Tourists back at Mumbai's
Leopold Cafe reading 'Shantaram'
By Azera Rahman
Dec 11 (IANS) When author Gregory David Roberts wrote an open
letter to all his readers asking them not to lose faith in
India and Mumbai following the 26/11 attacks, he immediately
found adherents in people like Anne Fox, a British tourist.
a fear psychosis Fox took a corner table at the famous Leopold
Cafe - the place Roberts had immortalised in his book "Shantaram"
- ordered a beer and got up only after she finished reading
of the city's oldest Irani-run cafes owned by Farzad and Farhang
Jehani, Leopold was set up way back in 1871. Aptly wearing
the tagline 'Getting better with age', it's a huge hit with
on the Colaba Causeway in south Mumbai, Leo's (as the cafe
is popularly known) offers you more than one reason to hop
in. It has 333 items on its food menu ranging from the humble
fish and chips to the royal biryani. But loyal Leodians swear
by its chicken tikka masala and beef chilly and fried rice.
hefty portions at reasonable price, what also sets the cafe
apart is its ambience. Nothing too fancy for your eyes, but
a quaint French cafe look with ever amiable waiters ready
to serve you make most prefer it to its nearby look alike
interrupting its warm ambience, on the night of Nov 26 terrorists
targetted Leo's as their first spot to launch their brazen
attacks that claimed at least 179 lives. Seven people, including
two tourists and two of the cafe's waiters, were among those
weeks later, tourists like Fox have started trickling in again
for what seems to be their favourite pass time at Leo's -
fascinating to read a book based in a particular place and
then relate every little detail mentioned in it to the surroundings
here," Fox told IANS, as she turned a page of the thick
2003 novel by Roberts, "Shantaram" is about an Australian
bank robber and heroin addict who escapes from jail and flees
to Bombay, as Mumbai was formerly called.
all the very typical "Bombay" things and places
mentioned in the book is the Leopold Cafe.
wonder that one corner of the manager's counter is stacked
with the grey and red covered "Shantaram". And it
most definitely is the most read book in the cafe - especially
lazily on her chair, Fox said that she was holidaying at the
sun-kissed beaches of Goa when terrorists struck Mumbai. In
spite of the outrage, Fox said she decided to continue her
journey to Mumbai as per her long-drawn travel itinerary in
India and despite her family and friends advising her against
have been in India for a month now and all this while I have
been in Goa. When I heard about the attacks here, my parents
back home wanted me to cut short the visit, but I just decided
to carry on. It would have been such a waste of a trip had
I gone back without visiting all these places," Fox maintained.
incidentally, was not the only one sitting in the cafe with
a copy of "Shantaram".
Davis, a Canadian, sat with his girlfriend close by. Among
their cloth shoulder bags and other things lying on their
table was a copy of the book.
is not the first time that I have come to India and to Leo's.
Now, the bullet marks on the ceiling of this place is unnerving.
seeing the crowd and the smiling faces of the waiters here
gives you the confidence and hope to return. There is hardly
any place today which has not been a victim to terror and,
therefore, running away from India after these attacks is
never an option," Davis told IANS.
ask one of the waiters and he admits that after the Nov 26
attack the number of foreigners thronging the place has come
number of people coming to Leo's after the attack has not
been affected; in fact it has increased. But the number of
foreigners among them has come down. Otherwise, at any given
time, the lower section of the cafe is generally filled with
foreigners," said Avik, one of the waiters.
this pub-restaurant - with its typical 1980s look and now
bullet-riddled window panes - continues to serve loyal customers
defiant in the face of depredations it had to endure.
Rahman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)