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Backpack that bloodied a symbol of friendship

Mumbai, Aug. 29: Built by a roadside cigarette vendor with help from foreign visitors to the Osho Ashram in Pune, the German Bakery stood for hope and friendship.

That motif lay bloodied and smashed to rubble on a spring evening three years ago when a terrorist, alleged to be Yasin Bhatkal, entered the restaurant with a black backpack stuffed with explosives.

As news of Bhatkal’s arrest came in today, 23-year-old Snehal Kharose’s mind went back to her happy childhood memories of the restaurant her father Dnyaneshwar built, the trauma of the bombing, and the painful struggle for money to reopen it.

Snehal had just taken over management of the restaurant from mother Smita, who had been running it since Dnyaneshwar’s death in 1999, when the blast happened on February 13, 2010, killing 17 people including four young Calcuttans and five foreigners.

Yasin was captured by CCTV cameras placing the backpack under a table close to where the four Calcuttans were seated.

“I am really happy that the security agencies have arrested the man who destroyed my father’s dream. I hope he gets the severest punishment,” Kharose told The Telegraph over the phone from Pune today.

She told a remarkable story of how Dnyaneshwar, who sold cigarettes outside the Osho Ashram for a living, was able to build the restaurant. The key was the friendship he struck with several of the foreign visitors to the ashram.

“They grew very fond of my father. They couldn’t pronounce his name, so they called him ‘Nanu’. One of them was a German chef named Woody. The foreigners didn’t have a place where they could get their kind of food, so Woody helped my father set up German Bakery and gave him some recipes which became popular.”

Snehal recalled the chilling moment when, rushing to the eatery from home after hearing of a “cylinder blast”, she learnt on the way that it was a terror attack.

“I was in tears to see the place in a shambles. I had grown up in German Bakery. My father started it in 1989. As a child, I used to hang about the place with my father’s friends from the Osho Ashram. I was so emotionally attached to it.”

The blast blew a hole in the family’s finances. Initially the government refused compensation but, following Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar’s intervention, handed the Kharoses a cheque for Rs 14.23 lakh in June 2010.

After three years’ struggle to raise the rest of the money they required, they reopened the German Bakery on May 11 this year.

“I’m happy that we could reopen the restaurant and that Puneites have embraced the place again, showing they are not afraid of terror attacks. Yet I feel that it is not the same place any more,” Snehal said.

“I feel the same fear, the same nausea that I had felt that February evening.”

Calcutta’s wounds

The father of one of the Calcuttans who died in the blast has been honouring her memory away from the public eye by helping poor students with their education.

Cotton merchant Rajesh Goenka set up the Shilpa Goenka Foundation Trust with the Rs 5 lakh he received as compensation for his daughter’s death, the insurance money from Japanese firm Nomura at whose Mumbai office she worked, and his life’s savings.

“It’s her money; not mine,” he had told this newspaper which carried a report on April 29.

Shilpa, 22, was at the German Bakery with two fellow Calcuttans — siblings Ankik Dhar, 24, and Anindyee, 19 — from Salt Lake. The trio were celebrating Ankik’s promotion at JP Morgan Stanley. Ankik was an IIT Kharagpur alumnus while Anindyee was a student at Pune’s Fergusson College.

At a nearby table, Rajeev Agarwala from north Calcutta was seated with classmates from Symbiosis Law School. All four Calcuttans died. On April 18 this year, a Pune sessions court handed the death sentence to the lone arrested accused, 32-year-old Mirza Himayat Beg, a cyber café owner from Udgir in Beed. Beg broke down in court claiming he had never entered the German Bakery.

“I have been falsely implicated by the anti-terrorist squad but I believe in the judiciary. If I am punished, I will be the 18th victim of the blast,” he told the court.

The chargesheet named Yasin, Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal, Mohsin Choudhary, Lashkar-e-Toiba operative Faiyaz Kagzi, and Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal, who was later arrested in the Mumbai attacks case as the Indian handler of the 10 Pakistani gunmen.