'Goodbye Lado, Please Keep Coming,' Wrote Neerja's Journalist Father In A Hindustan Times Article

Swagata Dam , 20 Feb 2016
Neerja's father Harish Bhanot
Neerja’s father Harish Bhanot

Sonam Kapoor‘s Neerja shook me, moved me and maybe it is right to even say that it changed me in some capacity. While yesterday I saw this biographical tale by Ram Madhvani and wrote its review, today I compiled these five behind-the-scenes videos of the movie that you guys must see. And I’ve been so consumed and affected by the story of India’s braveheart, Neerja Bhanot, that I cannot stop myself from reading more and more about her. A while ago, I came across this article on Hindustan Times that is basically a reproduction of a moving piece written by Neerja’s father, Harish Bhanot, a month after he lost his daughter. Here are some excerpts:

Neerja, the vivacious and valiant senior flight purser of Pan Am was felled by hijackers bullets during the Pan Am holdup at Karachi airport on September 5 1986 – barely 25 hours before her birthday. A year ago, she had written to me, “I will do you proud” and the brave girl has kept her word…

Pan Am informed that the pickup time will be 1.15 a.m. (Sept 5). Her mother had to knock the door really hard to wake up Neerja. She had the usual cold bath. While she was getting ready, we talked. I asked her, how many friends had she invited to her birthday on Sept. 7. She replied, “None” because she would be returning only on Sunday morning. She wished the birthday party to be just a family affair…

In the normal course of events, Neerja would have been back in Bombay on Sunday, September 7, her birthday. But instead of that we collected her coffin from the airport. She, who died so that others could live, was cremated the following day at 11 am amidst chanting of her favourite mantras as we said “Goodbye darling, please keep coming.” The young model has set a model for her class the world over…

Neerja Bhanot, Sonam Kapoor
Neerja Bhanot, Sonam Kapoor

Neerja was a fruit of our long prayers for a daughter. We had two sons and were longing for a daughter. It was Sept. 7, 1962 at Chandigarh – where I was posted at that time. The maternity ward matron rang up to inform me that we had been blessed with a baby-girl. I was very happy to hear this and gave her a “double thanks”. She thought I had got her wrong and so she repeated “It is a daughter”. I explained to her the daughter had already 2 brothers and that is why it was an occasion for “double thanks”. Neerja was a “no problem” child, right from day one. She was a “no nonsense” girl right from the start. She went to Sacred Heart School (Chandigarh). Her family name was “Lado” and I do not think I had called her Neerja more than a score of times in her 23 years…

Of the 23 years of her life, she had lived 22 years and 10 months under bracing sunshine. The two month long ugly patch was a dowry cloud. Following her ad-based arranged marriage in March 1985, she had gone to the Gulf to join her husband to set up a happy home. But the marriage went sour within two months. She was starved off finance and food in a foreign land and the bright girl lost five kg of weight in two months. She had to borrow money from the husband even to make a telephone call…

An ugly letter followed, listing terms for her return, which no person with self-respect could accept. The letter listed a straight formula: accept the humiliating terms without a whimper and return at your own cost or “we will separate”. The worst was that the letter asked her as to what was she? “You are just a graduate”. The young girl could not pocket this. She applied for a flight attendant’s job with Pam Am. There were nearly 10,000 applications but Neerja Harish easily found place among the top 80… The girl with sinews of steel accepted the challenge “what are you” and has told “what she was”…

Nothing can, possibly, state her Pan Am stature better than a letter received from her instructor (at Miami), Mr. Keith D. Smith saying: “The courageous manner in which she lived was very evident in the courageous manner in which she died. Shielding 3 small children from danger was a bold, daring and brave act that so dignified Neerja’s personality. She was a wonderful human being. All those who were concerned with her Miami training, including the ‘local mother’, have expressed similar assessment of Neerja.”

You can read the entire piece on Hindustan Times.

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