‘For Harish Bhanot, his daughter was his life’
Bhanot, then the Mumbai bureau chief of Hindustan Times, along with other journalists rushed to his office at Churchgate to get more information about the flight.bollywood Updated: Feb 20, 2016 08:39 IST
At a press conference hosted by a private airline on the evening of September 5, 1986, a man with a distressed look on his face walked up to then 59-year-old Harish Bhanot, who was sitting with the other journalists, and said that news had just broken of PanAm Flight 73, traveling with 379 passengers from Mumbai to Frankfurt that had been hijacked by terrorists at Karachi, Pakistan.
Baljeet Parmar, 65, who was Bhanot’s friend, recalled the incident that took place that night. Parmar who was a journalist with Free Press Journal at the time said, “As Dev Varan, a senior journalist with Reuteurs spoke these words, all conversations at the table came to a halt. But there was one man whose head hung low. He looked up and said that his daughter was on that flight and it sent shivers down everyone sitting around him.”
Bhanot was the father of Neerja, the airhostess who was killed by terrorists who hijacked PanAm Flight 73. The 22-year-old was the first woman recipient of the highest civilian honour, the Ashoka Chakra, posthumously and was also the youngest Indian to be bestowed with the honour, for saving passengers on board.
Bhanot, then the Mumbai bureau chief of Hindustan Times, along with other journalists rushed to his office at Churchgate to get more information about the flight. “He received a call from his friend Irfan Khan of Hindustan Lever, who requested him to go to his office since it had better facilities. All of us sat up the whole night trying to receive any information as there were no mobile phones, neither internet. Luckily an official from PanAm gave regular updates to Bhanot,” said Parmar adding that the news was hidden from Neerja’s mother, Rama on Bhanot’s instructions, which was finally communicated by Bhanot himself later on that night.
For the next two nights and three days, Bhanot along with several other journalists stationed themselves at Mumbai airport. “The coffin was claimed at Karachi by Bhanot’s sons Aneesh and Akhil and when they reached Mumbai airport, I took over the bullet-ridden body as the parents were distraught. Neerja’s body was first taken to the Bhanot residence at Bandra before cremating her at Sion where I performed the last rights,” said Parmar.
Sujata Anandan, 55, now Hindustan Times’s political bureau chief, was then a reporter with United News India (UNI). “When he (Bhanot) saw the coffin, he was so distressed that he fell to his knees. He quickly gathered himself and stood up saying that she gave the passengers a second life by sacrificing her own. She was the most important part of my life and I will live a proud father.”
According to Parmar, every day Bhanot would take a local train after work to Bandra where Neerja would wait before driving him home. “Bhanot was a man with a large heart and for him his daughter was his life. After Neerja’s death, he did not take the train anymore and soon after he left Mumbai,” he said.