Yesterday I watched a biopic on Neerja Bhanot- a purser, based in Mumbai,
India, who was shot at while saving passengers from terrorists on board a
hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 on 5 September, 1986.Neerja was able to successfully
alert the piolet crew of the highjacking which enabled them to flee the plane
thereby putting a major dent in the highjacker’s plan.
But I don’t want to talk about what she did you can easily read it on
Wikipedia.What I do want to talk about is what prompted her to throw herself
in front of the children she barely knew. What made her risk her life and hide
the passports of Americans she had never laid her eyes on before that day.
What made her keep her cool in a situation in which most of us would be panic
stricken and terrified.In short, what made her brave.
There was nothing extra ordinary about Neerja. She was your average typical
Indian Girl.Was it her hijack training she received at Pan Am which was
responsible for her bravery or was it her tumultous past with her husband.
We can talk about some of the “science” facts that has been uncovered related
to such incidents :
According to one of the theories when you practice an act again and again, the
responsibility for performing the action switches from the brain’s outer
cortex, where it is experienced consciously, to the basal ganglia, which
executes the action automatically and isn’t affected by fear.
That way, when intense fear shuts down a person’s rational brain, he or she
will still be able to function on autopilot. This practice is quite common in
military bootcamps wherein soldiers are made to go through the
But Was she working on Autopilot when she dived in front of children without
giving as much a speck of thought and concern for her own life.
Military psychologists say that the instinct to protect those we love is one
of the most powerful forces motivating bravery in combat. But how could she
love these people she barely knew.
Knowledge also makes you brave.A Harvard sociologist and former wildland
firefighter, Matthew Desmond writes in his book On the Fireline: Living and
Dying with Wildland Firefighters that most are experienced outdoorspeople.
“Courage is based on the idea that you recognize the danger in the thing you
see,” Desmond says.But Neerja hadnt been exposed to this conditions before how
could she recognize the danger in it.
How is it that the next door girl showed exceptional bravery by defying every
norm science knows about bravery.
Whatever must be running on her mind during that unfortunate 16 hours remains a mystery. But what I know for sure is she turned from being the pedestrian Indian girl to a hero on which entire country is proud. Her story left me astonished and wondering would I ever throw myself in front of a gun to save others.
Even in our day to day life we are so selfish we tend to disregard others in
our search for self satisfaction.We are so immersed in our own bubble that
even if we see something unfortunate happening we choose to rather close our
eyes then to do something about it let alone take that suffering onto
People killing others in name of religion, gender, color, sexuality it all
confuses me. How can someone become so self involved that they forget the very
foundations on which this society is built, they forget their humanity.
As an individual I don’t know whether I would throw myself in front of a gun
for others but I do promise that I will be more accepting, more kind in my
everyday life. I will try to look at a situation from the other’s person
I will give my part to make this a better society so that one day there will
be no need for a Neerja Bhanot.
Nevertheless entire humanity cheers your effort and honors your sacrifice.