The pic is of Saigon's busiest street, all prettied up for the Chinese New Year. I bought myself a gorgeous croc bag at a boutique here - relax - they farm crocs in Vietnam, issue certificates, and it's perfectly legit. Okay??
Strange, how certain destinations manage to capture the collective imagination of world travelers and become magnets for those in search of the asli experience. Pune’s German Bakery was one of them. It still beats me how it got to that position, considering what was on offer. But there is no doubt in my mind that GB was up there on most lists as a ‘must visit’ hang- out for anybody who wanted to get the Pune vibe, take pics sipping coffee at one of those rickety tables, and immediately upload and post the images on face book. When I saw the tv coverage of the devastated café last week and heard the shocking details of how effortlessly it had been reduced to rubble by cowards hell bent on killing innocents, I immediately called up close friends who lived in the vicinity and with whom I had frequented the place over so many years. Yes, they were safe. No, they had not lost a loved one. But they were furious, and hurting.
The German Bakery attracted all types. It wasn’t for the food ( indifferent ), it wasn’t for the service (interminably slow), it certainly wasn’t for the comfort ( God! That awful seating). And yet, there it was prominently featured in top international travel guides, including the Lonely Planet. Perhaps, that is what did it in – its immense popularity. To say the German Bakery represented Pune, would be entirely misleading. Which Pune are we talking about? Did the average Punekar from Shaniwar Peth even know about its existence? Or are we talking about the Koregaon Park-ers – the smart set, and the Osho residents – the even smarter set?? Who makes a destination rock? It’s the same question one can put to the high visibility enjoyed by Mumbai’s Café Leopold – also targeted by terrorists in order to create global outrage. Like the German Bakery, Leopold’s has always attracted a floating crowd of back packers in search of local thrills. But at least Leo’s has good food at sensible prices ( the chilly beef!! Oh, for a mouthful of that amazing chilly beef! ), and the service is brisk. Both cafes shot to stardom thanks to word- of-mouth publicity. They were dubbed ‘cool’. They were considered hip. People went to ogle ( OMG!! Did you see who’s at that table? Is it…? Could it be…? It is!!!). To be seen… and later, to talk about it. This is the power of unpaid testimonials. This is precisely what makes or breaks places.
Unfortunately, it is also this that attracts the attention of terrorists.
The terror attack on Pune ought not to have taken us off guard, given all the prior warnings. But it did. Pune staggered back to ‘business as usual’ mode almost as swiftly as Mumbai invariably does ( what choice does anybody have?). The shocking part of such tragedies is just how soon people are ready to shrug, and say, “ Oh well… terror happens,” and resume their normal activities. Punekars reported that bar and club owners in and around Koregaon Park waited for no more than a couple of hours after the blast, before sending out reassuring text messages informing those who had paid a hefty charge for Valentine’s Day celebrations the following evening – ‘The party’s on! No cancellations!’ So much for shock and sympathy for those who had lost their lives. It’s a bit too late in the day to rewind what happened at the German Bakery and wonder whether it could have been prevented. It is also a bit absurd to defend security lapses and say it is impossible to check every back packer who strolls in and out of popular joints. What is the solution in that case? Should the owners of the German Bakery take their cues from the owners of Leopold’s Café and put the place back together without camouflaging the ghastly reminders of the attack? Leo’s has deliberately not plastered over the bullet holes of the 26\11 attacks and those in turn now provide fresh, almost macabre photo- ops to tourists flocking to the place. It is a perverse sign of our times that we seem to be fascinated by events and destinations that remind us of tragic, terrifying calamities we would be better off putting behind us. I asked myself, “ Will you visit the German Bakery on your next visit to Pune?’’ The answer is , ‘Yes’. And , Like I said,it won’t be for the food or service. Will I be wary of the backpacker at the next table? Perhaps. Will I look under my own table to see if there’s an unattended package? For sure. Will I be doing this to show some sort of weird solidarity… to prove a point?? Ummm… I dunno. But, visit German Bakery, I most certainly will. I won’t sigh, “ Just like old times,” because those old times are over for good. These are the brand new times. And they are seriously nuts.
Terror tourism has come to stay. We may as well come to terms with it.