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Behind the smiles, unease

We used to think these things happened only in Mumbai, says Pallavi Hivarkar (23), a third-year engineering student in Pune.

india Updated: Feb 16, 2010 01:19 IST

We used to think these things happened only in Mumbai, says Pallavi Hivarkar (23), a third-year engineering student in Pune.

Just a moment ago, she was giggling with her friends about how they would all bunk classes for the “exquisite” tiramisu at German Bakery.

Now, her smile fades.

“All of us were planning to go to the café for a Valentine’s Day treat,” she says. “They had great chocolate walnut cake and green tea…”

Things may seem to have returned to normal in Koregaon Park, as college students and youngsters flock to the malls and shops as usual. But the shock and anxiety are only thinly veiled as the university town recovers from Pune’s first ever terror attack.

Adding to the anxiety is the fact that most of the nine fatalities at the popular café were college students their age, celebrating a promotion or V-Day or just the evening off, much as Hivarkar and her friends had planned to do.

“I used to go there all the time,” says Indraneil Khedekar (18), sitting on his bike at MG Road. “I knew the owner. I even knew some of the waiters by name.”

Fuelling the post-event stress, for many, is the knowledge that it could very easily have been them in the newspapers the next day.

“It was our favourite joint… we were over there almost every day,” says Neha Iyer, who is pursuing an MA in mass communication. “Some of my friends stayed indoors all day the next day. We were so shocked… we just couldn’t digest the fact that this was happening in our neighbourhood.”

Neha lives at Koregaon Park and says it’s hard to pass the charred remains of the lively café on her way home every day.

In a city as small as Pune, many youngsters have their own ‘it was almost me’ stories.

“I had passed the café just 20 minutes before the attack,” says Rohit Salve (20), a computer science student. “My parents were so freaked out, they wouldn’t let me leave the house the next day. After all, now that it’s happened once, you just never know when it will happen again.

Away from home

The tension is even more palpable among Pune’s 20,000-odd foreign students. Farzad (27), an Iranian student, said he plans to return home as soon as possible. “They were clearly targeting foreigners,” he said. “I do not feel safe here now.”

Ahmed Shoaib (23) from Tajikistan said he feels uneasy in crowded places now and prefers to stay home.

“I have not told my parents about all this,” says the final-year Commerce student. “But I think I will go back… at least for a while.”

The academic community has responded in kind, with the University of Pune offering round-the-clock counseling. “Foreign students are definitely afraid following the blast,” said Vidya Yerwadekar, director of Symbiosis, which has students from 76 countries. “We are conducting group meetings at regular intervals to help them out.”