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Finding Leo

Posted by RB Kollannur on March 4, 2009

It was a hot Monday afternoon. I got off the crowded Chhatrapati Sivaji Terminus away from the busy life of the maximum city. The city greeted me with a cool breeze coming in from the Arabian Sea, giving some respite from the sweat drenched train ride.

It was my first time in Mumbai. A sea of people quickly engulfed me and I had to move before I was vanquished into oblivion. Millions travel on the local trains everyday as Mumbaikars head for their offices and homes. Some, like me though, would be hopping trains from one suburb to another searching for jobs in the city.


I had decided to take some time off my “busy” schedule in Mumbai to visit few of the places hit in the dastardly attack. Taj and Oberoi were a bit beyond my means (or so I presume) and the Chabad House was too non-descript. So, I settled for the hopefully cheaper Café Leopold.

I had a faint recollection from the omnipresent news media on the scene that the café was close to one of the main places that was attacked – CST, Taj, Oberoi and the Chabad house. Assuming it was CST, I took a train there expecting to get directions from there.

An elderly shopkeeper was busy tending his shop across the street. He greeted me with a smile when I approached him, thinking me as a new customer. The smile turned into a frown when I asked him I was looking for Café Leopold.

99% of the time I’ve seen people willing to help strangers looking for directions to their destination. But 1% of the time the people may not be able to help you since they themselves don’t know the place (Usually happens when people asks me for direction). Sadly for me this was one such occasion.

The shopkeeper frowned with disappointment as he informed me he had not heard of the place. He enquired if I had an address, which I hadn’t. Disappointed, I moved onto the nearest bus stop. In this era Google Maps and Nokia Navigator, it is difficult for people to not find a well-renowned place, but I had access to neither.

A long haired wannabe at the bus stop told me it was near Coloba, but I didn’t know where Coloba was. I called up a friend familiar with the area who recommended I take a cab and said it was near the Taj. Unwilling to spend on a cab, I asked around for directions to the Taj. Though not as famous as its namegiver in Agra, the Taja Mahal Hotel was a piece of the city heritage. A suit told me it was half an hour down the road and so off I went, on with my journey to find Leo.

A cool evening had replaced the unpleasantly hot afternoon. With the wind in my face, it was a pleasant walk down the road, sipping an overpriced half litre Pepsi bottle (Note to self: Mumbaikars charge two bucks extra for cooling) towards the Arabian Sea on whose shore stood the Taj Mahal Hotel.


Soon, I came upon the illustrious Gateway of India and what I presumed to be the Taj Mahal hotel next to it. Tourists went around taking photographs, while affluent school kids enjoyed the sea breeze with a glass of water melon juice.


The kids confirmed me I was looking at the Taj, but they also had no idea to the whereabouts of Café Leopold. I was starting to wonder whether there actually was a Café Leopold, when the pushcart vendor selling the water melon juice to the kids told me to go down the road, take a right, left and a right. Thanking him, I took the road he pointed towards, while he gave further detailed instructions.

The problem with lengthy directions is that you will easily forget them or end up being confused about them. Thirty meters down the road the pushcart vendor pointed out, my mind drew a blank on his detailed instructions. Hastily I enquired a car driver parked next to the Taj, who informed me to continue on and ask later.

4% of the time I’ve seen people give the wrong direction unintentionally because they were not sure of it themselves.

As I reached down the road and asked again, I got the impression Café Leopold was near Hotel Oberoi and not near the Taj. Since people still were not familiar with the Café, I chose to ask for directions to Oberoi, rather than the Café. Soon, I was gazing at the tall Trident hotel overlooking the Arabian Sea and a distant Mumbai skyline.


One of the many patrons walking on the Marine Drive along the sea showed me workers rebuilding damages on Hotel Oberoi from the 26/11 attacks, though I felt the Trident Hotel next door seemed more like the terror victim on the news than the smaller Hotel Oberoi. He also drew a blank when it came to Café Leopold as he went back to his evening business papers.

Next I approached one of guards at Trident who informed me he was new and was not familiar with the surroundings. Disenchanted by the general lack of awareness of Mumbaikars over Café Leopold, I closed my camera and packed my bags to get back to CST. Seeing my disappointment, the guard directed me to a more experienced employee of the hotel, looked like a baggage handler, who was glad to give the directions. He told me it was near the Taj and when I mentioned I was coming from there, he told me to take the road next to the Trident and look for Regal Cinemas.

Finally with some proper direction and landmark in mind, I set out in the direction the baggage handler showed. I encountered a government worker who told me to keep going when I asked him for the Cinema. I was going in the right direction. For the first time in the day, I had to add. Curiously, he was the only person so far to have connected Café Leopold with 26/11, though he erroneously mentioned it to be the place where there was a bomb blast.

Regal Cinema soon came into view and it was playing Luck By Chance, Slumdog Millionaire and (No, not Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye) The Stoneman Murders. There was a book shop nearby when my spending frenzy took over me to buy a copy of Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.


Café Leopold was not far off and soon I was placing an order for a beef burger (Time to be a non-conformist. I prefer chicken) and an iced lemon tea (I had already finished three bottles of Pepsi, Coke and Thumps Up by the time I reached my destination).


The place was filled with foreigners or at least Caucasians (could be Anglo Indians as well) and everyone was seemed to be having their 6 o clock beer (or other assorted alcohol) except for a mother daughter combine who had Pepsi (Diet, that too) and left.


There were few Indians in the next table as well digging into the clichéd North Indian dishes which got me wondering why they would come here for having generic food. Maybe the fact that there was one girl and four guys at the table could be the reason.


The place was expensive, but the burger was scrumptious and heavy. I settled the bill on cash and left an 8% tip before I left for the Churchgate railway station, which turned out to be much closer than CST (And happen to have a Wimpy serving Pepsi in a Coke bottle, but that’s another story).


Note : Location of Cafe Leopold and the road taken from CST maybe slightly incorrect. (Map courtesy : Google Maps)


One Response to “Finding Leo”

  1. […] Arby tried to reach Cafe Leopold in Mumbai after he had set out from CST station. He pretty much had a tour of all the places mentioned in the Mumbai bomb blasts recently, but in the process came to lots of conclusions about Mumbaikars. Do catch his post with all the pictures. […]

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