"I was sitting there with my crew when at 10.15 pm there was the sound of gunfire. There was a wedding on in the ballroom opposite so initially no one reacted very sharply. It didn't even sound too dangerous and many thought it was part of the raucous celebrations," recalls Rele, adding that there were about 25 people in all on the first-floor lounge at that time.
"Just then a group of five to six people barged in and shouted that there were people outside with guns. In a flash the hotel staff shut the door to the lounge and switched off all the lights. In minutes there were gunshot sounds all over and bullets whizzed through the door. We had taken refuge behind pillars and were then asked to lie down flat. We were petrified - it would have been so simple for them to just shoot the lock and come in but astonishingly they didn't do that and in a few minutes the firing ceased," she said.
"About 15 minutes later there was this huge blast. I guess it was the first of the many hand grenades. After that it was a like a Diwali party - they were throwing hand grenades left, right and center. We could hear glass shattering and there was a loud wail of a woman who sounded like a foreigner. Even in our room it were the foreigners who were panicking the most and demanding to know where the cops and the army was," Rele recounted.
"After what seemed like a very long time we heard police sirens. By this time, the terrorists had reached the sixth floor and were chucking down grenades and the lobby had caught fire. From across we could hear the mayhem at the marriage party and see grenades whizzing past the windows. It was numbing," relates Rele.
By 3 am the false ceiling started to give way. The sprinklers were switched on and everyone lying on the floor were soon in a pool of water. "We had prostrated on the floor and were all wet but of course, no one thought much of that. At about 4.15 am there was this gentleman from the fire brigade who came up to the window and broke it open and one by one we were evacuated," she said reliving the most eagerly awaited moment of her life.
Rele adds there were quite a few senior executives and families in the room with her and is all praises for the staff that handled the exigency commendably. "There was one senior executive called Sarita who was amazing. Even when we all went outside down the ladder, she was the last one to come, even after the waiters," said Rele who first called up her husband and sisters-in-law in Pune once she got out of the hotel.
"I had been in touch with them all through and of course, they too were worried. By the time I reached out, my battery was dead. I borrowed the first phone I saw and called up. The children were sleeping when all this was going on. We didn't tell them anything till morning," said Rele who reached her Baner residence in Pune on Thursday afternoon.
"The predominant feeling now of course is of relief. We could have been easily shot - either while inside or when climbing down the ladder. Actually while we were in we never realised the magnitude of the attack. We kept thinking it would be over in a few hours - can't believe it is still on," concludes the 38-year-old.