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Mumbai: It was journalist Sourav Mishra’s first visit to Leopold cafe. He was at the popular restaurant and bar on Colaba Causeway with a pair of French acquaintances, Kate and Clementine, eating prawns and chicken tikka and drinking beer when the first shots rang out on the night of 26/11.

As it turned out, it was also the last time Mishra ate or drank at Leopold cafe, founded in 1871. Mishra, now 34, survived the attack in which he was injured by a bullet that hit him in the left shoulder, but hasn’t been able to summon the nerve to patronize the cafe again.

Mishra, who was then at Reuters, sometimes sits in Olympia, a restaurant opposite Leopold, recalling the events that unfolded at the start of the three-day mayhem unleashed by 10 Pakistani gunmen that left 166 people dead.

“Whenever I pass Leopold, I like to recollect what happened that night, step by step, and how I got lucky," says Mishra.

On that Wednesday night, in between conversing with Kate and Clementine, who have both become his close friends now, he was looking at a man sitting near him who bore an uncannily resemblance to actor Johnny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series. The terrorists threw a grenade that landed on the Depp doppleganger’s table.

“His table was smashed and the diner was flung aside. I heard what seemed like a blast and something hit me hard on my back. I panicked and ran out through the nearest door," Mishra says.

Five years on, he still wonders why he ran out that day while Kate and Clementine hid under the table.

“I always wonder why I got up and the two girls sat under the table. One of the reasons could be that in France children are taught to hide under tables to protect themselves in such emergencies. In India we are given no such training," says Mishra.

Sitting in Olympia, he analyses what he did that day and why.

“Then I thought I was a coward because I ran leaving two ladies behind. To understand what I did, I have been reading a lot of Malcolm Gladwell these days," he explains in a reference to the journalist and social psychologist who has authored books like The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

That night, when he ran out, Kishore, the owner of a small leather shop near Leopold, found him and took him to a nearby hospital where he was given basic treatment.

“Kishore never took credit for his good deed. He no longer sits at his shop and has gone back to his family business in Karnataka," says Mishra, now a communications professional.

He recollects that before Kishore helped him, he had tried to jump into a man’s car but was thrown out. Later in the hospital, he met the same person, who was there for getting his own wound tended to and profusely apologized to Mishra for leaving him behind.

“This tells you a lot about people; the ones you least expect, end up helping you," Mishra says.

After he moved to a private hospital the next morning, he was told a rib fracture had prevented the bullet from puncturing his lung. He underwent surgery to have the bullet removed.

“Doctors said I got lucky as I was sitting next to a pole and the bullet got deflected and hit me. Otherwise the impact (had the bullet hit him straight) would have been much, much more," says Mishra

While he was recovering in the hospital, he developed a passion to paint. His most famous painting, Sorrow of Mumbai, is now preserved at the Mumbai office of Reuters.

How has the experience changed him?

“Earlier I used to do things for monetary benefits, and only if it will benefit me," says Mishra, who is getting married in January to a Mumbai-based journalist.

He may not have put 26/11 behind him, but has managed to channelize the memories into positive energy. “After the incident I used to come across as a very happy person and people did not find that normal," Mishra says. “People used to say I was trying to be too happy to fight depression, but it turned out to be good for me."

He recalls that his company appointed a psychiatrist to help him cope with the trauma.

After that night, he paid two visits to Leopold Café, but not to chill out. “November last year was the first time I went back to Leo’s as a leading TV news channel wanted to feature me. I did not want to enter at first, but I did," says Mishra. “I looked at the seat I was sitting on that day, but did not sit there."

Since the incident, he avoids watching movies that depict excessive bloodshed.

Both his French friends Kate and Clementine are married to Bengalis. Kate is married to his best friend, Samrat. Even though they left India immediately after the attacks, both came back and eventually settled in the country. Kate assists Bollywood film-makers. Clementine, who used to teach French at Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, is now a homemaker and raising a child.

Mishra has changed in other ways, too.

Now he has become more of a “time-pass" person, says Mishra with a laugh. He has stopped running after things, become calmer and takes each day as it comes because, he says, life is so unpredictable.

“I have been given a bonus life and I am making most of it," he says.

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