By Manas Mitul
It was Sourav Mishra’s first visit to Leopold Cafe in Colaba. He had started working as a journalist at Reuters not too long ago and was relatively new to Mumbai. On the night of November 26, 2008, he was meeting friends at Leopold, Indophiles who had come to Mumbai from France to make a Hindi film. Sourav even remembers what they had on the night; a few rounds of Carlsberg to go with golden prawn tikka.
Sourav saw a person sitting across their table who bore an uncanny resemblance to Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. “I was looking at the person when there was a sharp sound and the Jack Sparrow lookalike was flung off his chair. I thought it was a birthday prank,” says Sourav. “I had no idea what was happening. I just remember that something hit me. My reaction at the time was that I have to run from this place. Something bad has happened,” says Sourav.
“I could hear the sound ‘ratatatatata’. There were people lying on the floor of the cafe and I realised I was covered in blood. Once outside, I tried to get a taxi, but they didn’t stop. I even entered a car, but the owner threw me out,” says Sourav. He was about to pass out when Kishor Pujari, a 19-year-old hawker on Colaba Causeway helped him. “I call him my angel,” Sourav says. Kishor helped him up and walked him till Regal Cinema, where a taxi finally took them in. The taxi took them to St. George’s hospital near CST. It was there he came to know he had suffered a bullet wound. The bullet had struck his rib, broken it and stopped short of puncturing his lung.
Sourav’s friends and family took him to MGM hospital in Vashi the next day. There, on a television set, Sourav saw the full extent of what had happened; a terrorist attack, meticulously planned and executed. Ten fellow diners at Leopold were dead.
Sourav, now 37 and no longer a journalist, works in corporate communications at a financial services company in Mumbai. Eight years ago, some men shot at him, some men refused to help him and one man saved his life. He saw it all. “I learnt that everyone has the capability to be a wonderful human being and everyone is capable of harming you. We shouldn’t have preconceived notions about people,” says Sourav.
Sourav has remained good friends with Kishor, who now lives in Sakleshpur in Karnataka and makes sure to catch up with Sourav when he comes to Mumbai.
Sourav took up painting after the incident. Art, he says, has brought a new meaning to his life. One of his paintings, titled ‘The sorrow of Mumbai’ today hangs in the Reuters office in the city. Sourav also met his wife in 2011. They were married three years later. Sourav considers her a huge influence in his new life. His family has remained a huge support following the traumatic incident. Sourav also turned to tea for therapy post 26/11. He is now a connoisseur and loves making and having different types of teas.
For years after that night of horrors, Sourav did not return to Leopold Cafe. “I couldn’t go there for the first three years after 26/11. I used to go to Olympia Cafe, which is just opposite Leopold, and I would sit there and look at Leopold to try and understand what happened that night. In 2012, I decided to go in. Now I go to Leopold once every year,” he says.
Sourav learnt a lot after 26/11, not just about himself, but about Mumbai too. “People say this city is the Mecca of capitalism. But after the attack I realised this is the most philosophical city. Here, people don’t hold on to anything, they forgive everyone. They say, your today’s life is gone, live for tomorrow. Do your work, live that moment. Mumbai is like that. People somehow just rearrange themselves the next day and then it’s just another day in the city.”