July 22, 2008
As one walks through the road passing by the residence of Commodore Jerome Castelino (Retired) he cannot escape the sight of a cottage in a typical rural setting surrounded by trees and small landscape gardens. The name plate at the main gate and the vertically placed replica of an anchor within the compound reminds the passer-by that the retired Commodore has been proud about his long service in the Indian Navy and has carried a bit of the navy back to his village.
During my occasional visits to the native village, whenever I used to pass-by the Commodore’s residence, I would admire the way he had converted a small portion of his ancestral land into a piece of natural art. Even at the age of 74, I found the Commodore in good physical health and dedicated to social work. Since long it had been my desire to get to know him better and have a detailed interview with him. I could fulfill this desire during my recent visit to the native village.
Commodore Jerome Castelino’s journey from his native village to the service in the Indian Navy and back to the village is quite interesting and inspiring. Jerome Castelino was born on June 19, 1934 at Puthrottu, Moodubelle. He is the eldest among four sons and four daughters of the late Vincent and Rose Castelino. After his primary education in the Church-aided higher primary school in Moodubelle, Jerome completed his High School studies in SVS High School, Innanje.
Though born in a family with agricultural background, Jerome had other dreams and plans. Initially he served as an untrained teacher in higher primary schools in Udupi for one year in 1952 on a salary of Rs 18/- per month. Owing to lack of transport facility, Jerome had to walk from Moodubelle to Udupi and back covering a distance of 12 kilometers each way. Meanwhile, in order to have better opportunities in future, he also did stenography at Modern School of Commerce at Udupi.
As he was looking for better prospects, Jerome grabbed the opportunity and joined the Indian Navy in 1953 as a sailor at a salary of Rs 52/- per month. The knowledge of shorthand enabled him to get the post of Personal Assistant to two successive British Admirals – Admiral F A Balance and Admiral J W Tywrite from 1953 to 1957.
His association with the British Admirals in a way shaped the future course of Jerome’s professional life. As they encouraged him to get into the officers' rank, Jerome made necessary preparation and after the retirement of Admiral J W Tywrite, he was selected to undergo training to be commissioned as an officer in the Indian Navy under a special scheme and was sent to the Naval Academy, Cochin for the officers' grade training.
It was a day of great rejoicing for Jerome Castelino and his family when he was commissioned by the President of India, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan as the Sub-lieutenant in the Indian Navy in 1959. The Commodore proudly showed me the document signed by the President commissioning him as an officer in the Indian Navy. Jerome was the first and perhaps the only officer from Moodubelle to be commissioned in the Indian Navy. Thereafter, promotions came in normal course of time and in 1984 he rose to the rank of Commodore, equivalent to the rank of Brigadier in the Army and Air Commodore in the Air Force.
Commodore Jerome Castelino has the unique distinction of being the first sailor in the Indian Navy and only one so far from the Karnataka state to graduate from the sailor's grade to the officer's grade and eventually rise to the rank of Commodore.
While in the Navy, Commodore Jerome Castelino served in various categories of warships including Aircraft Carrier INS Vikrant. In the course of his service in the Indian Navy he visited 27 foreign countries. He participated in wars against Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 and Goa Liberation War in 1961. While serving on warship INS Godavari during 1971 Indo-Pak War, his ship apprehended Pakistani Merchant Vessel ‘Pasni’ on December 4, 1971.
Commodore Jerome Castelino held various higher administrative posts, last being the President of the Service Selection Board and Senior Naval Officer, Bangalore. He was awarded ‘Vishesh Seva Medal’ by the President of India, Zail Singh on January 26, 1984 for meritorious and distinguished service in the Indian Navy.
After an adventurous and highly satisfying service in the Indian Navy, Commodore Jerome Castelino retired in 1988. Thereafter, he served for six years as General Manager in Applied Electronics Limited, Mumbai.
Commodore Jerome was married to Rose Celine of Bijai, Mangalore in 1961. As a fifteen-year-old boy, I still remember attending his grand wedding ceremony in St Lawrence Church, Moodubelle. It was for the first time that I saw a bridegroom dressed in white naval uniform with a sword of honour by his side.
The Commodore has two sons, both engineers and presently working in USA and a daughter who is a chief officer in ICICI Bank in Mumbai.
After the education and settling of their children, it had been a dream of Commodore Jerome and his wife Rose Celine to give up the hectic city life in Mumbai and go back to the native village and live a life on their own terms. In return for the love and affection and respect that they had earned from the villagers they wanted to give back to them something in the form of social service.
With dreams in his eyes and plans in his mind, Commodore Jerome along with Rose Celine came down to their native village, Moodubelle in 1994. On a piece of ancestral land allotted by his father, the Commodore built a small cottage and over the years gradually developed it in such a way that it has become an island of natural beauty. Though outwardly the cottage appears to be quite rustic and modest, the Commodore and his wife have done the interior in an aesthetic manner with pieces of art placed in right spots. The landscape surrounding the cottage with a guest-house, grass beds, sit-out and the Grotto in the background add to the peaceful and serene atmosphere.
In order to have a forum for carrying out social service in the village, Commodore Jerome Castelino took initiative for starting the Lions Club in Moodubelle. His efforts bore fruit in 1997 when like-minded individuals rallied around him and the Lions Club of Moodubelle began to function with 32 chartered members and the Commodore became its first Charter President.
In order to have a permanent place for the Lions Club activities, Commodore Jerome mobilized Rs 10 lac and built the ‘Lions Seva Bhavan’ in 2002 on a piece of land donated by Prof Wilfred D’Souza, himself a well-known social activist and Lions Club member who later became District Governor (2005-06).
Under the leadership of Commodore Jerome, weekly dental and medical camps have been organized for the needy villagers in the Lions Seva Bhavan with the support of the doctors from the Kasturbha Medical College, Manipal. He also obtained a grant of Rs16.5 lac from the Lions Club International Foundation, Illinois (USA) and expanded the existing Lions Seva Bhavan and medical camp facilities.
The social work of Commodore Jerome Castelino through the Lions Club of Moodubelle has extended to many spheres. Under the financial assistance provided by Dr B M Hegde, former vice-chancellor of Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), 240 toilets were constructed at Kudi, Pernankila, Marne and Edmeru villages. Besides providing financial assistance to needy students and houses for the homeless, the Lions Club of Moodubelle under the guidance and leadership of the Commodore has been providing social service to the villagers in various fields.
During the last ten years, recognizing the total dedication and commitment of Commodore Jerome Castelino to social service in his native village, he was conferred with Melvin John Fellowship and a number of district and international awards.
Realizing his experience as an officer in the Indian Navy, the Karnataka Government has appointed Commodore Jerome as the vice-president of the Sainik Board of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts for a period of three years (2007-2010).
In spite of his advanced age (74 years), Commodore Jerome Castelino looks quite young and active. He still follows the rigid naval discipline of regular exercise. Besides, the pollution free village atmosphere, quiet and hassle-free life, healthy diet, positive thinking and dedication to social work are the secret of his youthfulness and energy.
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