The real Neerja Bhanot: Rare photos and her storyhttps://indianexpress.com/photos/lifestyle-gallery/the-real-neerja-bhanot-rare-photos-and-her-story/

The real Neerja Bhanot: Rare photos and her story

Here are some rare photos of Neerja Bhanot during her modelling days, and her extraordinary story.

Before she stood up to a gang of hijackers on a Pan American World Airways flight, Neerja Bhanot’s major act of courage was to walk out of her marriage. Click on for rare photos from her modelling career and grad school. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

It was 1986. She was a 21-year-old in Bombay, a striking young woman with a modelling career that was just taking off. That she had agreed to a match arranged by her father to a man based in Sharjah had come as a surprise to many. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

She was the sherni of the family, a fiercely independent young woman. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

In Sharjah, the marriage nosedived. She was harassed by demands for dowry, starved and denied any money. Neerja decided to end the marriage. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

Neerja was born on September 7, 1962, in Chandigarh Sector 16 where her father Harish worked as a journalist. She was fondly called Lado (the loved one) and became the centre of the family’s affections. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

When Neerja joined Bombay Scottish in Class VI, she was a quiet girl with two long plaits. “Once she chopped them off and got a blunt cut, we were struck by how beautiful she looked,” says Eliza Lewis, her classmate. In the years to come, that hairstyle would become her signature look. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

An average student, Neerja was good at many sports, including throwball, gymnastics and basketball. Her classmates remember Neerja as fearless and honest.“She had her share of admirers. If she caught someone staring at her, she would walk up to him and wave at him, just for fun,” one said. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

Neerja wanted to excel in whatever she was doing. A photographer approached Neerja wanting to feature her in a section called ‘The girl next door’ in the magazine Bombay. Once the photo was printed, she got her first modelling offer. Paville, a popular retail store, had contacted her. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

Neerja Bhanot’s was the face that launched several brands in the 1980s, from Binaca to baby food. Those who owned a television in the 1980s will remember her walking, arms wrapped around herself, on a winter afternoon in an ad for Charmis cold cream... (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

As a bride bickering with the groom over the taste of Krack Jack biscuits. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

She also appeared in print ads for several baby products, for retail stores such as Benzer and Chirag Din. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

Soon after marriage ended, when Pan Am decided to have an all-India crew to cater to its Asian clients — other than Air India, it was the first airline to do so — Neerja applied for the job. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

5.25 am, September 5, 1986: The Pan Am 73 flight from Mumbai to Frankfurt landed at the Jinnah International Airport, Karachi, for an hour-long stopover. Four heavily-armed Palestinian men, belonging to the Abu Nidal Organisation, hijacked the aircraft carrying 360 passengers, many of them Americans. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

They grabbed Neerja, who was at the entrance to welcome the passengers, by her hair. Sensing danger, she conveyed the “hijack code” over the intercom to the flight’s cockpit crew. Soon, the cockpit crew escaped through the cockpit’s emergency hatch. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

For 17 hours, Neerja and other members of the crew did their best to take care of the passengers and calm them down. She protected the Americans on board, who were targeted by the hijackers, by hiding their passports under a seat. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

At 9.55 pm, when the flight’s auxiliary power unit ran out of fuel, plunging the aircraft into darkness, the hijackers went on a shooting spree. Neerja and a passenger flung open two emergency doors, allowing many passengers to escape. While helping three children slide down the chute of the emergency exit, Neerja was hit by bullets. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

Had the hijackers not cut Neerja’s life short, she would have returned to Mumbai on her 23rd birthday, which she wished to be a family affair. Instead, her family collected her coffin from the airport. Her father wrote: “She was cremated on September 8 at 11 am amidst chanting of her favourite mantras, as we said ‘Goodbye darling, please keep coming’.” (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read her full story here

Heroes don’t belong to a different breed. This is true of Neerja — described by most as “an ordinary girl with an extraordinary spirit”. (Text: Alaka Sahani; Image: Courtesy the Bhanot family) Read the full text of her story here