Equal parts beauty and brains, this Pan Am stewardess became the stuff of legends when in 1986, two days before her 23rd birthday, she died in a hail of bullets at Karachi airport, protecting children and passengers with her young life.
This was a time when the job was invested with enormous glamour and prestige and was practically a ticket to the good life. Maureen Wadia, Parmeshwar Godrej, Zarine Khan, Nina Rajan (biscuit king) Pillai and Sameera.Mallya (Vijay Mallya’s first wife) all started off as hawai sundaris. But Neerja Bhanot was in a class by herself. We think of her every year on September 5 and remember how the very skies seemed to weep as on a grey day, fit only for mourning, we took her to the Sion crematorium, there to watch her join the legends that have made this city so unique. Two awards instituted in her name by her family, one for an air-hostess who goes beyond the call of duty, one for a women achiever, given out eery year, make sure we can never forget her. And of course, there is also the Ashoka Chakra, India’s highest civilian award for bravery. In 2004, the government issued a stamp in her honour.
Early in January this year, her killer, Zayd Hassan Abd Al-Latif Masud Al Safarini, died the death of a dog in the badlands of Pakistan, reportedly shot to pieces by a US military drone.