Neerja Bhanot – Hers is not a fairy tale, yet it should be your kids’ favourite bedtime story

Why do we always take our daughters to a fairyland where the princess are either waiting for their Prince Charming or are being chased by wolves? I grew up reading about warrior princess Rani Lakshmibai, Sarojini Naidu, Kiran Bedi and the Indian Independence activist Aruna Asif Ali. These were real women, fighting their own battles. Then there was Neerja Bhanot, if your kids need a superhero story let it be hers. She did not have super powers, gadgets or even a fairytale-like happy ending. She was just an ordinary girl who saved 360 lives thanks to her courage, quick thinking and compassion.

This Friday the film Neerja released with popular actress Sonam Kapoor playing Neerja Bhanot. The movie is a fitting tribute to this courageous and selfless 23yr old. For the uninitiated, she was the senior flight purser on the hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 from Mumbai (then Bombay) to New York on Sept.5, 1986. As if 360 weren’t enough, here are 5 more extraordinary reasons why you need to introduce this superhero to your kids:

1: Thinking beyond self: Within the first few minutes of the plane’s hijack Neerja successfully passed on the ‘Hijack’ code to the cockpit. The crew then left the plane through the overhead hatch, leaving the plane grounded without any pilots. From there on she took the responsibility of all the passengers on her shoulder and served them until her last breath. Neerja’s father, Harish Bhanot, clarifies in The Hindustan Times of October 5, 1986, “the cabin crew, including the two pursers, did not know the action the cockpit crew takes on hearing the hijack code. It is now known that the 3 member cockpit crew – pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer – slipped away, leaving the plane, 400 passengers and the 13 member cabin-crew at the mercy of an emotionally charged 4 member team of burly terrorists. Since Neerja was the cabin-crew leader, she took over the “command”, as soon as she found that the three seniors (cockpit crew) had deserted them.”
2: Caring irrespective of boundaries: The world today can learn so much from this young girl’s sacrifice. Right at the beginning of this 17 hour ordeal it became clear that the terrorists were looking for American passengers to add strength to their negotiations with the Pan Am crew at Karachi, Pakistan Airport. They even killed an Indian American when their demand to get a pilot within 15 minutes was not fulfilled. Fearing the worst, Neerja successfully instructed all flight attendants to hide passports of the remaining 40 American passengers.

3: Leading when it matters: The passengers needed an anchor to feel safe and Neerja became that. She served them food, hid their identities and finally coordinated the escape of passengers with a young man who was sitting at the emergency exit. She stuck her neck out again and again and it paid off for the passengers in the end. 

4: Going beyond the call of duty: While most of us would happily bunk office for a cricket match series on TV, Neerja did not leave her post even for her own life. After almost 17 hours the lights went off in the hijacked flight. The already frustrated terrorists then let out a little prayer and fired indiscriminately. Neerja without fearing for the consequences managed to throw open an emergency door. She could have been the first one to head for safety. But true to her character she helped save as many passengers from the wrath of these devils. And in the end she was shot point-blank while trying to shield three children.

5: The Braveheart: Neerja Bhanot is the youngest recipient of the Ashoka Chakra Award, India’s highest gallantry award for bravery in the face of the enemy during peace time. These words from her citation say it all:
‘Her loyalties to the passengers of the aircraft in distress will forever be a lasting tribute to the finest qualities of the human spirit.
Shreemati Neerja, daughter of Shri Harish Bhanot , thus displayed the most conspicuous bravery in the face of grave adversities and tried to save the lives of the passengers on the ill- fated flight at the cost of her own life'.

Signed – President of India’

I don’t know what made an ordinary women so courageous and selfless under such trying times. I cannot fathom the frustration and helplessness Neerja and the other passengers on that plane felt. I don’t know how people kill in the name of god, faith or anything else. But while watching Sonam Kapoor who made Neerja Bhanot come alive on the screen with her stupendous performance, I felt ashamed that my kids did not know of this one superhero – Neerja Bhanot!

Comments (23)

Jhilmil Posted on Mar 10, 2018

True so, she is really an inspiration to today\'s women, who sacrificed her life for others. Rarely do we see such stories.

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Jiya Posted on Mar 09, 2018

I just loved the story of Neerja she is no less than army men fighting on border for us.

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Deepa Posted on Mar 09, 2018

Neerja Bhanot\'s story is really inspirational. She was a braveheart who left us all with many life lessons in life.

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Snigdha Prusti Posted on Mar 09, 2018

After watching the movie ,i came to know about neerja bhanot and my respect is all for her..

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Nidhi Km Posted on Mar 09, 2018

Yes, indeed Neerja Bhanot was not known to many before the movie. Such stories should be part of curriculums

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Mrinal Kiran Posted on Mar 09, 2018

Neerja Bhanot was a brave heart and a selfless person! I strongly believe that we should tell such inspirational stories about real people to our children

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sonu Posted on May 31, 2017

hello this is nice blog

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Pam Posted on Mar 01, 2016

Salute to Neerja and her parents


Prerna Sinha (@maaofallblogs) Posted on Feb 26, 2016

Charu, after reading your post, I am so touched. I knew all about Neeraj, but the way you have related it, it connects me more.


Lady Anne Louise Barrun Posted on Feb 25, 2016

I saw the movie trailer and it really caught my attention since they said it's a true to life story. I even research it and I admire Neerja because she just not love her job but she saved her passengers. A very brave girl. I will definitely watch this movie. Thanks for reminding me, I almost forgot about this.


Karla Posted on Feb 25, 2016

Ive never read this but I am glad you shared this . Everyone does need a hero , this one i a good one

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Clair Kelly Posted on Feb 25, 2016

I agree, we should not teach our daughters to want to grow up to be princesses. We should teach them to be heroes! Lovely post :)

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Dorothy Mae C. Torretijo Posted on Feb 25, 2016

I like movies with heroes. A great post indeed!!


Niki Posted on Feb 24, 2016

We all need heros, and I think I found a new one of mine! Wow what an extraordinary lady. Thank you for sharing!


Raffa Posted on Feb 24, 2016

Heroes serve as inspiration to be our better self. Loved the way you told her story.

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sabine Posted on Feb 24, 2016

I like movies with heroes. Well done. Must say that I had never heard of this one before. So good to read.

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Dunja Posted on Feb 24, 2016

Such an extraordinary, brave and inspirational women. I have so much respect for her.

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Riley Reign Posted on Feb 24, 2016

This sounds lovely! I will have to find a way to watch it!!! Thank you for sharing your insight

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Alison Posted on Feb 24, 2016

Wow! I have never heard this story before but I do have a new hero. Very well-written post! Thank you for sharing!

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ROBERT LEE Posted on Feb 24, 2016

I think everyone can relate to a movie where there is a hero. Somehow, we all need heroes as we face our daily challenges. They serve as an inspiration.

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charity marces Posted on Feb 24, 2016

I do not know Neerja Bhanot but I agree that we should all be adapting to the changes of the world. Fairy Tale stories are nice because they are dreamy but it does not really teach children how to live their lives in this real world. Women nowadays are privileged to be given equal rights as men (at least most,) so teaching them the balance of love, kindness, knowledge, courage, and equality is way better.

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Joanna Posted on Feb 24, 2016

I haven't heard of this story before, the Pan Am Flight 73 hijacking. I would love to see the movie and find out more about Neerja Bhanot. Do you know what language the movie will be in? I did see a movie in Hindi (I think) once, PK, at the cinema from Jaipur but I only understood the main idea. Would have loved to understand all the words.

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Milton Coyne Posted on Feb 24, 2016

Oh i have seen her story being shared on my Facebook countless times already! I was in awe when I read her heroic story and I didn't know that there will be a movie adaptation of her story... I just hope they will release a film with subbed or dubbed version of it.. I really want to watch it! This must be a really inspiring film!

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Charu Chhitwal

Charu Chhitwal, Founder KetchupMoms has daring tastebuds, a love for travel and an owl for her soul. It’s little wonder then that she loves to write and share her tips and tricks on traveling, food,

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