He is literally back from the clutches of death at the hands of Mumbai terror attackers on November 26, 2008.
Perhaps not many top bank executives in the world would have experienced the ordeal that the 81-year old K. R. Ramamoorthy, retired Chairman and Managing Director of then Corporation Bank and ING Vysya Bank and later Non-Executive Chairman of ING Vysya Bank underwent 13-years back.
With a gun to his head Ramamoorthy, then 69 years of age, was taken captive by the terrorists at Taj Mahal Palace Hotel’s Room Number 632 and also assaulted.
He was tied up and pinned to the floor and later four more hostages-all hotel staffers- were brought into the room.
“I am a strong believer of Goddess Karpagambal of Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai. I took a deep breath and left my life to be decided by her,” he said.
Ramamoorthy’s room became the control room for the four terrorists who interacted with their handlers overseas.
“The terrorists were tying the grenades to the cupboards. They could have blown up the room anytime. Trembling I realised my minutes – not days- were numbered,” the banker mused.
Once Ramamoorthy had accepted the critical situation he was in-owing to his religious upbringing and philosophical beliefs- he decided to take things as they came and not to become unduly panicked.
To escape, he tried climbing down from the fifth floor of the hotel and braved the raging fire triggered by the blasts, smoke risking being shot.
“I also realised what a great engineer God was in designing the human body that can secrete adrenaline in times of need. For six long hours my life was under threat. I was able to lie down with hands and legs tied and run risking bullets, fire and smoke. After coming out alive, I was not able to sit in a car for just 20 minutes and got admitted to Jaslok Hospital. Then I realised the adrenaline magic,” Ramamoorthy said while recalling his great escape story of his life.
The retired banker, who was on the board of several corporates, had a Board meeting in Mumbai on November 26,2008 and checked into the iconic hotel the previous day.
“After a dinner walk outside, I came back to my room on the sixth floor and found the drinking water bottle was inadequate. There was no response from the room service. I decided to go down and pick up a couple of water bottles,” Ramamoorthy said.
Outside the room when he peered down at the fifth floor and saw three policemen with rifles and hotel security staff.
On seeing Ramamoorthy above they signalled him to go back to the room and sensing something amiss the banker went back into Room No.632 and called room service and got nil response.
Soon he received a call on the room phone with a staff saying some emergency was on at the hotel and disconnected the line.
Ramamoorthy then switched on a news channel which showed terror attacks, including in Taj Mahal Palace.
At about 11 p.m. the hotel television went out. Soon Ramamoorthy started hearing gunshots – some nearer his room and some far away.
Some minutes later he heard knocks at his door and a voice calling out ‘room service, room service’ but he remained silent.
Again there were knocks and this time the voice said `shoe polish, shoe polish’.
Though Ramamoorthy realised that someone was trying to gain entry into the room, he blurted out not needed in Hindi.
Immediately gunshots blasted out the room lock and the terrorists entered while Ramamoorthy tried to lock himself inside the bathroom.
“Before I could lock myself, two terrorists with guns came in and one put the gun to my head and ordered me to kneel and lift up both the hands. I pleaded to them citing my age and high blood pressure to which they asked to keep quiet,” Ramamoorthy said.
The terrorists ordered Ramamoorthy to undress and tied his legs and hands with his pyjama and kurta and also hit him on the neck and shoulders.
They asked Ramamoorthy to lie face down and then kicked him with their boots.
While one held a gun to Ramamoorthy’s back, the other began to speak to their handlers about gaining entry into a room, holding him as hostage.
For two hours nothing much changed except the sounds of blasts and gunshots reaching the room and one terrorist went out.
Soon he brought in two hostages. Later, two more terrorists entered the room with as many hotel staffers.
The terrorists had the beverages and the snacks in the room, used the washroom and rested on the bed and then started their questioning.
“They asked me my name, father’s name, place of residence, telephone number as per the instructions of their handlers.”
“When asked about my profession, I said teacher and got lashings and one terrorists was hitting me severely. The handlers then asked the terrorists my physical description-stout, bald, spectaled. I realised they knew about me and said I was the Chairman of ING Vysya,” Ramamoorthy said.
Realising that Ramamoorthy was a high value captive, the handlers asked the terrorists to hold him till they are safe and then kill him.
While two terrorists left the room, the others heralded the hostages to Room No.520 in the fifth floor.
“After sometime a deafening blast shook the hotel. There was lot of smoke and terrorists too chocked. On the instructions of their handlers perhaps, they left us and went down,” Ramamoorthy said.
The hostages freed themselves somehow and the hotel staff made a rope out of curtains and bedsheets and tied it firmly to a rod overhead.
While the young hotel staff slid down, Ramamoorthy was reluctant fearing that the rope would not bear his weight and snap.
He then wore a T-shirt and pyjama of the earlier room occupant and exited the room. The corridor was full of smoke and gunshots were heard.
Ramamoorthy somehow reached the third floor and entered a room and opened the window.
“I waved at the firemen who were outside and they brought a ladder and lowered me to the ground along with another lady. I used her phone and called made a brief call to my wife and shared about my ordeal. She couldn’t take it and broke down. I also broke down,” Ramamoorthy said.
Later composing himself he told his son his experience and went to the Jaslok Hospital.
Ramamoorthya’s son was monitoring the television news on the terror attacks and was under lot of mental pressure.
Queried about post hostage trauma Ramamoothy said: “For about six months I was not able to sleep properly in hotel rooms. Even the sound of footsteps outside the room would give me shivers and disturb my sleep.”
On the suggestion of a friend Ramamoorthy once stayed in Room No. 632 at Taj Mahal Palace to get out of that syndrome.
“Coincidentally that morning I heard that one of the terrorists Ajmal Kasab was hanged that day,” Ramamoorthy said.
According to Ramamoorthy, he now prefers low profile hotels with smaller rooms.
“I also stopped talking about the ordeal as it would shoot up my blood pressure. After a long gap, I am now speaking to IANS on the topic,” Ramamoorthy said.
Curiously this is not the first time he experienced a terror attack in Mumbai.
“In 2003, I had another escape as a bomb exploded in a locality I had left few minutes earlier,” he said.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at email@example.com)