Monday, March 21 2016, 01:22:22
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Jayati Godhawat

JWB Blogger

JWB’s Rendezvous with Neerja Bhanot’s Brother Akhil Bhanot

  • JWB Post
  •  March 15, 2016


When I heard that Neerja Bhanot’s brother Akhil Bhanot is in town, I knew I wouldn’t miss this opportunity to meet him. I had cried profusely while watching the movie and I cannot express the amount of respect I have for her.

Apra Kuchhal

Raghu Sinha Mala Mathur Charity Trust and Apra Kuchhal’s We Care Foundation has organized an event at Rajputana Sheraton today, i.e., on March 15, where Akhil Bhanot participated in a conversation about his late sister Neerja.

Apra Kuchhal initiated the conversation and praised late Neerja for her courage, bravery, and her presence of mind. As a tribute to her, she quoted a poem glorifying her valor. She then asked Akhil to share his fond memories of their childhood days.

I was the eldest of us three. I have a brother who’s three years younger to me, and Neerja was eight years younger. After two sons, my parents were praying desperately to have a girl. It’s difficult to address her as Neerja as we used to call her Lado which means Laadli. Because she has been our favorite from the day she was born.

Our childhood was as regular as that of any other middle-class family’s children. We used to play, fight, and have fun. My brother and I used to bully her a lot. Once, we lied to our parents that we are going to watch Ramleela and for five days, we three, went to watch movies. She was fun-loving and full of life.

Apra: Tell us about her modeling days, and how did she become an Air Hostess.

Akhil: I feel everything was destined for her. Say for modelling. She never thought of it. There was an article in Bombay Magazine ‘Girl Next Door’. A friend of her clicked her photo while she was eating golgappas with her friends outside her college. Her friend sent that picture to the magazine, and it got selected for the article. Then, Charmis team approached her for their campaign. And, so it began. She got so many modeling offers without any struggle.

Same thing happened with becoming an Air Hostess. She was accompanying a friend to the Pan Am interview. She was helping with her make-up. But, when the authorities saw her, they suggested her to apply too. And, she did.

She went to Miami for her training, and they were so impressed by her performance that she was promoted from the post of Air Hostess to Senior Purser during the training itself. As I said, it was destiny. She was born for the purpose to be on that flight so that she could save lives of so many people.

His eyes welled up with tears on the last sentence, and all of us in the audience could feel his emotions.

Apra Kuchhal and Akhil Bhanot

He talked about his memory of Neerja or Lado as he addressed her and it was moving.

I don’t see her through the prism of those 17 hours. Lado lived a wonderful and happy life, except those 17 hours and the two months she was married. I remember her for her bubbliness, craziness, and her laugh. Her laugh was unstoppable and uncontrollable. I worked at a car dealership company near Udaipur. Lado and my mother used to come once every month to stay with me. I always went to receive them in one of the new cars at the showroom. But once, I had to take a three wheeler. When she sat and saw me in the driver’s seat, I don’t know what triggered her, but she started laughing. She got out and sat on the pavement with her stomach clutched. Everyone stared at us but her laughter didn’t cease. That’s the image I have of her whenever I think of her. Her laughter still rings in my ears.


He mentioned about the one incident where he encountered her fearless attitude and realized the courage and principles his Lado possessed.

One day, I was dropping her at the college on my scooter. At a red light, we saw that a man was cruelly beating his wife. She went to the man and held his hand, reprimanded him and said that he had no right to hit anyone like this. But, the wife argued and told us to leave by saying it’s their personal matter, and her husband could behave the way he wants.

In the evening, I went up to Lado and told her that she shouldn’t have meddled. I scolded her, and I said, “Ki mil gaya tenu help karke, tere par hi ulta pad gaya na”. But what she replied changed my perspective forever.

She said, “I didn’t hear a word of what the woman said. What was happening was wrong, and my principles told me to stop it. So, I did it.”

I argued with her that these principles are useless and will only harm her. She used to call me Mun. She said,

“Mun, Life is a meaningless thing. You have to give meaning to it. Life goes by in a blink of an eye if you don’t give purpose and meaning to your life.”

He also shared that they had established Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust that gives Bravery Award to one woman every year who has shown valor and courage in any field. He said that in all these years, they have awarded three women of Rajasthan too including Bhanwari Devi.

Akhil Bhanot

Well, we got a chance to chat with him after the session too.

JWB: It was great to know about Neerja’s personal life, Sir. What can people, especially women, learn from your brave sister?

Akhil: We all have learned, and everyone who has seen the movie can learn so many things from Neerja. But, in particular, Neerja taught us never to get scared and maintain your composure, never tolerate injustice, and never compromise on your self-respect.

JWB: Her story touched millions of people. How does it feel?

Akhil: The mourning period was over after three months of her death. We take pride in her. The emotions we have for her are inexpressible, and no one can comprehend them other than us. But, all of us are immensely proud of her and forever will be.

Everyone was gifted with a bookmark. It has Neerja’s picture on it, and it reads,

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”


You’ll forever remain in our hearts, Neerja, and your courage and kindness will inspire generations to come.

P.S. Aneesh Bhanot, Akhil’s younger brother, has compiled a book The Neerja I knew. There are 11 chapters in the book with each chapter written by people who knew her and shared many incidents and delightful experiences they had with Neerja. You can buy it here.

Photo Courtesy: Pallav Bhargava

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