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Post Attacks, Leopold's a Crowded Mumbai Favorite

New America Media, News feature, Mark Schurmann Posted: Feb 28, 2009

Editor's Note: Three months after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, one of the targets, iconic bar and restaurant Leopolds, is more crowded than before the assault, which killed eight people. Call it resilience and a refusal to give in to fear. NAM contributor Mark Schurmann reports.

MUMBAILeopolds wasnt hard to find. Among central Mumbais bright lights and busy streets, the caf seems to pull you towards it.

Inside, tourists mix easily with Indians sharing tables and conversation. The menu is as diverse as the crowd, continental dishes side-by-side with Indian ones and a separate menu for Chinese food. The beers are cold.

Established in 1871, the iconic bar and restaurant has long been a popular watering hole for backpackers, traveling businessmen and ex-patriots living in Mumbai.

Since the terror attacks of Nov. 26, 2008, it is again a popular destination for Mumbai locals and Indian nationals, as well.

That night, Leopolds was riddled with bullets that ripped bodies and ended lives. It was one target among many in this city in what was perhaps the most audacious terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001.

Like Hong Kong or New York, Mumbai seems to belong as much to the world as it does to India, a quality embodied by Leopolds international reputation and crowd. Ironically, that same quality attracted those responsible for the attack.

From the minute their boat docked in Mumbai, 10 men embarked on what seemed to be an open assault on the heart of this city that included the cities main train station, a hospital, its finest hotelsand Leopolds.

Determined to prove the cafs resilience, owners Farzad and Farhang Jehani re-opened Leopolds only four days later. This will not destroy our way of thinking, said Farzad Jehani, an affable and fighting fit 46-year-old.

Apparently, locals were determined to do the same.

We were so busy I had to shut down my place because I couldnt handle the crowds, he said. People who watched the attacks on TV were coming in with their children to teach them they didnt have to be afraid.

The brothers re-opened the following afternoon.

Three months later, the place is still packed. Jehani says business is as good as ever, with many locals who might have once written off Leopolds coming back are joining tourists for dinner and drinks.

Within minutes of sitting down on my first night there, two Gujarati businessmen joined me. They were in the city for the day and stepped in for a quick Scotch before heading home.

How about the recession in America? they asked. Bad. What do you think of Obama? Good.

I asked them about business in Gujarat. They said things were good, though Ive read in the Indian press that Gujarat, too, has had its share of problems with the global recession.

Then the conversation took a quick turn to the terrorist attacks. Not
surprising.

The cafs walls still bear evidence of the attack. There are bullet holes in the columns on either end of the restaurant, bullet holes near the ceiling and two large bullet holes in the storefront window that I noticed only when the customers sitting in front of them had left their table.

Jehani says the attack lasted only two and a half or three minutes but felt much longer. He pointed out a small crater--no bigger than a fist--beneath one table where a grenade was thrown by one of the attackers.

Hard to imagine something that small being so destructive yet the British couple sitting at the table that night were wounded by the blast and managed to survive when the wife astutely overturned a table to protect her husband and obstruct their view from terrorists

Sadly, others werent so fortunate. Eight people were killed in Leopolds during the attack: two members of Leopolds staff, three foreign tourists and three local Indians.

Many customers survived only by pretending to be dead. Jehani guesses that casualties might have been higher had the terrorists not been more intent on reaching the Taj Hotel just minutes away.

After a few drinks, the businessmen and I raise a toast to the victims of the attacks before they hurry off for a long commute home.

The following night, I share a beer and table with Suchi, a young Indian lawyer, who tells me he often comes to Leopolds for a brief respite between his duties at work and those at home.

Suchi dreams of going to South America some day and asks me with a wide grin if Latinos look like Indians?

He comes to Leopolds, he says, because the beer is good and because of the shooting that happened a few months ago.

Prashant Pethe, a feature filmmaker sitting behind me, says he comes for the second reason. I usually go elsewhere but because of what happened, I come here to make a point, he said. [Leopolds] was attacked once, it may or may not be attacked again, but I want to show them that I am not afraid.

Not afraid of terrorists. Not afraid of sharing tables or ideas with complete strangers, even if theyre foreigners.

Later Malcolm, an elderly Brit who says he's been coming to India for years (owns a house in Goa), tells me that hes never seen Leopolds so full of Indians. A few years ago," he said, "it was all international tourists.

Related Articles:

In Mumbai, Mixed Views on Slumdogs Success

Letter from India: Peace Breaking Out in Kashmir

Indians Wonder What to do With Surviving Mumbai Attacker







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