Photo by Jarrett Wrisley
The Palace Wing of the Taj Mahal Hotel sat shuttered, several months after the horrific attacks there. Its façade, a striking example of the Anglo-Indian architecture scattered throughout south Mumbai, looked out over an empty Arabian Sea.
I passed it on my way from the Gate of India to Leopold Café, a bar on the outstretched fingertip of a city that, on a map, appears to be reaching for something.
On November 26th 2008, 10 people were shot and killed at the Leopold; because of its clientele and its open-air frontage it made an easy initial target for the terrorists who besieged Mumbai. On this short walk, I was probably retracing their steps from the sea straight to the cafe. Today, missing chinks of concrete and spider-webbed glass are vivid reminders of the violence at the Leopold. But on my visit the bar was cheerful and full.
Because there are only a handful of places where travelers congregate in Mumbai, you often find yourself sharing a table with strangers. Its bars are short on space. That night, I shared mine with an English jeweler who had sold his shop and set off to see the world before he died, as he explained to me with great pleasure.
As I was about to set off for dinner, sometime around eleven (not all that late by Bombay standards), he smiled and said this: "You know what kid, you'll never dig up a rich businessman and hear him say he should have spent more time at the office." Then he slugged his last gulp of London Pilsner and plodded off into the darkness.