You understand how short life is when at one moment, you are enjoying the day, and the next, you find yourself surrounded by dead bodies and drenched in blood. That’s what happened with Nidhi Chaphekar on the morning of 26th March 2013. Considered the deadliest terror attack on Brussels, Belgium, it was Jet Airways cabin crew Nidhi Chaphekar who became the face of the attack.
After surviving 22 surgeries and being in a medically induced coma, Nidhi Chaphekar has risen to her feet and is ready to share the story from her perspective. Her latest book – Unbroken – is a testament to her strong demeanour as well as the incredible support of her family. In a tête-à-tête with Local Samosa, Nidhi Chaphekar talks about her experience penning down the story, being the face of Brussels attack and life after that. Here’s an excerpt from the interview.
It has just been four years since the incident, which is not a long time when dealing with such a huge trauma. How did you manage to not only get back to your feet but also pen down the incident in such great detail?
It’s true that it has not been a long time since the incident but when there is so much love showered on you, trauma starts fading. Penning down the incident was difficult as I had to gather a lot of information from many and different sources, followed by arranging and articulating all of it in the right order. I started this project when my family started encouraging me as they felt that I was being courageous, enthusiastic, hopeful, and cheerful in dealing with the situation. Their strength and belief in me became my power.
Do you ever feel like you were at the wrong place at the wrong time?
No, I never felt like that. Sometimes you have to let time take the call because you can’t predict anything in life. It’s hard but it’s a reality. One thing is sure – to be a fighter to deal with the toughest of situations. I don’t believe there is a wrong place or the wrong time. It’s destiny.
You became the face of Brussels terror attack because of the picture that was circulated all over the media. How does it feel to be an iconic face of an unfortunate incident?
I did feel bad as it was misused at many places by various agencies. At the same time, it is also true that my picture does speak a thousand words. It talks about humanity, about fighting it out, about having a never-say-die spirit, hope, love, and solidarity among other things. It describes many facts and challenges. In February 2020, it had been selected as the most iconic picture in the history of Belgium. By asking ” If she can, why can’t we?”, the photo definitely has the power to give strength to a lot of people to deal with challenging situations.
Despite not being a writer, you have penned down your experience beautifully. Were there any self-doubts when you first started?
There were a lot of doubts. I was scared that people would laugh at me but I had to overcome this fear and decided to put in my heart and soul into the book. I would have read it more than 30 times and had to put in many corrections. My editors were of great help and they helped me make it a success. They would always ask me to proofread as if I was reading the book for the first time every single time and, in this manner, we were able to make corrections. Rashmi, my editor, said that she knew the book by heart as a result. You can well imagine how many times we would have read the book.
Was it difficult to relive the entire experience when you were writing the book? How was your family’s reaction when you asked them about how things went on when you were in a coma?
It was tough. We cried many times but it’s good in a way to express. At that time in that fearful situation, you are just dealing with it in the present to solve it and not allowing yourself to express that fear. We would hug each other after sharing experiences. We now understand each other better than before.
Your kids are still pretty young, how did they deal with the entire situation?
They have become tougher and stronger than before. They have changed their perspective towards life. But, at the same time, the incident has made them mature at a very early age which is very difficult for me to digest. Somewhere along the way, we have taken their innocence.
You put in a lot of effort to be on that flight to Newark as it was the last US-bound flight. Do you ever regret that decision?
No, I never regret it.
After all these years, does that incident still affect you?
No, not at all. I always remember the good moments this incident has blessed me with. Cribbing for the worst will never change one’s today or one’s future.
How does a day in Nidhi Chaphekar’s life look like now? What are some of your favourite things to do when you’re free?
It’s my day totally! I long to write beautiful quotes or to post inspirational thoughts that people on Instagram wait to read. I love sharing my story with different people encouraging them to live every moment. One needs to love life, to enjoy each pal – har lamha. I also love listening to music and motivational talks, reading a good book, and, of course, serving mankind.
You’ve lived in Mumbai for a long time, could you tell us about some of your favourite spots around the city?
It might seem unbelievable but I have not stepped out much in the initial 20 years I lived in Mumbai. My home and my flights took up my time. However, now I go wherever I am invited as a guest. I love visiting schools and spiritual places. I absolutely love standing at the Gateway Of India, where you can find the sea, the sky, and the land – all superpowers at one point. It inspires me.