Today is the anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
On November 26, 2008, the city was attacked by a group of men from the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (Taiba) organisation, who came to Mumbai from Pakistan by boat. 166 people were killed in a collection of attacks across the city.
Mumbai is a city that I fell for. Hard. The heat, the rubbish and the busy, crazy streets only served to make me all the more enamoured with this heart of India.
The city did not bow to the cruelty inflicted on it by the terrorists who attacked six years ago, and yet, when you visit Mumbai, reminders of the attack are still evident.
The regal Taj Mahal Palace hotel stands proud and strong. Evidence of the attack it endured is hard to see. As you stand before its slate grey walls and take in the castle-like windows, it is difficult to imagine it as the same place we saw engulfed in smoke, a prison for the guests trapped inside.
And yet, there is something that causes a chill, despite the cloying Mumbai heat that is the cause of a permanent sheen of dirty sweat coating your body. The beauty of the building, its imposing grandeur and the experience of being in a city I have long loved from afar, combined with the history that took place there, and the affection I feel for the Bombay locals made craning my neck to take in the sight painful on more than one level.
When I first saw the scenes unfold on my television screen, I was a journalism student, and for me, the story was framed solely in the context of the journalists who were injured and who strove to bring the story to the press.
I worried that the reputation of an entire country was being damaged by the framing of this event of terror. I was already aware of the dangerous misunderstanding of Muslims, of terrorists and of the fear that was being shoved down our throats by the media, and I worried that people would begin to judge Indians by the same mistaken prejudices, thanks to a few extremists.
When I finally made it to Mumbai, the infamous Leopold’s was high on my list of places to visit. A well-worn backpacker’s haunt, and romanticised by Gregory David Roberts, there was now another reason for its notoriety.
On the night of November 26, 2008, four men entered Leopold’s Café. They threw a grenade inside, and opened fire on the patrons. Ten people were killed, and more injured.
In a perfect example of Mumbai’s resilience and spirit, the owners of Leopold’s opened their doors after only four days.
Crowds flocked to the café in a show of support, so much support, that the police were forced to close the place a short while later. Leopold’s became a symbol of resilience, and began to draw a crowd of middle class Indians for the first time.
Today, the bullet holes of the attack have become a tourist attraction in themselves. You can even buy a mug with a bullet hole emblazoned on it, and you can stick your finger in the holes left by the bullets.
When you enter Leopold’s today, there is an armed security guard. Her presence competes with the proud displays of the scars left by the attack. On one hand there is proud defiance and survival, on the other there is the reality of the danger and horror of the attack.
One thing is certain, no matter what is thrown at the city of Mumbai, it’s spirit and strength can never be beaten.