Feb 13 2010

Pune Terror Blast @German Bakery

I woke up this morning to a text message, ” Terrorist attack in Pune just now! Bombay on high alert.” Later I checked Facebook expecting to see more news scribbled all across people’s walls.I found only a few. The attack wasn’t big and spectacular enough to capture our imagination and interest for long I guess. There was no plane flying into any tall building, no posh World heritage site under seige or even hostages. Instead what caused the attack was a small package maybe like the one displayed by the MTA in New York under the sign,’ If you See Something, Say Something’, probably a brown box tied up in string. Who knows. A well meaning waiter probably trying to do his job, touched the package and today was his last day working at the German Bakery. As of now 9 people have been reported killed and 45 injured.

A lot of talk is going on about if this is a terrorist attack or not. India has witnessed years of ‘bombs being left in packages’ type of blasts. Back then they were not termed terror attacks, just a bomb blast. Now with talks between India and Pakistan scheduled for February 25th 2010, authorities are trying to get more evidence and different departments are scrambling from New Delhi to get paper work going and official press releases prepared.

But at this time I think of the German Bakery. As an engineering student in Pune my brother used to live in Koregaon Park, 5 minutes away from German Bakery. I went there when the wooden seats and tables were literally on the road itself and the only thing that divided the open road from the sweet bakery was a bamboo like fence and a makeshift roof which sheltered us from the scorching sun. With growing popularity the owners decided to put up a bamboo wall and paint it green in keeping with all the healthy snacks and drinks they sold. A Bamboo wall is a bit like a sky roof. Nothing very imposing and barricading about it. A soft target with zenned out folks from the Osho Ashram with musical instruments and granola bars, tie and dye skirts and wooden beads. The Bamboo wall splintered into smithereens when the package went off today. Many people have lost their lives and many more have lost brothers, sisters, hope, maybe a livelihood, maybe a dream of coming to India on a spiritual journey……who knows.

If the German Bakery ever re-opens it will never have a bamboo fence again but probably a big metal door and many security guards. Bags might be searched and forget about taking a guitar inside to sing and strum. A story similar to the warm and lively Leopold Cafe in Bombay that was targeted. Terror strikes to induce cold hostility and calculated caution. Maybe that’s why India is getting hit again and again. Someone wants the ever welcoming hospitality to cow down and put up its big metal walls. But I hope it never does. Who knows.

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4 Responses to “Pune Terror Blast @German Bakery”

  • Prajakta Says:

    I distinctly remember my college days being spent on those benches waiting in the sun on the bamboo fence – What is this world coming to? I still cannot believe it German bakery will not exist anymore – If I was in Pune on A saturday night 7pm – I’d probably be nearby there..

  • Vineet Jawa Says:

    It’s terrible. German Bakery is to Pune that Leopold’s to Mumbai. Terrorists headed to tier 2 cities – where does it end?

  • siddharth sood Says:

    i remember countless moments spent in the German Bakery over a span of 8 years that i lived in Pune. TO those of us who have lived in Pune the German Bakery was much much more then just a bakery / coffee shop. It represented a peek into a fascinating world / life that a lot of us imagined. It gave us our first sample of cappuccinos much before the baristas and coffee days. Pune will just not be the same without it.

  • Scott Ryan Says:

    Is this Sid who I met at Aviram’s appartment in November 09?

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Oct 20 2009

More about Mumbai

It’s important to understand Mumbai and what it’s all about. Recently a fantastic fifty reasons were penned down by Kanika Parab & Mansi Poddar on CNNGo about why Mumbai should be considered the greatest city in the World. The list includes six features which play a relevant role in ‘The Taxi Takes on Terror.’

So at number three there is the Famous Ladies Specials which even got press in the New York Times article I posted. Yes it’s good for Indian women to have a hassle free commute.Though I think woman, all around the World have commuting stories of alarm and horror that they could share.

Leopold Cafe, and it’s distinctive charm and toughness is at number 24. I know that people still throng this bar and the 26/11 attack didn’t make any dent in it’s popularity. In fact more people probably go to see the bullet holes and shattered glass now more than ever.

And at number three we have the taxis! The ‘kalee peelee’ or black and yellow cabs which are fun and noisy, old and sacred, tarnished and decorated, sturdy and yet unfortunately slowly leaving the landscape of the city. The Government has passed a law that forbids taxis that are older than 25 years to stay on the streets. So the iconic Fiat taxis are being replaced by zippier Omnis, Santros and Marutis. But you’ll get to see a lot of these soon to be vintage classics on The Taxi Takes. So stay glued:)

The ‘dhobhi ghats’ of Bombay are a historic place where the laundry of Bombay comes to be washed at row upon rows of stone wash pens. A ‘dhobhi’ is a washerman and nearly two hundred ‘dhobhis’ will wash clothes together at any given time. I met two of these ‘dhobhis’ who have been washing clothes in Bombay as part of a profession that has been passed on to them by their grand fathers. At one point when the taxi driver and two washermen were talking in the taxi, I chuckled to myself thinking I really had an incredible slice of the working class! So at number 37 we have the Dhobhi ghats.

Haji Ali , the miraculous floating Dargah comes in at number 43. Built in 1431 by Sayed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, a rich Muslim merchant it is one of the most recognizable structures off the coast of Southern Mumbai. I have some wonderful footage of the taxi driver Jamid Ali standing near the mosque , by the water’s edge as the sun was setting behind him. He sang a song he had written in dedication to his mother, who died when he was nine. I’ll put a clip of him on his profile page eventually.

The last reason was because there were so many holidays in Mumbai. Due to it’s multi cultural, multi ethnic and secular nature India houses every religion in the World. So at any given time of the year Indians can expect to have a holiday celebrating either a Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Parsi, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain tradition.

The other reasons are also fun, brilliant and definitely worth a read for anyone who has heard of Mumbai but never been there. A great city in a wonderful country. More on Mumbai later.

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Jul 25 2009

The scars of Leopold.

It seemed to be business as usual. The business of selling cheap drinks and delicious snacks to one and all in Colaba causeway. And few can do it better than Leopold Cafe, the iconic restaurant and bar in Bombay that throngs with foreigners, office folk, rock and roll teenagers and anyone else who chooses to walk in. I walked right in.

The street oustide Leopold Cafe.

The street oustide Leopold Cafe.

On the 26th of November two young terrorists opened fire on the laid back folk. It was a Wednesday and the place was packed with people taking a mid week respite. When I approached the infamous café I had expected doors or some other form of restriction but was greeted by a man standing next to the streets who sort of smiled and welcomed people in.

In keeping with normality and tradition, I ordered a beer. I looked around in a surreal stupor trying to imagine and visualize the awful panic and stench of terror that must have enveloped Leopold. All I could do was stare and sip. The high ceiling allows a second floor, which is darker, dingier and manages to pack a lot of people who are more than happy to get a seat. I thought of all those people the night of the 26th around 9:30 pm and the person who must have sat on the same seat as me.


I came back to Leopold a second time. And I found myself slipping into the same morbid thoughts amid the din of chattering and clinking of glasses. There was some great art on the walls. One graphic canvas had anti terror slogans, blood, the Gateway of India and other symbols of the attack in November. I started taking pictures of the place around me, maybe as a way of dealing with my being in this space.


There was a helpful man who seemed to work there and it turned out, he was the owner. Farhang Jehani’s father started the Leopold Cafe in 1871 and after his death his son took over. “The attack seemed to last for a few minutes,” he said. After those few minutes he spoke about carrying bodies out of his establishment and staying with his brave staff to wash blood trails off the floors and deal with the police.

Farhang Jehani

Farhang Jehani

At one point he told me he wants to show me something so I followed him to another section of the restaurant. He started shifting furniture around and exposed a part of the black granite floor that had a large crater in it. “This is where the hand grenade fell”, he said. I took a picture, trying to comprehend what the hole in the floor really meant. I recently read about grenades. The United States Army Field manual says, “the effective kill zone has a five meter radius, while the casualty-inducing radius is approximately fifteen meters.” I calculated that I was sitting less than 2 meters from the grenade spot and the streets outside was about 8 meters away.



Farhang had a lot to tell me but a whole lot more to show. He revealed bullet holes in brick walls, shattered glass windows, punctured wooden walls and a hole which looked like it was straight out of the movie ‘Terminator.’ Visuals of the bad cop getting large bullet holes in his body and the molten metal flowing and filling it up filled my mind. The thick metal door that was the way up to the second floor had a two inch scar that had not healed that fast.

As I received the guided tour of the battlefield, I realized that Farhang was showing me these scars like a proud disabled army general shows his medals of bravery. He proudly told me he was not going to fix the walls and floor. Leopold had endured a lot. Leopold had seen much horrors and he was not going to let the World forget but memorialize his beloved family heirloom and stand tall in defiance.

I know many people who have raised their glasses to celebrate many moments in Leopold. Please go ahead and share some of those moments right here. Because in my mind, just as we raise a toast to loved ones, Leopold and it’s scars will always be a memorial and celebration for those who lived life to the fullest.



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2 Responses to “The scars of Leopold.”

  • Anjali Ramachandran Says:

    I like the way you’ve narrated the whole thing – I remember going to Leopolds about 4 years ago and I was awestruck by the aura of the place. I couldn’t believe what happened in November and am glad the place is going strong. Good job on the project Vandana!

  • admin Says:

    Thanks for your comment Anjali.
    Yes, I find Leopold Cafe to be like Mezz (for Delhiites a long time back) or some other local haunt. Everyone has a neighborhood bar or pub they like to visit and chill in. I think Leopold is all that not just for Mumbaikars but to visitors from around the World.

    It’s scary to think of how the people who master mind terrorist attacks choose their targets and victims.

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