Thursday, November 27, 2008
I suppose I'm fixating on this backpackers haunt because 1. I've hung out there and 2. it's very representative of backpackers haunt all over the world, from California to Beijing to Bombay. It's the kind of place where weirdos, degenerates, and the merely frightened hang out, and the fact that it was selected specifically as a target gives me and I imagine many other lily-white foreign tourists a bit of pause. I'm not pretending Leopold is noble or anything, but it is symbolic.
From the BBC live feed of events:
1500 Farzed Jehani, who owns the popular backpacker haunt, the Leopold Café, told the BBC how it was stormed by gunmen. "Two people from the outside... started firing into the premises," he says. "For a minute it was like firecrackers, but they realised very soon that it wasn't - it was bullets flying. A grenade was thrown into the restaurant which, yes, blew [up]... Two of my waiters died. There was around five or six tourist bodies lying on the floor, as well as five or six Indian people who were lying on the floor, dead."
Unimaginable. I know exactly how that place looked on a regular Wednesday night and can't place crazed gunmen in the picture.
Cafe Leopold's: Where it All Began - India Today
"One of the places where Shantaram was distributed and sold on its release was at Leo's in 2005. From unsavoury elements, both Indian and foreign, to young students looking for a good time to regulars that have haunted the place for nearly half a decade you could find all kinds of people enjoying the onion stew on any day of the week at Leo's.
It's a pity that Robert's favourite haunt became the location for the first attack by the terrorist. The casual and friendly atmosphere of the cafe will be a thing of the past for a while, and with foreign embassies being what they are with their warning to their citizens, travelers from across the seas will take some time before they start flocking to their favourite haunt again!"
Shadowy Cafe Frequented by Westerners a Natural Target - Sydney Morning Herald
"Leopold's has long been a tourist destination because of its authenticity. For years its reputation and its art deco signage have lured travellers into the bustling, slightly tattered interior. Travellers have described visiting it as an "event". Like the Coliseum Cafe in Kuala Lumpur or Fishawy in Cairo, its down-at-heel charms have made it an international landmark."
"Authentic" is stretching it (shadowy is not) but the joint was certainly a Colaba fixture. (I hope it is not a "was".)
"Leopold's was also the setting for much of the action in Shantaram, the novel by the Australian author Gregory David Roberts, and based loosely on his years on the run in India after fleeing Australia following his conviction on drug and armed robbery charges.
The Leopold's in Shantaram resembles a modern-day Rick's Cafe Americain from Casablanca, filled with shadowy types exchanging forged passports or doing drug deals."
Guess I need to read Shantaram now. Everyone seemed to be hauling that monster around Mumbai this April. The book vendors set up shop all along the street Leopold's was on, hawking slightly over-priced counterfeits to all comers. Wish I sprang for it.
David Coker tells how he stared down a Mumbai terrorist - Herald Sun
"As diners at Mumbai's Leopold Cafe were gunned down in front of them, an injured Mr Coker, 23, scooped up Kate Anstee, 24, as she was trying to crawl to safety and carried her to a taxi.
"When they got out of the restaurant he said he had Katie in his arms and he walked out through this debris of broken glass to see a man standing with an AK-47," David's father John Coker said from Townsville.
"He said, 'I'll never forget his face. He looked at me, Dad, and he didn't shoot us."
Finally, a fascinating and non terrorism linked article on Mumbai's Iranian cafe's from the Asia Times.
"Iranian cafes are century-old landmarks in India's financial capital and perhaps Asia's oldest surviving genre of restaurants. Their bun maska (crusty buns split and spread with butter), kari (fluffy) biscuits, custard pies, puddings and paani kum chai (thick milky tea) are as much part of cosmopolitan Mumbai as cheesecakes in New York or croissants on the sidewalk cafes in Paris. "
"Some remaining Iranian cafes, such as Cafe Mundegar and the more internationally famous Leopold Cafe in Colaba, transformed themselves into airy pubs that are now favorite watering holes for Western tourists in Mumbai. As with classic Iranian cafe tradition, the restaurants occupy the corner of a building and have two entrances: one never bumps into an entering or exiting customer."