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After a solemn, calming funeral service, Wing Commander Darryl Castelino, who perished in a rescue mission in Uttarakhand last week, was laid to rest in Mumbai. Abhishek Mande reports
Home they brought her warrior dead
She nor swooned, nor uttered cry
Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s words rang true even over two centuries after they were written as the late Wing Commander Darryl Castelino’s wife Jyothi took to the podium as part of the funeral service of her late husband on Sunday afternoon.
Castelino was commandeering the Mi-17 chopper that crashed while rescuing stranded victims of the Uttarakhand floods on Tuesday, June 25.
In a short speech, she paid tribute to her late husband describing the day she met him as the day when her ‘dreams came true’.
“He worked (tirelessly) not only to see his family happy but also added value to (the lives) of his colleagues,” she said to a packed church, serenely self-possessed.
Jyothi continued, “My darling husband Darryl, I shall treasure every moment of the last ten years for the rest of my life. Our two children will miss you but I shall take care of them until we meet again,” her voice almost losing its composure towards the end as she walked away from the pulpit.
The St Anthony’s Church in suburban Mumbai’s Santacruz area, where the service was held, was bursting at its seams with people from all faiths -- friends, relatives, colleagues and fellow parishioners -- came by to pay their final respects to the late Wing Commander.
Bishop Percival Fernandes led a solemn funeral service in church’s imposing building whose construction dates back to the early 1970s.
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It is difficult to miss the presence of the late Wing Commander Darryl Castelino as you take the turn off the Western Express Highway towards the middle-class suburb of Vakola in Santacruz (E). Every political party worth its salt has woken up to the presence of a hero amidst them and wants to evidently cash in on it.
Posters and hoardings of Castelino are hung at every light pole with a note of condolence at the bottom. Till a few days ago, few had even heard of him. Indeed, practically no one in the apartment complex where Castelino owned a house could give an account of the man who had bought a tiny 300 sq ft apartment in 2005.
For most part, his mother lived there by herself, while he was on duty, a few of his neighbours told me earlier.
Today, a larger-than-life hoarding covers a part of the crumbling facade of the building in which he stayed whenever he was in Mumbai.
Sudesh Desai, the housing society's chairman recalls the time Castellino had approached him while purchasing the flat and described him as a humble person. "It wasn't until much later that I realised who he was (an officer in the Indian Air Force)," he’d told a few days ago to Rediff.com.
Castelino’s family hailed from Karnataka but had moved to the city much before he was born in 1975. Little is known of his growing years that were spent as a resident of Kurla, a working class suburb along the city’s central railway line as his father Herald Castelino worked with the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Company as a ticket collector.
Having completed his schooling from Kurla’s HolyCrossHigh School and graduation from Ram Niranjanv Jhunjhunwala College, Castelino joined the Indian Air Force as a non-commissioned airman rising up the ranks in a career spanning almost two decades.
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Over the last few days, the Castellino family has firmly denied all requests for interviews.
The little information that is out there talks of Castellino as being a warm and jovial person who had been a source of constant support to his family and his colleagues.
An Indian Express report quotes him as having joked with his wife ‘Main apne desh ki seva main ja raha hoon (I am off to serve the country)’ minutes before he left for the ill-fated rescue operation.
According to another report, in The Times of India, Castelino loved playing Santa Claus, distributing sweets to children in his Mumbai neighbourhood.
As is wont, all the neighbours had good things to say about their society’s most famous resident.
Milind Deshpande described him as ‘a fantastic guy’, a sentiment echoed by Ashish Thakur, yet another neighbour.
Deshpande and Thakur were among the many from the housing society who hadn’t reported in to work for a part of last week and stood guard as curious reporters hovered around.
On Sunday, the narrow bylanes that led to Castelino’s home were blocked with reporters and onlookers as Castelino began his final journey.
At the church, Bishop Percival Fernandes led the service. “Death,” he said quoting an Irish proverb “is a man’s best doctor… (for) it relieves him of all ills.”
Castelino’s sister, while thanking those present prayed for the protection of his comrades who serve along the frontlines and their families. “We pray for all the families who submit their children to serve the country,” she said, “Empower them and give them your holy strength and bless them!”
“Life will never be the same, she said of her brother, but may the Lord grant you a place in his eternal abode.”
Viewed from a vantage point, it was impossible to miss the sky-blue patch in the sea of people, as hundreds of Indian Air Force officers who made their presence felt on the sombre occasion.
They walked up to the coffin that identified their departed colleague as the choir began one of its final hymns:
Into your hands we commend our spirits O Lord
Into your hands we commend our hearts
Wrapped in the national flag, the coffin, bearing the Wing Commander’s service number, 25107-A, was carried down the aisle by six officers.
“May the saints bid you welcome,” the choir sang as the parishioners followed their hero as he was carried out of his church for one last time.
Wing Commander Darryl Castelino is survived by his mother Dina, wife Jyothi children, Ethan and Angelina as well as his sisters Sheryl and Muriel. He was laid to rest on June 30 at the Saint AndrewsCemetery in Kalina, Santacruz (E) Mumbai.
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