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Tracing Mumbai's spirit of resilience.

PAST the handheld metaldetectors of the otherwise unarmed security guards who man Leopold CafE[umlaut]'s two entrances and well into what is Mumbai's hippest joint, if you sit staring at the place where the two Lashkar- e- Tayyeba ( LeT) gunmen would have entered the 100- cover restaurant on the evening of November 26 last year, you will see a shattered glass pane that bears the telltale signs of a bullet wound.

The crack on the glass extends for what looks like almost two feet, but by a strange quirk of fate, was not completely shattered.

Nishika Kulkarni, a 33- year- old chartered accountant at a multinational real estate firm and a regular at Leopold, finds this symbolic of the restaurant's resolve. " It's damaged a bit, but not fully shattered, is it?" Two terrorists gunned down 10 people who had come to Leopold for a quiet dinner that night, thus announcing the beginning of what turned out to be the worst terror attack on Indian soil.

Kulkarni has been visiting Leopold for the last 14 years, since the time she was in H. R. College of Commerce when, she says, " a chilli cheese toast would have cost around Rs 50. It's Rs 175 now, but I don't mind paying it because it is not just about the food. It is about being here." But what she finds most remarkable here is neither the food nor the ambience, but the ability of the restaurant to convert a tragedy into a commercial opportunity. There are coffee mugs with the cracked window image and beer mugs with images of the 26/ 11 tragedy that you can either drink in or buy at the counter. " It is like telling the terrorists what Mumbai is all about -- it is about progress and business, no matter what you do to us." Not that everyone likes the idea. The Shiv Sena, trying to exact some political mileage in the way they know best -- violent protests -- created a ruckus outside the 138- yearold Leopold on Tuesday for Tracing Mumbai's spirit of resilience precisely that reason before the police intervened and asked them to leave.

Leopold co- owner Farhang Jehani says the very fact that the restaurant is completely occupied even at odd hours, including by foreign tourists, is testament to the resilience of this place. " November 26 was the darkest day in the history of Leopold CafE[umlaut]. But that does not mean we will keep feeling morose about it and stop living our lives." At the nearby Nariman House, where the Lashkar terrorists mercilessly killed six members of the conservative Jewish Chabad movement, the four- storeyed building is just as it is as it was on November 28, the day the siege ended. It is guarded by two nondescript security guards, but is visited regularly by members of the Chabad- Lubavitch movement, who have planned a day- long commemoration function on November 26.

They won't give their names, they say, and they speak to each other only in chaste Hebrew so that Indian visitors are unaware of their conversation.

Some of the visitors, the guards say, are from the United States, which is where Mumbai Chabad movement leader Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg was from.

Apart from this, there is complete silence, just as the mute bullet- ridden building stands testimony to 26/ 11.

At the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus building where two terrorists, including the captured Mohd Ajmal Amir Qasab killed 58 travellers, there is still some palpable tension underneath the tough exterior of the regular commuters.

" It is not easy," says Mandar Ghatge, 29, one of the people who escaped death on November 26 when Qasab fired indiscriminately at those at the iconic station. " Every morning when I leave my home in Thane, my mother has this look in her eye. She does not say it, but she is worried if I will return home."

Almost a year after the 26/11 attack, Mumbai shows what keeps it going. Leopold CafE[umlaut] (right) is crowded with its devoted patrons; a rabbi of the Jewish Chabad-Lubavitch movement pays homage to victims at a bullet-riddled wall of Nariman House (below); and commuters at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus go through the daily grind.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Nov 25, 2009
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