Five years on, life goes on at Leopold (Five years after 26/11 attack)
Five years have gone by since that horrible night and beer is flowing freely at south Mumbai's Leopold Cafe. The popular hangout in Colaba has put behind it the scars of the Nov 26, 2008, attack.
That night three of the 10 Pakistani terrorists who had sneaked into the city via the sea route opened fire at Leopold Cafe, frequented by foreigners, claiming 10 lives. The terrorists hit other points in south Mumbai and by the time the mayhem ended 60 hours later, 166 were dead, including 26 foreigners, and more than 300 were injured.
At the Leopold Cafe, the bullet holes have been covered with framed posters that try to hide gruesome memories of the attack. In the past, the waiters at Leopold had a tough time obliging customers by pointing out the bullet holes.
Samantha Phillips, a New Yorker on a business trip here, was out for a quick breakfast at Leopold.
"I have heard about the attack five years ago. It was an incident that shook the world. We can never imagine that the cool evening at the Leopold with friends can turn fatal. When I came here, I wanted to come and visit this cafe. I never felt that such an attack can ever take place here. Life is normal here," Phillips told IANS here over a plate of keema pav.
For Benjamin Cox, a backpacker from Prague, Leopold reflects the spirit of Mumbai.
"I have heard about the undying spirit of the city. Mumbai has suffered so many terrorist attacks but every time the city has bounced back strongly. It is the same at the Leopold. Life at the cafe remains unfazed with what happened here in 2008," Cox told IANS.
Soon it's time for lunch at Leopold. A group of Indian professionals walk in for a sumptuous feast. It strikes them that the fifth anniversary of the Mumbai attack is at hand.
Shalini Jain, an investment banker, feels that the city has put the attack behind it.
"The whole city has put behind the scars of the attack. Leopold is no stranger. We don't think there has been any change here in the last five years after the attack. What happened is extremely sad, but life moves on as usual. It is a fitting reply to the terrorists, who are trying to disrupt life in the city," Jain told IANS.
The only change the area has undergone is a permanent picket of police commandos is stationed in the side alley that leads to the iconic Taj Mahal Palace overlooking the majestic Gateway of India. Some 200 guests were taken hostage at the Taj by the same three gunmen who had opened fire at the Leopold.
Ram Kushwaha, a taxi driver, always stations his car in front of the Leopold. It doesn't take long for him to recall the gruesome night.
"It was a horrible incident. I was sitting inside my taxi. The Leopold is a good place from where I get a lot of customers. Suddenly there were sounds of gunfire. First we thought some crackers were bursting, but later I saw two young boys firing indiscriminately at the cafe. It was blood everywhere. I just hid in my car and I am lucky to live today," said Kuhwaha Ram, who hails from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
(Abhishek Roy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 26-11-2013)