Brave, full of life, dedicated, charming, and compassionate – Neerja Bhanot will always be remembered as the incredible young woman who made an extraordinary sacrifice for the protection of passengers on board the Pan Am Flight that was hijacked on September 5, 1986.
Neerja was 22 years old when she was killed, merely 25 hours before her 23rd birthday.
Neerja was born in Chandigarh to journalist Harish Bhanot and his wife Rama. The family later moved to Mumbai.
“Neerja was a very sensitive, deeply affectionate and an extremely decent person who believed in sharing with her people all her joys but not the jolts. She had well defined principles and there was little room for compromise in that area,” wrote her father in Hindustan Times after her death.
Ahead of the upcoming movie Neerja – a biopic based on her life, here are five things to know about this amazing woman:
1. Neerja studied at Bombay Scottish School and graduated from St. Xavier’s College.
2. She married at the age of 21 but it turned out to be an ill-fated union.
In March 1985, Neerja moved to West Asia with her husband. But she returned to her family in Mumbai after just two months, following dowry pressure from her husband.
3. Before joining Pan Am, she worked as a model in several product advertisements.
These included Benzer sarees, Binaca toothpaste, Godrej Besto detergent, Vaporex, Vico Turmeric cream, etc. She appeared in many TV commercials and print ads.
4. Within a year of flying with Pan Am, she was promoted from the post of cabin attendant to head purser – the seniormost cabin manager.
5. One of the three children Neerja was trying to save when she was shot is now a pilot.
He was a 7-year-old at that time. He considers her to be his role model.
6. A year before the hijacking, she had written “I will do you proud” in a letter to her father.
7. On the night of the flight, her mother tried to convince her to call Pan Am and ask for leave, because she had been working on a modelling project the whole day. But a committed Neerja decided to go for her duty.