Bullet-scarred Cafe Leopold returns to life

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The Independent Online

There was beer and food, conversation and chatter, and copies of the Lonely Planet. Six days after gunmen stormed into the Cafe Leopold, spraying automatic fire and leaving the dead and terrified in their wake, the landmark restaurant popular with locals and tourists alike reopened last night. There was barely a free table to be had.

"We were here on the Tuesday – the evening before the attack," said Sam Maneckshaw, a furniture designer who was sitting having a drink with two friends beneath the clattering ceiling fans. "Tonight we made a deliberate decision to come here. You have to make the effort."

With the restaurant's walls still bearing bullet marks and with people still grieving for those who were killed last week, no one wanted to pretend that things were back to normal. But there was a conscious decision among many Mumbaikers yesterday to make a stand of solidarity if only to try to show they had not been cowed by last week's attacks.

"I still cannot believe what has happened," said Aadore Sayami, another customer. "People are still in shock. They are finding it difficult to go out and to try to live again."

For four full days in the aftermath of the terror attacks the streets of India's frenetic business capital had been eerily quiet, bereft of the usual clogging crowds that give the city its spirit and chaos. Yesterday they returned as schools and shops reopened, people went back to work and the traffic returned to its streets.

It coincided with an announcement by the authorities that the very last of the victims' bodies had been removed from the Taj Mahal hotel. Control of the hotel was handed back to its owners, who promptly boarded up the windows to await a full inspection for structural damage. Some estimates say it will be many months before the hotel can even think of reopening.

Farhang Jehani, the owner of Cafe Leopold, said he had decided to reopen the restaurant, located a few hundred metres from the Taj hotel, out of a desire to try to bounce back from the events of recent days. "It's the confidence of the people of Mumbai and the support of the people that has brought this place back," he said. "They have shown that they will not let fear suppress them."

Yet mixed in with this desire is anger. Many local people say they are fed up with their politicians, fed up with terrorists, fed up that their city is so often the victim of attacks. Why should they have to put up with endless violence, they ask. Locals demand to know why the authorities at state and federal level have not done more to protect them.

"Yes, there is a spirit here in Mumbai," said Sonia Shah, who runs a clothing boutique in the Trident-Oberoi hotel, where dozens of people lost their lives. "But sometimes you just want to say enough is enough."

Political fallout The latest victims

*Vilasrao Deshmukh, the chief minister of Maharashtra state and a member of the ruling Congress party, offered to resign yesterday. He had faced criticism over security failings that allowed the militants to strike and for visiting the Taj Mahal hotel at the weekend with his film-maker son, a piece of "celebrity tourism". His deputy, R R Patil, quit after describing the attacks as a "small incident". On Sunday, the Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, stood down amid criticism that intelligence warnings had been missed. The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has promised an overhaul of India's counter-terrorism capabilities.

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