The tragic story capturing the Indian public's imagination

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The Independent Online

They gently pressed, they shuffled and squeezed, but there was never going to be enough room inside the ageing crematorium. Not for the numbers of people who wanted pay their last respects to Niti Kang and her two sons.

The wife and children of Karambir Singh Kang, general manager of Mumbai's Taj Mahal hotel died in their suite on the 6th floor of the building, either burned to death or asphyxiated by smoke as fire-fighters struggled to reach them. Having barricaded their door against the gunmen she believed were in the adjoining rooms, Mrs Kang had then locked herself in the bathroom with her sons. When commandos finally broke down the doors, the three of them were found together - the mother cradling one son, the other lying on the floor beside her.

"She was an excellent mother, daughter, wife and friend," said Bandana Modi, a life-long friend of Mrs Kang, who first met her while they were both schoolchildren. "She was very nice, very charismatic. She was a very friendly person. She was also a very good dancer and singer."

In recent days the crematoriums and burial grounds of Mumbai have been working non-stop, overloaded with the task of dealing with the dead of last week's terror attacks. The newspapers have likewise been filled with memorial notices, and messages of sympathy; scores of private tragedies linked by circumstance and collective grief.

Of all these, none captured the public imagination more than the death of Mrs Kang and her sons, Uday, 13, and five-year-old Samar. As they waited anxiously in their room - unable to move - Mr Kang worked ceaselessly to try and rescue other people trapped in the hotel. He kept speaking with his wife by mobile phone. In their last conversation she had apparently told him they were hiding in the bathroom as the flames approached.

Yet even after he learned of the death of his wife and children, the hotelier, originally from the Punjab, stayed at his post. On Saturday morning, when the final gunman holed-up in the landmark hotel was killed by commandos, Mr Kang was still working. Reports said that the hotel's owner, the industrialist Ratan Tata, had to personally tell him to go home and be with his relatives.

Mr Kang remained just as stoic and unbending yesterday. Surrounded with relatives and Taj employees, he stood as special Sikh prayers were read and priests carried out a "puja" or ceremony in front of the three coffins containing the remains of his wife and children. They were then taken into an adjoining room and lifted into the ovens.

Those who had come to say farewell included personal friends, colleagues from work as well as other Taj employees who were there out of respect. Some teachers from Uday's school had also come, wiping away their tears. "He was a very good student. He was due to take his exams tomorrow," said one of them. Another of the woman appeared unable to make sense of what had happened. "We are women, we are educated women. Yet men came and did this. How do you stop this," she said.

Another man, who described himself as a close family friend, also shook his head in disbelief. "This is very hard."

Typically enough Mr Kang was among the last to leave. He was driven away from the crematorium in a car provided by the hotel. He sat in the front seat, his face unflinching.