Terror fails to scare fans of Mumbai’s beloved Leopold Café

December 8th, 2008 - 2:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Dec 8 (IANS) It’s nine at night and the roads are already deserted in Mumbai. For a city that is still coming to terms with terror attacks, that is not unusual. However Leo’s, as the Leopold Café is fondly called by its frequent customers, throbs with life.With its bullet riddled windows, granite walls and ceiling, the café, which came into being way back in 1871, is a stark reminder of the nightmare that India’s financial capital faced.

On the night of Nov 26, terrorists struck several prominent places in south Mumbai, including the Leopold Café, Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel and Oberoi Trident hotel. At the cafe, two militants barged in and opened fire, killing at least seven people. In all, 172 people were killed and 248 were injured.

However, the swelling crowds in the city’s hotspot now send out a strong retaliatory message - that Mumbai will not bow to terror.

Manish Manchandani, a 34-year-old businessman, is one of Leo’s frequent customers and was there having a beer with his friends on the night of terror.

“We had left just about half an hour before the shooting began, and when I came to know about it later, I was shocked. Of those seven killed, I could very well be one… that’s a place you will inevitably find me in, if not anywhere else.

“But somehow instead of leaving me scared, the incident left me angry. Very angry. The first day Leo reopened for business, I was here, with the same set of friends. It was our way of telling those elements that you can’t scare us and take us for granted,” Manchandani told IANS.

Bryan D’Souza, manager of the café, said it is because of the spirit of people like Manchandani that Leo’s has been able to stand back on its feet.

“We lost two of our waiters - Peer Pasha and Hidayat Qazi - that night. In one split second this fun loving place turned into a bloodshed ground for the terrorists. But this is our way of defying them… these marks on the walls remind you of that day, but the swelling crowds tell you something much deeper,” D’Souza said while running his hand over the bullet marks on the part of the ceiling right above his counter.

In fact, the number of customers have increased since the café reopened.

“There has definitely been an increase in the number of customers. At any given time now, all our tables remain packed, all 34 of them. Most of them are our regular customers but there are many more who come just to take a look at Leo’s, how it stands after the attack,” said D’Souza.

People have also been very generous in donating money for the kin of the two waiters who lost their lives in the attack. In a corner of the manager’s counter, the smiling faces of Pasha and Qazi look at you through a glass box brimming with currency notes.

“You don’t think twice before slipping in a currency note. These are men who served me everyday until last week… it feels like you actually know them,” said Archana Malik, another Leo loyalist.

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