“NO, we are not grieving at all. There will be no mourning in the Bhanot household. My mother lived a full and happy life, and that’s all that counts,” says Aneesh Bhanot, whose mother Rama Bhanot passed away after battling an illness on Saturday night. She was 86.
Rama was also the mother of flight attendant Neerja Bhanot who lost her life trying to save the lives of 379 passengers from terrorists on board the hijacked PanAm Flight 73 on September 5, 1986. Neerja was India’s youngest and first woman recipient of the highest civilian honour, the Ashoka Chakra, posthumously. Pakistan also bestowed the prestigious Tamgha-e-Insaaniyat Award on Neerja. She was only 22.
In yet another act of kindness and selflessness by this family, Rama’s body was donated to PGI. “This was mama’s wish. She used to accompany us to the Rotary meetings and would always try to find ways to help people. This was her final gift,” says Aneesh.
The tragic loss of her daughter to a terrorist attack 29 years ago was an unbearable one, but Rama and her husband Harish Bhanot soldiered on. “It took them time, for Neerja was the ‘laado’ of the family, the youngest and most pampered. My parents had wished for her, and in a news article after her death, my father had mentioned how, when she was born on September 7, 1962, the maternity ward matron here at Chandigarh hospital rang up to inform, it’s a girl. To her surprise, he gave her double thanks, for Neerja was a prayer answered after two sons,” recalls Aneesh.
The bond between Rama and Neerja often made Aneesh and his older brother Akhil jealous. “Neerja used to bully us both. Quite a feisty girl she was,” remembers Aneesh. Everyone’s favourite, there was a lot of Rama in her. “Both of them would go for ice cream every afternoon when we were living in Mumbai. The zest for life, the courage and the can-do attitude, the loving and giving nature, laughing and cracking jokes, being confident and bold — Neerja got it all from mom,” he reminisces, sharing how his mother braved his father’s illness too, who passed away in 2008 after battling Alzheimer’s.
From Shimla, Rama Bhanot was an MA in classical music and worked as a telephone operator in times when even local calls were booked. She also took an active part in the Punjab Song and Drama Division, and travelled all over the country with the production.
Come New Year, and the Bhanot family is gearing up for the Neerja Bhanot Award on January 13, which is also Rama’s birthday. Then, it’s Fox Star Studios and Bling Unplugged’s ‘Neerja’ (a biopic) that will release on February 19. Directed by celebrated ad film director Ram Madhvani, Sonam Kapoor is essaying the role of Neerja and Shabana Azmi, the role of Neerja’s mother, Rama.
On playing the role of Neerja’s mother, Azmi, in a release had mentioned, “I had the good fortune of meeting Ramaji in person last year when I was invited to Chandigarh to present the Neerja Bhanot award. She is lovely and we get along really well.”
Interestingly, when Sonam visited the family two years ago for a dinner, the minute she walked in, Rama said, “This is Neerja,” recalls Aneesh, wishing his mother was alive to see the film, something she was looking forward to too.
A prayer ceremony will be held in the memory of Rama Bhanot on December 16 at Arya Samaj Bhawan, Sector 16.