Ten minutes of terror and a lifetime of pain. An unfair equation that 33-year-old Bharat Gujjar has learnt to live with, just as he has learnt to live with the dozen pieces of shrapnel lodged in his body since the night of Nov 26, 2008, when terrorists stormed into Mumbai's famed Leopold Cafe showering grenades and bullets.
For the cafe supervisor, that Wednesday was just one of those busy mid-week nights at the 139-year-old watering hole in Colaba, south Mumbai -- just a kilometre away from the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel where terrorists laid siege for three days at the end of which 170 people had been killed across the city.
There was a steady stream of patrons, mainly foreigners and young Indians, trooping in to spend an evening at the cafe, going by the same name since 1871 when it was the haunt of British and Indian high society.
At 9.35 p.m., Gujjar sent his assistant for dinner and took his place at the billing counter.
Five minutes later, all hell broke loose, he recalls.
"At least two grenades were lobbed inside the cafe, both exploded like a thunder, stunning all the people. One fell just six feet away and I was among the people who bore the brunt of the explosion.
"Scores of shrapnel, glass pieces, iron ball bearings, nails and other deadly material shot into my body... I instinctively ducked under the billing counter and so escaped the machine-gun shots that were fired in quick succession by the terrorists," Gujjar said, reliving the 10 minutes of horror that made world headlines for days.
Seven guests and two cafe staffers died in the bloodbath.
Barely conscious and writhing in pain, Gujjar found himself in hospital the next day. After an operation in the stomach with 14 stitches and 17 days in hospital, he was discharged.
It was during his sojourn in hospital that he learnt how the terrorists had landed at the bay off Colaba and targeted the Leopold Cafe, a well-known haunt of foreigners visiting the city.
The trauma of that evening has become a part of his life. And so have the nearly dozen pieces of shrapnel in different parts of his body which, doctors say, are difficult to remove.
"Whenever in pain, I go for relief to the Sir J.J. Hospital. I could resume work after three months on account of the pain and post-operative care," said Gujjar, who lives in Colaba with his wife and three teenaged sons.
The tragedy that befell Gujjar, and from which he survived, has made the family stronger and more closely-knit - they consider it a miracle that he survived the ordeal.
Like the legendary spirit of Mumbai, Leopold Cafe also bounced back into action four days after the incident.
Initially, the crowds were thin. But it picked up after a few days, and after a month the cafe was back to its usual 'houseful' self for most of the 19 hours it remains open (it closes only between 1.30-6.30 am).
But time, it appears, has stood still at the evening of Nov 26, 2008. The cafe, run by two brothers, Farang and Farzad Gehani, has not been repaired, painted or renovated. The extensive damage is there for all to see.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at email@example.com)
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