Steadfast, Mumbai begins picking up the pieces

Witnesses return defiantly to a favored haunt, amid dismay at massive security failures.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Leopold's Café, the first target of Wednesday's terrorist attacks, crawled back to life Sunday.

The bullet pockmarks on the wall were crudely patched, and the regular customers were waiting as Leopold's shutters were rolled up, amid a cheering crowd, for the first time since terrorists opened fire here last week, killing 10 people.

"We need to prove to terrorists that we've won and they've lost," says Ferhan Farzad Jehani, the defiant owner of Leopold's – a favorite among locals and foreign backpackers alike, especially after it got several mentions in "Shantaram," a popular novel loosely based on the life of author Gregory Roberts.

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Leopold's, located in a teeming market in the heart of Mumbai (Bombay), has been a daily stop for a middle-aged man named Lawrence, who is not comfortable giving out his last name. He arrived at the cafe just minutes after the shootout Wednesday.

"Backpackers come here with dog-eared copies of 'Shantaram,' " says Lawrence. "The attack was meant to shoo them away. But I hope and pray that won't happen."

On Sunday, Lawrence returned to Leopold's, where he ordered a steaming hot chelo kabab, a Persian delicacy made of mutton fillets, served with rice.

Although more were killed in the 1993 serial bombings that hit India, the terror attack last week is being touted as "India's 9/11."

The style and magnitude of the attack is unprecedented, many say. Mumbai has earlier endured bombings on commuter trains and public places, but this is perhaps the first time that gun-wielding men have stormed streets and posh hotels, indiscriminately opening fire on innocent civilians.

"This is the worst terror attack in India," says Ram Puniyani, the secretary of the All India Secular Forum, a nongovernmental organization. "There's widespread shock, but the city is known to bounce back."

"'Spirit of Mumbai' is a used-and-abused phrase," says real estate agent Lucky Handa. "It's like lives come cheap in India. There's attack after attack, and it doesn't stop."

Mr. Handa's mother, Aruna Handa, was trapped for 36 hours on the 19th floor of the Taj Mahal Hotel. One of the 10 places struck by terrorists, the hotel was under siege for nearly 60 hours, before commandos gunned down all terrorists in the building Saturday morning.

Mrs. Handa emerged unscathed after being rescued by commandos, but the nightmarish incident has affected her, she says.

Some parts of this city, still shell-shocked, came to a grinding halt for a few hours on Friday afternoon as a rumor about another shootout unexpectedly rent the air. Shopkeepers closed their doors, cars turned back – jamming traffic – and fear prevailed on the streets.

Calm returned an hour later when, over loudspeakers, the police declared it was a false alarm.

There's also some anger at India's ruling political class over their perceived shortcomings in dealing with the repeated terror attacks in Indian cities.

In its dealings with terrorism, says Mr. Puniyani, India often harasses innocent civilians, and other times the response is just too soft.

"Pakistan's ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] chief has audaciously refused to come to India to help with the investigation," says Mr. Handa. "What the heck is India doing about it? Nothing."

On Saturday evening, after the siege at the Taj had ended, a bevy of angry protesters gathered outside the hotel. One placard held by one of the protesters read:

"Mr. Terrorist: I am alive. What more can you do?

Mr. Politician: I am alive despite you."

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