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Hundreds throng Mumbai's Ground Zero

Snehesh Alex Philip in Mumbai | December 02, 2008 19:24 IST

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Standing shattered behind the Gateway of India with soot marred walls, bullet riddled doors, broken window panes and splinter marks, the terrorist-hit structures are now the most sought after tourist destinations in the city.

Welcome to the world of 'disaster tourism' as many call it, where Taj Mahal and Oberoi Hotel along with Nariman House and of course the Leopold Cafe [Images] have become the favourite spots to be thronged by the average Mumbaikar.

Even people living in the neighbouring district of Pune are visiting the sites, not for fun but to be a witness of the tragedy that the prime landmarks underwent.

At Leopold Cafe, which opened for the public on December 1, there is a mad rush of people outside, waiting to get in and get a feel of the century old caf´┐Ż.

"It is exciting to be here and have food. I am sure everyone will like to sit next to it only..." Vijay, a marketing professional, said while sitting adjacent to the bullet marked windows.

People could be seen raising a toast just next to the window and getting their pictures clicked.

Not to forget the few who, after having read about a small crater being formed because of a grenade hurled by the terrorists, want to sit on the table just next to it.

Even the Leopold owner knows the significance of the bullet and splinter marks in his cafe.

"We would definitely want to change most of the damaged things, but would also like to keep some on display as a testimony to what really happened," owner Farhang Jehani said.

Not to be left behind are the balloon and snack sellers, who are now back in business near the Gateway of India, just opposite the Taj Mahal.

"Earlier I thought not many would like to come here for some days. Now many more people are coming to just see the Taj Mahal Hotel [Images]. Thank God that my business is running," Raghubhai, a 'masala channa' (spicy gram) seller said.

The crowd both at the Taj Hotel [Images] and Oberoi Hotel starts swelling after sunset as even office goers walk down to catch a view of the hotels.

"I had seen everything on TV. I have come here so many times because my girlfriend stays in the city. But this time I have come to see all the four main places where the shooting happened," said Anil, a college student from Pune before quickly asking, "By when do you think they would allow people inside?"

Even the media personnel present there are subjected to a volley of questions.

"What was it like to be here all the while? Did you guys actually see any terrorists? Were you not afraid?" was some of the usual questions hurled at correspondents and cameramen who had been covering the encounter relentlessly for the 59 hours it lasted.

Policemen near the Air India building [Images] adjacent to the Hotel Oberoi are having a tough time, repeatedly asking the people not to gather around the barricades.

"It is madness out here. I don't know what these people get by looking at some shattered windows of the hotel. I could have understood their interest if they were being allowed inside," a constable sitting on his bike said.

Even the narrow lanes leading to Nariman House which saw heavy gunfire, grenade explosions and commandos being airdropped, is filled up with people who want to have a closer look.

Well known psychiatrist Dr Samir Parikh reasons out the concept of 'disaster tourism' and says that the people are doing it because they empathise with those who underwent the tragedy.

"I don't think it is right to use the word tourism. No guided tours are taking place. It is just that people are coming to the site to experience the whole thing themselves. It is because they empathise with the people killed or injured in the attack. It is because the people have developed a sense of identification with those who underwent the tragedy," he said.

When asked about people raising a toast and getting their pictures clicked next to bullet marked windows at the cafe, he said, "It is because they want to say that they are not cowed down by the attack. It is the best answer that we can give to the terrorists."

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