management supported each other and we bounced back in probably three weeks. And on Christmas Eve we were open.
00:09:21.01 Andy Coulson:
Open and full I understand, I want to ask you about that a little bit later. Your personal relationship with the guests, and I’m asking this because clearly as we get into the story of what unfolded, I think it’s fair to say that that’s what, maybe you’ll disagree, but that was, perhaps at the heart of so many of the decisions that you took. That the connection with the guests ran so deeply with you, over such a long period of time ,that the decisions that you made were natural, in a sense. Is that fair?
00:10:00.11 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes if you go and see, I have seen the generations in the decades, in the last few decades. I have seen the parents of these guests. I have seen the guests by themselves and I have seen their kids being born and growing in front of me. So I have literally seen three generations in that.
00:10:21.11 Andy Coulson:
If we may, Hermant, I’d like to go back to the 26th November 2008. A normal, although I think very busy, pretty hectic night at the Taj. You’re in the kitchen when, at around, as I understand 9.15pm, there or thereabouts, the first signs that the attack has begun, begin to kind of filter through. You’re told that there has been a shooting and at first you assume that it’s a movie shooting. That it’s film that’s being made outside the hotel. Is that your first memory of what happened that night?
00:11:06.14 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes, you’re correct about that because one of my chefs called me up, he said, ‘There’s a shooting going on’. And I called him back and I said, ‘Every week or ten days you called me up for the same thing’. And I presumed that was a film shooting. He said, ‘No sir, it’s not that kind of a shooting, the shots are being fired and the gentlemen are lying dead outside our kitchen door’, which is the passage in the corridor. And then I heard another one more shot and I my immediate reaction to him was ‘just lock the doors, switch off the lights’.
00:11:45.19 Hermant Oberoi:
And we ran from the front side, from behind the kitchen and he switched off the restaurant lights because there are two restaurants attached to that kitchen. And they immediately switched off the lights and they locked the front door. And when the terrorists were passing through the corridor they peeped into there and they didn’t see anybody moving or anybody. They thought this place was locked and there was nothing. So they went ahead. So there were about thirty to forty diners sitting inside.
00:12:23.03 Andy Coulson:
Let me stop you there, Hermant, if I may. It’s important, I think, that we explain, for people listening to this, what had happened in the proceeding hour or so is that ten young men, Islamic terrorists from Pakistan, had arrived in Mumbai in an inflatable speedboat. And they’d dispersed across the city and began to randomly shoot people at the train station, a local cafe and at a number of other sites. Some of the terrorists then made their way to the hotel, to the Taj, which was their next target, their planned target. And looking like backpackers they’d entered the lobby and then they began to shoot guests at random.
00:13:10.11 Andy Coulson:
And that shooting is the point at which you are called by a waiter from one of your restaurants and he explains that someone has been shot directly outside. And you give the advice to turn off the lights and stay quiet, get under the tables. Now, on one level Hermant, it seems like an obvious piece of advice. But I think many people would have frozen in such an unreal situation. Looking back, why is it that you were, how is it, not why, how is it that you were able to think so clearly, so quickly?
00:13:52.23 Hermant Oberoi:
I think the situation was that how to control the situation at that moment. Whatever spontaneous decision was coming to my mind I took it. One after the other, you know, when the second that I mean right in front of that restaurant is our Indian restaurant. The same instruction we give to those gentlemen and they shut the door. So that was on the ground floor and the ground floor was secured. On the first floor was a different story. And then we heard that they’re climbing up to the first floor where the wedding was on, one of the weddings in the banquet room. And that we had to take a different decision because we had to lock all the front doors because they’re eight doors to that banquet room.
00:14:50.08 Hermant Oberoi:
And luckily that night a gentleman had said ‘Just open the corner door for me’ and the main central door please keep it shut and keep a bar over there.’ We were lucky enough, in that case also, and the rest of the doors, the guys immediately closed them when they heard that there are terrorists are outside the banquet room. So that was this bar open and still I think our team did not panic I told them there’s no need to panic because we have secured the entrance.
00:15:24.20 Andy Coulson:
Had you ever as a team, prior to this, undergone any kind of scenario training? Had anyone, the police or anyone, given you any advice should something like this ever happen? Obviously perhaps not something quite as terrible as what unfolded. Did you ever have any training in advance?
00:15:46.14 Hermant Oberoi:
00:15:48.04 Andy Coulson:
This is all instinct?
00:15:50.00 Hermant Oberoi:
It’s all inbuilt. You know, I grew up in a place, in my childhood, I was born in a place in Punjab. And my school was just two kilometres away from the border. In 1965, on 4th September, early in the morning, the bombs were falling and my dad told me I think the war has erupted. And I’m going out to fetch something and he came running behind me. He pushed me to the floor and within a minute a bomb falls from the silver jets, one of the jets, it was bombardment here, bombardment and the bomb exploded just about a hundred yards away from us.
00:16:40.06 Andy Coulson:
00:16:40.20 Hermant Oberoi:
So I have seen those kind of security issues.
00:16:43.15 Andy Coulson:
You were what age?
00:16:45.11 Hermant Oberoi:
Eleven years old. And I have seen that kind of… still, the war had erupted up, we stayed back the whole time, we stayed there. I remember helping my seniors in the school and college and going up to the border and even serving the food for the army people to support them, even during war. So we were never scared of these things in life. And that made me much stronger, I think, that kind of situation. Then I would see the ambulance trains coming with injured people, somebody’s injured in the head or somebody’s injured in the foot. So I have seen those which made me much stronger about life.
00:17:41.08 Andy Coulson:
You feel that by the time these events happen your stress muscle is, although over a very, very long period of time, it stayed with you, right? The memory of those things stayed with you and allowed you to make the decisions that you made in those moments?
00:18:06.19 Hermant Oberoi:
I have always realised one thing in life, that whatever you do, if you cannot help others there’s no point in being there in life. If you, on the road, you do not help somebody who’s injured and move away, then what are you there for? Because you can be in the same position one day and nobody else will help you. And that’s what people must learn. Everything comes back to you in this life, hell or heaven is here, it’s not anywhere else. So do your deeds the best way, whatever you can do for others. And I think there is some superpower above us to see that.
00:18:56.18 Andy Coulson:
Throughout what follows in the story, you’ve explained what happened with the wedding party, we’ve now got this situation unfolding in the lobby area and the ground floor of the hotel, obviously your mind immediately moves to the floors above, you’re getting guests to safety. But as I understand it, Hermant, you were never more than, when you’re in your office, when you’re in the safety of your office, you were no more than fourteen steps as I understand it, from safety.
00:19:30.12 Andy Coulson:
You and your staff could have run and you would most likely have escaped. And I’m not sure that too many people would have blamed you for it; there were terrorists running through the hotel firing off AK47s. But you didn’t do that. Explain to me, or explain to us, if you can, why you made the decision you made. You knew that you could get out. It was right there; the exit was just down the corridor.
00:20:07.01 Hermant Oberoi:
It’s not even a few seconds, I could have got out, my team would have got out. It was just a few seconds away. But our main job, or priority, was the guests’ lives. I mean somebody’s come to your house to dine you have to make sure that they go back home safely. Somebody is waiting for them at home too. They’ve come to your house, it’s our house where they’ve come, and their safety is our priority.
00:20:40.13 Hermant Oberoi:
That’s the way that I looked at the things and all of us look at the things in Taj, that’s the culture we always had whatever situations. I mean this kind of situation had not come earlier, but whatever situations had come we went beyond to make sure that the guests are safe. Their safety was our priority. Their living being was our priority and that’s what we did. And when I asked some of my staff members and my colleagues that ‘Whoever wants to leave can leave’.
00:21:18.24 Andy Coulson:
I want to ask you about that, there’s a scene in the film, which was released a couple of years ago, when you gather your kitchen staff and you give them the option to leave. And you give a speech and you say there is no shame in leaving. But of course the vast majority decided to stay with you. Was that an accurate kind of scene in that sense?
00:21:48.02 Hermant Oberoi:
I can tell you, even without asking, they never went.
00:21:52.01 Andy Coulson:
00:21:54.09 Hermant Oberoi:
I asked one of the boys who was with me and he was on dialysis, he used to come once a week he used to have dialysis and he was on duty. And I asked him, I said, ‘You can leave because you’ve got dialysis and everything and you just came back yesterday’, and he said ‘No sir, we go together’.
00:22:15.15 Andy Coulson:
And your secretary, your PA, stayed with you.
00:22:20.15 Hermant Oberoi:
She stayed back, she in fact, she helped an injured lady who came to my office, one lady who was injured with a bullet injury and was bleeding. She went with her to the laundry, got her a new pyjama, did her bandaging and everything and made sure that she was safe.
00:22:44.16 Andy Coulson:
Another of our guests on the podcast was a British politician and a former soldier, whose name is Johnny Mercer and he served in Afghanistan and other places. He said that courage is infectious. That through leadership you can inspire and encourage others but it’s a physical thing. If people see it they can kind of attach to it just as much as they can attach to fear. Did you see that in those around you, in terms of your staff, in those that decided to, which is the vast majority, decided to stay with you?
00:23:26.10 Hermant Oberoi:
In fact these were the youngsters as well as the senior team members. I mean, they took up their role in such a beautiful way. Whichever of my associates or the managers were in each restaurant they were looking after their guests so well and when we were going from one restaurant to another from the back areas I could see them serving the guests in the right way as if nothing has happened. It is the normal way; they were picking up the right glass for the right wine and the right beer had to be served in the right way and everything. And that is the way normal things work. I mean, I was amazed that some of the things that people were doing and they went beyond their duty. They were so courageous, they thought somebody’s come to attack their house, let’s protect them, let’s protect everybody. Nobody left, I don’t even remember any person, at that time, leaving us.
00:24:30.15 Andy Coulson:
Because in the film…
00:24:31.16 Hermant Oberoi:
We had to push the people.
00:24:33.14 Andy Coulson:
Because in the film there is, as I say, that scene where people are given a choice and one or two leave. As far as you remember, nobody did?
00:24:42.24 Hermant Oberoi:
I didn’t see anybody leaving in fact.
00:24:45.16 Andy Coulson:
Just astonishing. And perhaps proof that courage is…
00:24:52.00 Hermant Oberoi:
I can tell you an incident that in the night I had decided that I went to the Chambers and I saw some young people there and they had not eaten anything from nine o’clock and it’s been about five hours under stress. And every time I went inside they asked ‘When are the security forces coming and every time I had to say, ‘Yes, they’re on their way, they’re on their way’. But then I decided to come back and I said then, ‘let’s make some sandwiches for them and send them some cookies and some other stuff and make some pea coffee’.
00:25:25.05 Hermant Oberoi:
And I came up to make some of the sandwiches and suddenly I see five of the young chefs who had just joined about six months to one year back. They came running and they were in the basement, in the stock cupboard area and they came running up and they said, ‘Sir, why are you doing it? We will do it, this is our job, we will do it.’ And I feel bad, so bad, that today I lost all of those when they came…
00:25:55.08 Andy Coulson:
You were, two of these younger staff were among…
00:25:57.17 Hermant Oberoi:
Well those young kids died in the…
00:26:00.03 Andy Coulson:
Hermant, do you mind if we try, just say for people listening, to try and explain the… again, because it was such a confused and difficult situation. As I understand it, having made that decision, in terms of the two restaurants, getting people under the table, lights off, then managing to get some of those people out, along with the wedding party as you’ve explained. So you’ve now made the decision, which was a huge strategic decision actually that you took, that you will now move those guests into the Chambers Club which was the private members club in the hotel. And you did that because it is effectively kind of segregated from the main hotel and quite a difficult place to access? And so in your mind’s eye this has got to be the safest place.
00:26:53.03 Andy Coulson:
Tell us about that decision. That’s a decision under the most incredible pressure. You know that people have died and are still very much at risk of dying, but you make the decision that that’s something that has to be done. And of course, what we should explain as well, is that the reason, one of the reasons, perhaps the key reason why you’re having to do this, is that by now it’s clear that there are no special forces, specially trained police officers even, in Mumbai to be able to help you. In fact, the local police have been told to stand back and wait for those specialists, if you like, to arrive from New Delhi and they’re many hours away. Just tell us, Hermant, what was in your mind that led you to make that decision, that ultimately saved so many lives, to go to the Chambers?
00:27:46.21 Hermant Oberoi:
You see Chambers is a place which is right behind my office, actually. And it’s in the new building which is between the old and the new wing, the tower block and the old building. So I knew that if the terrorists have to come from the old wing into the new wing either they have to pass through the lobby or they have to go through my office area or the kitchen door. So we had blocked all the doors of the banquet room, we had locked them. We had blocked all the passages. So it wouldn’t have been possible for them to enter from there. And they knew that some of the cops are standing in the lobbies, so they won’t try to do that. That’s when I realised that Chambers was the safest place. So we moved all the people from the Japanese restaurant, as well as the Chinese, as well as the Indian restaurant and the banquet. So we took them to Chambers, to a safer place.
00:28:50.21 Andy Coulson:
How many people, how many guests?
00:28:53.20 Hermant Oberoi:
Should be over two hundred.
00:28:55.14 Andy Coulson:
And these are people of all nationalities, all ages, you had…
00:29:00.09 Hermant Oberoi:
All nationalists, all ages.
00:29:01.24 Andy Coulson:
There’re children there?
00:29:03.19 Hermant Oberoi:
Yeah, in fact we didn’t touch one of the banquet areas, people were… Unilever, the existing chairman and the previous chairmen, every year they have a board meeting and there were almost twenty of the ex-chairmen and the present chairmen of Unilever comes every year. So twenty-one of them were having dinner and I had just met them about fifteen before the attack and we left them there. And the girl who was looking after them, I mean, she was, I would say that she was so brave and was constantly in touch with us and I told her, ‘Stay back, just lock the door from inside, there’s no need to panic’.
00:29:49.02 Andy Coulson:
Which of the restaurants are they in?
00:29:53.12 Hermant Oberoi:
The restaurants which we cleared were Wasabi, Golden Dragon and Masala Crab, all these three restaurants we just cleared. And some of the banqueting, there was one wedding that night and about a hundred people already in and we cleared that too.
00:30:13.19 Andy Coulson:
Okay, so you moved this group into the Chambers, as I say, all nationalists, all ages. All of them terrified and, I assume, behaving and reacting in very different ways. It must have been a terribly stressful, to put it mildly, environment. In those early moments, when you brought all those people into the Chambers, they’d followed your lead, they’d taken your advice, they’d gone to the Chambers, just tell me what the atmosphere was like there, Hermant?
00:30:51.17 Hermant Oberoi:
You see the guests, there was a panic in some of the places. I was getting calls from some people who were overseas and their families were there dining with us. And they said, ‘Please take care of them’ and you know, ‘How is the situation? Please take them out as soon as possible’. I said, ‘Don’t worry about that they’ll be taken care of’. And every time I went into Chambers somebody or other asked ‘When are the security people coming from Delhi?’ And every time I said, ‘They’re already boarded, they should be on their way, they should be on their way’. And the only decision I thought I should take at that time was, at midnight, was that I told the operator to switch off the television so that it should not create more panic for people when they see a lot of live situations.
00:31:48.20 Andy Coulson:
Yes, because the whole thing is being played out on TV.
00:31:52.08 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes. And I always…
00:31:56.02 Andy Coulson:
Including, I assume, your family at home?
00:32:00.08 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes, in fact they were watching it live and I don’t know if they knew about it but that at 3.45 in the morning two of the channels had declared me dead.
00:32:14.22 Andy Coulson:
Two news channels had declared you dead?
00:32:19.12 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes, yes but course but I had told them not to call me because the slightest disturbance or the noise would have attracted the attention of these terrorists. So not call me.
00:32:40.06 Andy Coulson:
So those that were in the Chambers were staying as quiet as possible?
00:32:44.01 Hermant Oberoi:
00:32:45.00 Andy Coulson:
You were doing your best to look after them to the point of making sandwiches for them. You were going in and out of Chambers yourself, from your office and trying to keep people calm, trying to assure them that special forces were on their way?
00:33:01.21 Hermant Oberoi:
00:33:03.12 Andy Coulson:
But what did you actually believe the situation to be, Hermant? Did you have any kind of sense at all of what was happening outside of the doors, beyond what you had been able to see yourself on the TV? When you got the TV turned off, by the way, for the guests in Chambers, did that mean that you couldn’t watch the TV anymore? Or did you still have a feed in your office?
00:33:30.24 Hermant Oberoi:
You see I told them to switch off in certain areas, that we could do it and certain areas. But you know my guys were watching everything on their computers, everything on their phones and they were my senior chefs who were in touch with all the security guys and everything. And when I went down to the lobby at about 2.45 or 2.15 in the morning and I saw that the gentleman just standing in the lobby and I was asking, I said, ‘You’re not picking up the phone, at least tell me now what we should do, shall we start the evacuation?’ And he turned around and he said, ‘What are you doing sir, please go back, they can watch you’. I said, ‘They can watch me?’ He said, ‘They are in the CCTV room’.
00:34:23.14 Andy Coulson:
They’d taken control of the CCTV room and they knew…
00:34:28.07 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes, and the moment I heard that and CCTV room is right above my office. And I rushed back, very quietly I came back, and there’s a staircase which comes from the CCTV room, near to the CCTV room right down to next to my office. So we, with the help of all the boys, we put all the chairs, tables, some fridges on the staircase so that they can’t come down from there, to block that area. And that was the time when I, in about fifteen minutes, I made the decision, along with I asked the guys, my senior team members, I said, ‘Let’s start the evacuation’ I said, ‘It’s high time…’ because they’re roaming around freely from sixth floor to the second floor down…
00:35:22.10 Andy Coulson:
Just before we get to the evacuation, because you’ve taken us through many, many hours of crisis. This is now the early hours of the morning. It started, as I say, at about half past nine. This is a tremendous period of time to be trapped in this situation. As we’ve already said, a large number of guests, some of them injured, I assume, by the way? Were some of the guests in the Chambers injured? They’d come from areas where they’d been under fire or not?
00:36:04.16 Hermant Oberoi:
Yeah, they could hear the gunshot, they could hear the fire. Because from the Chambers you can see all the buildings still. And you can hear the gunfire, you can hear the grenade blasts and that, you could hear. And still some of them were on the mobiles, they were still watching on the mobile. And they were getting all the news and… but that didn’t deter us from anything. And I said ‘No, we’ll start the evacuation’.
00:36:41.14 Andy Coulson:
But just before then, I’m just fascinated really, Hermant, to understand how you stayed calm when you are trapped in a situation like that, which is surreal, obviously, is one word, horrific is another, both of them equally appropriate, I think, where you can, as you say, hear the gunshots, you can hear grenades being thrown around the building. As I understand it the terrorists also, perhaps a little bit later, set fire to parts of the building, their plan was to try and burn the hotel down, wasn’t it, I think?
00:37:23.23 Hermant Oberoi:
00:37:24.23 Andy Coulson:
Which again, brings its own terrors. Just how did you stay calm?
00:37:38.07 Hermant Oberoi:
I really don’t know from where that kind of energy or strength comes in under such situations. But I realised that, as a leader, if I panic the whole team will panic. And if they leave, these two hundred-odd people are gone. They will be at the mercy of terrorists only. At the moment they will come and they will shoot everybody. So two hundred-odd people’s lives are in the hands of all of us and if we panic everybody else will. So I thought being a leader, I don’t even know how it came, but it just came. Some kind of energy and decision making, right decision at the right time, was taken and it helped in saving lives.
00:38:39.06 Andy Coulson:
There are still, of course, a fair number of your staff outside of the Chambers, in various parts of the hotel. All manner of horror stories are unfolding around the hotel. Hostages are being taken. Chef Raghu Deora, who I’m sure you knew well, was caught by the terrorists and told to lay down between two tourists, a father and a son, who were then executed next to him. He was shot as well, I understand, but remarkably and thankfully survived. How aware were you that these, or were you aware, of these things happening around the hotel, whilst you are trying to manage the situation that’s right in front of you?
00:39:34.13 Hermant Oberoi:
You see most of these chefs were outside my office and then I was near the Chambers when these people entered the kitchens. And one of my most senior chefs was just coming out to tell me, ‘Sir, the terrorists have already come down to the level one. And he opens the door and right in front of him the terrorist is standing and shooting him point blank. And I’m on the other side at an L-angle and I can hear the gunshot. And we had already started the evacuation with the wall being made by our staff, some of the managers, some of the chefs. And from behind they were firing and some of the guys were shot. And then there was little panic that everybody started rushing towards the Chambers.
00:40:36.01 Hermant Oberoi:
So at that point also, me and my colleagues there was to ensure that all these people are taken back to Chambers safely. So whoever we could we pushed them back into the Chambers and we told them to lock to the door and switch off the lights and to stay calm till they move away. But chef Raghu Deora, he had tried to hide himself in the kitchen of the Chambers, along with some of the guests. And these two terrorists came over there and started shooting them. And then they fired at him first in the leg and then in the stomach. And at that moment, also, he’d sent a message saying, ‘Sir, I’m shot, please help’.
00:41:29.11 Andy Coulson:
He’s sending you a message on his phone?
00:41:31.10 Hermant Oberoi:
00:41:33.05 Andy Coulson:
He’s sending you a text message?
00:41:35.11 Hermant Oberoi:
Text message and I said, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I’m in the Chambers kitchen’. I told my security guy, I said, ‘Where are you?’ He said, he’s another brave boy, Sunil, and he said, ‘Sir, I’m actually towards your office but on the other end’. I said, ‘Sunil Chef Raghu is injured, can you help?’ He said, ‘A terrorist is standing right over there and if I reach over there he will shoot everybody. Can he crawl towards your office?’ And the moment that the terrorists moved out of the Chambers thinking that Chef Raghu is dead he crawled towards my office where our security had… Sunil, he lifted him up and took him out and he got saved.
00:42:28.11 Andy Coulson:
These astonishing stories of… because these are people that you know well. These are people who work with you and for you. You had a deep relationship with in the way that you explain right at the start of this conversation. That the relationship between the staff at the hotel was…
00:42:57.21 Hermant Oberoi:
These people had worked with me at that time, they had worked with me for fifteen years.
00:43:03.07 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, so Hermant, we’re now at the point where the decision is made to evacuate. As you said earlier, partly because you now understood that the terrorists have control of the CCTV, but also, as I understand it, the media had announced, or had released the fact of such a large number of guests being in the Chambers. And of course this is TV that the terrorists themselves are watching, certainly the people that are working with them outside of the hotel are watching. And so you make, quite correctly, the calculation we don’t have very long here, that they’ll get to us eventually. So tell me about that decision please. How what you remember now of, because it was a pivotal decision, how you were able to make it, how you were able to calculate all of that in the midst of everything that you’ve just described.
00:44:07.14 Hermant Oberoi:
You see we didn’t know that, because when I started the evacuation process we didn’t realise, we thought that it would be over in what, fifteen, twenty minutes. And we’ll be able to take out all the two hundred people as our people had organised the buses just about a few hundred yards away. So the buses were parked to take them to the other hotels. But certainly, when we heard the gunshots, then we realised something has gone wrong somewhere. It’s only the next day or after a few hours we came to know that it is due to the media leakage of the news that one of the channels lady said, ‘Look evacuation has already started I just spoke to a member of parliament in Chambers and he said evacuation has already started’. That’s when the handlers told them find out where is Chambers. And they came and they got open the doors, they fired at the doors, they fired at everybody indiscriminately and to look for Chambers. They didn’t know where Chambers was.
00:45:27.08 Andy Coulson:
00:45:28.13 Hermant Oberoi:
Well that’s how it happened and it was very shocking for us that about eighteen hundred people had already moved out in the evacuation and escaped that.
00:45:46.14 Andy Coulson:
So you make the decision, you’d already made the decision that the evacuation must start. You now have the horrible realisation that the terrorists are much closer than you anticipated. And you make a decision, again with your staff, that what needs to be done is that effectively you’re going to form a barrier between the terrorists and your guests. A human barrier that will hopefully allow those remaining guests to escape down the stairwell and out onto the street. That was a kind of organised decision, Hermant, this is what we need to do, guys, is that we need to protect our guests in this way to ensure that they are able to get to safety. Can I ask you, when you explain that to the staff, this is what we’re going to do, total agreement? Total understanding of what needs to be done and total agreement and you get on with it, is that right?
00:46:59.18 Hermant Oberoi:
00:47:07.18 Andy Coulson:
When you look back and there is some distance now, but when you look back on those moments, I think the director of the film said this, that not just that there was so much selflessness it’s that it was so instinctive. It happened so, almost naturally. When you look back at it now from this distance, Hermant, obviously you just feel an incredible sense of pride about the way that your people behaved, but have you ever sort of sat and reflected yourself and thought how is it that everyone just did that?
00:47:53.17 Hermant Oberoi:
I think it’s just, it just it’s a bonding, it’s the faith in each other which makes it so different. They will do anything to protect the place and the unity of command was there. And they won’t go against that decision. Whatever we will do is for the place and whatever we will do is the best for the place.
00:48:29.09 Andy Coulson:
Tell me about some of your people, Hermant. We mentioned Chef Raghu a moment ago. Give us another couple of examples of the people that were around you in and amongst those moments.
00:48:45.09 Hermant Oberoi:
I mean, Chef Nitin was the one, in fact he was the one who gave me the news first that there was a shooting. And he was standing right outside my office when the terrorists entered and he got a shot in the arm. And the bullet came, an AK47 bullet and his hand is still not fully cured, it’s been twelve years. And he ran with the bullet injury outside to Colaba Police station for help, he ran outside. That is the kind of a person. There was another person who was injured and yet he was walking so coolly by and by the time he realised that there’s a bullet injury on him and Chef Sidish was with him. Chef Banja was very unlucky one who got the first bullet when the terrorists entered.
00:49:49.23 Hermant Oberoi:
Then there were six others, Chef Boris Rego, Chef Rego’s son and Chef Hemant Talim who was from Golden Dragon, young boy, was getting married and he pleaded with them that he was going to get married in six months’ time, why are you killing innocent people and he said, okay. And they put the gun at him and they shot him point blank. And he told us the story from in the hospital before he died. He died after about eight or nine days in the hospital, he was struggling with life. And then we had Kaizad Kamdin, he was another good boy, six feet, two tall. And he was injured so badly he crawled and one boy had come back, he had gone out to escort the guests and he came back to get this fellow and then they saw the terrorist in front of him who shot both of them.
00:51:10.17 Andy Coulson:
I think what’s one of the most astonishing elements of this as we listen to those stories, Hermant, is that these things were happening through the night and yet you and your team were able to display this incredible resilience just to be able to continue to operate in the way that you were, but also just the selflessness. It’s quite breath taking. Can we move to the final stage, if you like? You’ve made the decision that you’re going to evacuate. The team are agreed that the way to do this is to form this human shield. But that was not a straightforward process at all. It was very complicated and I think very complex. Can you try and talk us through the evacuation itself? Because, as I understand it, it almost turned into a chase. That there were periods of that evacuation that you knew that, right behind you, the terrorists were running, were chasing, is that right?
00:52:33.13 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes, in fact after putting everybody back into the Chambers they started running after us and three floors down in the staircase they were running behind us. And certainly there’s a laundry area in the basement and in fact one of my colleagues, we were about seventeen, eighteen staff members, and I said ‘Let’s go into the laundry and there’s a room, I think, which is the safest place because all the seventeen people will be shot’. So…
00:53:12.15 Andy Coulson:
This is a mixture of your staff and guests. This is one of those groups of ten that you were trying to get out?
00:53:19.13 Hermant Oberoi:
Yeah, so young boys from the housekeeping, young boys from the food and beverage. Some of my chefs, there were about seventeen, eighteen of them. And I can hear the voices of terrorists because they were speaking in a language which I knew. And then after about ten minutes since they lost us, so they went away. And saying that ‘these people have fled away, I think, so let’s go’. But still you know, to safeguard the lives of these people the young boys, who were on the verge of crying, I saw them, said, ‘Can I go home, I’ll die, I’m only child’. I said, ‘If you make more noise all of us will die so please be quiet’. And then in-between we are getting the news of the other boys being shot also. And then we were waiting for the security people to come.
00:54:26.15 Andy Coulson:
So that was the last part of the evacuation. You stayed there until you knew you were safe?
00:54:34.01 Hermant Oberoi:
00:54:37.04 Andy Coulson:
And what, what was happening in terms of the security forces by this stage? You knew that there were police in the building, you knew that there were some police in the lobby. So whilst the terrorists are chasing you they themselves are being kind of cornered in a certain part of the building and the kind of end game of it, if you like, is beginning to get underway?
00:55:07.19 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes, you know some of the operation that by that time, some of the security, some of those people had already come, the police had come. So in the Chambers by itself, some action had already started between the police and the security forces and the terrorists. And then one of the terrorists, it think, was injured in that, then they started running for their lives. That is the time when police got the upper hand. So they, police, I mean, the terrorists could not harm anybody inside the Chambers. That was the best part of it. Inside the Chambers, they could not enter. They were right outside in the kitchen area and everything but inside they could not enter and that’s how a lot of lives were saved.
00:56:02.01 Andy Coulson:
Hermant, you lost seven members of your team. Thirty-one people died in the hotel, elven were staff, seven of whom, as I say, were members of your team. Tell me a little bit about the people that you lost.
00:56:22.00 Hermant Oberoi:
Each one of them, Chef Banja, who was literally my second in command. We would walk down sometimes together in the night after the working hours and I would make him walk actually. And he would say, ‘No Sir, we’ll go in your car’ and I’d say ‘No Banja, you must walk, older, you don’t walk too much’. But being a noble soul, he was one of the purest souls. God fearing, he would go to church, make sure that twice a week he will go to the church. And very god fearing, pure at heart. Totally dedicated staff.
00:57:13.02 Andy Coulson:
He was effectively your, he was one of your most senior members of staff?
00:57:16.22 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes, he was my, like my number two. He was my deputy.
00:57:21.02 Andy Coulson:
So a very talented man as well?
00:57:22.23 Hermant Oberoi:
Oh yes, he was. And these young boys who died Kaizad Kamdin, Zaheen Mateen and Rego, these were the young newcomers who were coming up so well. I mean, I could see the future in them, they were already three years, four years into the industry. And that’s how the things were unfolding and they were so unlucky and probably we were unlucky to lose them too.
00:57:58.15 Andy Coulson:
Well, I’m so sorry and I’m sure I speak for everyone who’s listening to this. Let me ask you, Hermant, about how the events, from your perspective and the perspective of those guests whose lives you’d saved, together with your staff, just tell me about those last moments, how you got out, what those last kind of, moments, how they came to pass and how it felt, I suppose, to be finally outside of this terrible scene.
00:58:37.03 Hermant Oberoi:
You see at about eight o’clock in the morning when national security guards came and they got in touch with us and they said ‘We are coming to clear your path so that you don’t have to worry about’. And they came down to the laundry area and they escorted us out. And I was like, walking the same way I used to walk. But then suddenly one of the cops said, ‘Sir, you’re in the shooting range of these people, the terrorists on top, please go from the main road, not from this road’.
00:59:26.02 Andy Coulson:
So you’re about to walk out onto the street?
00:59:31.06 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes, and then we had to take another street down the line and that was the only time, probably, I’d gone back to the house in uniform. And uniform with stains of blood, sweat, everything, dirt and… but that’s what it was. And we reached home about the entire village, we have a fisherman village right next to our house. And they were sitting at our house. And the moment that I rung the bell and they opened the door and my sous-chef was also with me. And they were, I mean, they didn’t know how to express themselves, it was as if they’d seen a ghost because the channels had declared us dead.
01:00:26.09 Andy Coulson:
They’d gathered at your house with your family believing that you’d died?
01:00:30.23 Hermant Oberoi:
Yeah. And they were trying to console my wife. And that’s how it was.
01:00:41.06 Andy Coulson:
And you walk…
01:00:42.22 Hermant Oberoi:
And then I walk in.
01:00:43.23 Andy Coulson:
…into the house still in your uniform, as you describe a bloodied uniform, with your sous-chef at your side.
01:00:51.08 Hermant Oberoi:
01:00:52.11 Andy Coulson:
Just tell us about that moment please, your family’s reaction, your wife’s reaction.
01:00:57.03 Hermant Oberoi:
Yeah, so she was like, she actually burst into tears and didn’t even expect, you know, how it would be, the reaction and everything. And the whole jingbang of the villagers and everybody was like, they crowded around and they hugged. But we were happy to see them but still my mind was working in a very different way. My mind was working that my mobile is not working, let’s switch on the same… we just had a bath. In the meantime started getting in touch with the people who are injured. We are trying to count the number of people where they are, whether they are still trapped. What were the guests like, has everybody left the Chambers or not?
01:01:51.19 Andy Coulson:
How aware were you at this stage, Hermant, that you’d lost, you’d knew obviously because you’d seen it happen, that you’d lost some members of your staff? But did you know how many at this stage?
01:02:02.23 Hermant Oberoi:
I didn’t know the exact count. But then when we started getting all the information and we went to the hospital and the morgues, that’s the time we got all the information that all the injured have come to this hospital and all the dead have come to this hospital. And we were looking at all the guests also who were injured. So we went and looked at them also. And then we started taking turns calling up each and every staff member at their houses and everything. Whether they were safe, reached safely. And taking account of all, even the guests whom I knew well, whether they’d reached back safely.
01:02:47.24 Andy Coulson:
So having gone through that night, having finally managed to get out, along with those guests that you protected, you go home and you’ve painted that picture for us. You then decide that actually what you need to do is go to the hospitals, you need to go to the morgues, to see who’s lived and who’s died. And that you are then going to start contacting guests, you’re going to start contacting families. You’re going to totally re-immerse yourself in every bit of the detail of this. That’s astonishing, Hermant, that you would make that decision to immediately re-immerse yourself in it all.
01:03:41.05 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes but I was out by between eight and nine, nine-thirty and we just had a cup of tea and we were out by nine-thirty in the hospital and then everywhere.
01:03:57.08 Andy Coulson:
And of course, that is indicative of what, or gives a clue, as to what happens next. Because, as you say, the siege continues for some time, eventually comes to an end. The terrorists are cornered and killed and you make a decision, together with the management at the hotel, but you make a decision that we must start to rebuild immediately, immediately. To the point, as you touched on much earlier in our conversation, that you set yourself the target of being open for Christmas Eve. Tell us about that and why that was such an important decision for you.
01:04:53.23 Hermant Oberoi:
You see we did not want, there was so much anger and anguish that we did not want the terrorists to feel that they can win us over and they will overrule everything that we have done and we’ll be cowed down and we’ll be bowed down for a long time. No we were not. It was a kind of vengeance kind of a thing that we must open as fast as we can to give a befitting reply to these guys. And that’s how I think our team worked. Day and night they worked on the clearance; our wholesaler had to do everything. Our vendors from Europe, who were almost getting closed for their Christmas holidays, they were so supportive. The vendors within India were so supportive that, without even a letter of credit, they had sent us the goods and they said, don’t worry about the money, money will follow later. You just order what cutlery, crockery, glassware we have, we will definitely supply you to come back on your feet. And that was so amazing and the staff coming back. And yes, some of the staff initially were scared and we had to literally do some counselling kind of thing for them.
01:06:29.22 Andy Coulson:
Did you, can I ask, did you have any counselling at any point?
01:06:34.01 Hermant Oberoi:
01:06:35.08 Andy Coulson:
Conscious decision not to? Or, what’s your view of its value?
01:06:43.07 Hermant Oberoi:
It’s not that it didn’t affect me, it did affect me in the nights. Some nights I couldn’t sleep but I thought I will get over it. I’ll probably get over it.
01:06:56.15 Andy Coulson:
But how, I suppose, is the question I’d like to ask, how? I’m sure a part of you hasn’t, but how have you got over it, Hermant? What is it that you’ve…?
01:07:08.15 Hermant Oberoi:
We became so busy in redoing the things. It wasn’t an easy task, nine restaurants to re-operate. Two of them totally gutted, burned down. The damage done in certain other restaurants. And you have to rebuilt, relocate the restaurants and to be open in less than just about three weeks’ time. And that was kind of an energy which I think my staff showed a lot of resilience and everything. And they would come down early in the morning and we would have a session in the kitchen. We got our kitchens back cleaned. But I made sure that first of all when we brought the staff there were no bullet marks or anything left in the kitchens. All the windows, glasses everything was cleaned up, mess was cleaned up. There were no bloodstains. So that you know, they don’t even get affected by these things.
01:08:13.18 Andy Coulson:
Yes, there were no triggers.
01:08:16.16 Hermant Oberoi:
Yeah, there was no trace of that. So we did that so they couldn’t see anything. So they thought that everything was back to normal. And we didn’t let them go into the certain area where it was badly affected or things were still smouldering.
01:08:33.19 Andy Coulson:
So when I ask you the question, how did you manage your… because it’s not just trauma, it’s deep grief, as you described. People that you knew and worked with for many years are no longer alive. When I ask you how you managed your grief and how did you start your recovery, you go immediately to work. It was work that was the answer for you?
01:08:59.12 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes, the moment that we reopened, I think the flashbacks came very strongly because there were connected with each and every restaurant somewhere or other. And sometimes it would come out of this ‘…tell Boris to do the that…’ and then we realise that Boris is no more. And those are the kind of moments which you still recall sometimes.
01:09:30.02 Hermant Oberoi:
But rebuilding was a challenge and hats off to our team, our management, Mr Tata, Mr Krishna Kumar, who was our managing director and the team members and our general manager, security, everybody, engineering team, who worked so hard to get the restaurant back. Our vendors, our event leader people. Our housekeeping who brought some furniture from all the rooms which are burned down. Because I needed about fifty chairs to open a restaurant in a banqueting room. So they brought all the chairs that are not damaged to the rooms and we could get hold of fifty chairs and got them polished and got redid the upholster and it was…
01:10:19.19 Andy Coulson:
Incredible feat, yeah. You mentioned a moment ago, Hermant, that the events, of course, affected you. Have they changed you at all?
01:10:36.02 Hermant Oberoi:
To some extent yes, it changes you. You start feeling that one should always be more helpful; you never know when it comes to you. But I became more of a believer of destiny, a very strong believer of destiny.
01:10:55.09 Andy Coulson:
Were you already?
01:10:57.04 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes, and very strong believer I became again, that if it’s not written in your destiny nothing can happen. And whatever is yours, nobody else can take it.
01:11:15.12 Andy Coulson:
And that thought was with you when you were in the midst of it? When you were in the middle of what happened, you were saying that to yourself?
01:11:24.22 Hermant Oberoi:
I didn’t have the time to think about any of those things at that time.
01:11:28.19 Andy Coulson:
01:11:30.01 Hermant Oberoi:
I didn’t have time. Our only motto was to save the guests. There was nothing else working in my mind.
01:11:37.02 Andy Coulson:
Yes. What did you think of the film? There was some controversy that such a horrific event should be dramatised but it think you saw it as a positive, didn’t you?
01:11:51.01 Hermant Oberoi:
I think Anthony has done a good job. You see 65% of the movie is proud of the facts and 35% yes definitely here to make the movie.
01:12:07.12 Andy Coulson:
But he’s been quite respectful of the identities of people that were involved. He created some fictionalised characters, merged some stories.
01:12:16.18 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes, and… the families to the management, to everybody.
01:12:25.13 Andy Coulson:
But you think it’s, your view is that it’s important that that story should be told in the way that he chose to tell it?
01:12:33.08 Hermant Oberoi:
You see what happens, people’s memories are very short-lived. They’re very short lived. They forget, the people who saw the movie after so many years, some of the kids didn’t even know what had happened. What is this Hotel Mumbai, what is a terrorist attack about? That’s how they go. And it’s only the people who are from that generation that remember it. Or those who have been through this or those whose families have been through this. They will remember it more in a way, rather than these youngsters who are living for today, not for tomorrow.
01:13:18.01 Andy Coulson:
Yes, it’s that balance between recovery and memorial, isn’t it, that can be so difficult.
01:13:29.03 Hermant Oberoi:
01:13:31.03 Andy Coulson:
You built a physical memorial to the staff that you lost that, as I understood it, still sits on the wall outside of what was your office, is that right?
01:13:43.05 Hermant Oberoi:
Yes, just on this morning, 26/11, one of my staff who are still working there, they sent me the picture of that.
01:13:54.20 Andy Coulson:
How do you, or do you, mark the anniversary?
01:13:59.21 Hermant Oberoi:
Last year I had most of the people who were involved in that or who suffered, they came to my restaurant. So we had a lunch together.
01:14:11.19 Andy Coulson:
Not possible this year, of course.
01:14:13.17 Hermant Oberoi:
This year, due to Corona, it was not possible. So hopefully when things go well, next year, we’ll redo it.
01:14:21.18 Andy Coulson:
You left the Taj Group in 2016, is that correct?
01:14:27.02 Hermant Oberoi:
01:14:28.00 Andy Coulson:
To establish your own restaurants. Leaving must have been, in some ways, very hard with so much history. So much of your history entwined in the Taj and of course so much emotion. How big a decision was that for you and how difficult was it?
01:14:51.06 Hermant Oberoi:
You see actually I had retired in 2015 and one year I was advisor to them. And I thought being it was that I was not doing justice to my role which was always a very active role on the shop floor. You are involved, you’re meeting the guests, you’re meeting everybody, you’re meeting the staff, you’re creating something new. Here you’re sitting in the office, nine till six and just giving a piece of advice here and there. And I thought that role was not what I wanted in life. And…
01:15:34.04 Andy Coulson:
You went back to work.
01:15:35.21 Hermant Oberoi:
So I thought when the opportunities came, first Singapore and then followed by US and then followed by Abu Dhabi and then Mumbai and that’s how the things unfolded.
01:15:49.07 Andy Coulson:
Fantastic, well congratulations and as I say, I hope that the impact of the pandemic, that you’re able now to look to a new year and start making progress again. Hermant, I’d like to ask you, if I may, for three crisis cures. These are three things that we ask for at the end of every podcast, that you have leant on, relied on, do rely on, perhaps, still in those difficult and tough days. What comes to mind when I ask you for yours?
01:16:29.16 Hermant Oberoi:
It’s the intuition and the gut feelings first. It’s always my intuition, gut feelings that has never failed me, more or less. If I say this I shouldn’t do it, so I don’t do it. And because if I do it, it has one way or another gone wrong for me. And it’s the gut feeling, I listen to my inner voice and that’s the way. And secondly, I think one should be a team leader in a different way. You should be like a pyramid in life. Sometimes the top is down and sometimes the bottom is up. So that pyramid which can take the load off others in life, I think they are very successful in life.
01:17:40.05 Andy Coulson:
And your third crisis cure?
01:17:44.03 Hermant Oberoi:
Help others as much as you can because you never know when you will need it.
01:17:56.03 Andy Coulson:
Hermant, I just want to end, obviously by saying thank you. You’ve given us a most incredible insight to a situation that, as you tell it twelve years on, is clearly still so visceral for you but it is still so hard to grasp in so many ways. You know, there are several things I think that shine out from our conversation, obviously your innate bravery and selflessness. But also this idea that leadership, which is a word that gets used an awful lot these days in all sorts of contexts, but that real leadership is about trusting your gut instinct as you’ve just said and relying on your values.
01:18:59.12 Andy Coulson:
And there is clearly a very straight line from your history through your career at the Taj, obviously for many years, your relationship with those guests, that when such horror came you didn’t hesitate but to protect. That was the instinct, that was the obvious, it seems to you, perhaps not to people listening to this podcast, but to you, the obvious and only course of action. And I think that there are lessons in and amongst that buried away in that story, some very obvious what we can all benefit from. I just want to say thank you for talking to us today, for joining us on the podcast. It’s an absolute privilege to have had this conversation with you Hermant, and I thank you for it.
01:19:58.21 Hermant Oberoi:
Thank you so much. Thank you so much and looking forward to seeing you one day.
01:20:05.03 Andy Coulson:
I look forward to that too. Thank you Hermant.
01:20:07.19 Hermant Oberoi:
Thank you, thanks so much.
01:20:09.18 Andy Coulson:
Thanks for listening to Crisis What Crisis? Feel free to send us your feedback. You’ll find our contact details and our show notes giving you the key insights from our guests at crisiswhatcrisis.com. There are also links to our newsletter, Facebook page and Instagram. There are more useful conversations on the way soon and if you enjoy this podcast please do give us a rating and a review. Thanks again.
01:20:43.01 End of transcription