amazing scenes

MUMBAI: TAJ

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I was shown deep inside to a table in the back corner. My back was to a mirrored wall, another one beside me. I absently looked up. Then I noticed these bullet holes in the mirrors; right at eye height, a foot from my face, are two bullet holes. Behind me, on the other side, another one – someone has sprayed the very corner I’m sitting in with bullets. Whoever had been sitting in my seat had copped the other two full in the face.

Too s-s-s-senssssitive, Doggy? Too S-s-s-seventies?

Too much for breakfast, that’s for sure – I had to change tables.

The attack was on 26th November 2008 at 9.30 p.m.  They hit Leopold’s first. Two gunmen were sitting inside at separate tables. They stood up and started shooting. Eight customers were killed as they ate; four foreigners and four Indians, another two members of staff also died. Many more were injured.

When it re-opened five days later the Leopold Café became a symbol of defiance. The attack made Leopold’s far, far more famous than it ever was.  It’s been packed out ever since; more popular than ever, part of the Terrorist Tourist Circuit. Every night a queue of punters, a crush of white and brown – the curious, the committed, the couldn’t-care-less, all hell-bent on getting in. Money fell from the sky.

An Indian family wandered in through one door, threaded their multiple ways round multiple tables, pausing to click off a defiant snap of the bullet holes, giggle and pose in rapid succession, flash, flash, flash! Then they wandered out through the other door, regrouped, chattering gaily, off to the next terrorist shrine on their list.

Leopold Café has brought out a new souvenir mug. It has a big blue picture of their bullet holes on the side. I gasped. Three hundred rupees each – so far, the café has sold four thousand.

Japanese tourists posed for photographs by the famous bullet-riddled mirror, grinning wildly, their student eyes shining inanely in the Mumbai morning. They were making that stupid ‘V’ for victory sign, new bullet mugs held out proudly in front of them. More defiance, I guess.

More than one commentator has noted that the owner has not shied away from embracing this tragedy for profit. They say Leopold’s has branded, marketed, promoted and ‘monetized its moment in history’.

As well as the mugs, there are T-shirts of various designs and a hastily written book for sale, all in the cause of ‘defiance’. There’ll be a C.D. coming out soon then, doubtless, documentaries and the movie. Sales are up five hundred percent since the attack. His business has quadrupled.

‘Nothing can stop Mumbai!

Certainly nothing can stop the proprietor of Leopold Café.

He is pure Bombay chutzpah; unadulterated enterprise, the King of Colaba. In his stroke of extra-special genius, he found a way to simultaneously profit from the deaths of his customers while managing to sound heroic.

It takes real Mumbai magic to do that.