Just four months ago, a couple injured in the attacks came over
It was lunch time. Multiracial faces stared back from the noisy tables at Leopold Cafe. Within minutes, Cally Williams stepped out for a puff with a cup of tea in hand.
Yes, she was aware of the 26/11 terror attack at Leopold. Yes, she was even aware of the triple bombings in Mumbai this July. But all that “did not matter.”
Hailing from London and working in Hong Kong, Ms. Williams was here on business and felt no sense of apprehension at what had happened three years ago. This south Mumbai eatery, known for its foreign clientele, had witnessed bloodshed as two attackers fired indiscriminately at the evening guests.
It wasn't this gory past that led Ms. Williams to sit at a table at Leopold though.
“I read about the café in ‘Shantaram' [by Gregory David Roberts],” she said. Was she curious about the bullet marks left by the night of horror?
“Not that curious. I mean it's just a hole. My driver told me about the bullet marks,” she quipped.
Leopold's co-owner Farhang Jehangi said there were enough curious visitors even after three years.
“People still come and ask. We have to take them around and show them the marks. They click pictures. The curiosity is still there. Many point fingers as they pass by. Tourist buses slow down and point out the café,” he said.
The local guide for American tourists, Jeff Bakke and Nancy Ingrid, told them about the famous “bullet holes.”
“We were at the Elephanta Caves the other day and our guide told us that attackers came from a fishing village,” Mr. Bakke said.
But none of it instilled any fear in them, besides a general sense of concern for security.
Besides foreign vacationers, much of the interest in this “terror tourism” has been fuelled by Indian tourists as well.
“There are a lot of tourists from different parts of India. They are definitely not scared,” said Mr. Jehangi.
In these three years and even in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, there was no reduction in the influx of tourists to his café.
“Just four months ago, a couple who were injured in the attacks came over. The husband said, ‘I have come back to finish my beer,' Mr. Jehangi recalled.
There are those like Goizet Jean Mari from France, who were oblivious to the history Leopold had created. “Here? Really? They came here?” he asked, surprise writ large on his face.
Waiting at the entrance of the café for his friends, Mr. Jean Marie said the fact that a daring terror attack took place there was “not very important”. “I have been to Delhi, Rajasthan, Benares. I don't feel any sense of fear,” she said. And would he like to see the bullet-holes? “I don't like voyeur tourists,” he remarked.
To Ms. Williams, it wasn't the attack, but the heavy security structure created after the attacks that she found more daunting to the spirit. “The security at hotels! Now that's scary! I know you don't have a choice about that. But otherwise generally I am not worried. We had the bombings in London. You got to get on with life. You can't stop doing the things you do,” she said. Her one hand clutching a teacup and the other one flicking a cigarette, Ms. Williams epitomised the indomitable spirit of tourists from foreign lands.
The November 26, 2008, attacks had claimed the lives of 26 foreign nationals.