Bandra boy snaps salute to Uttarakhand Heroes

Jul 04, 2013, 01:47 IST | Hemal Ashar

Jonathan Devine-Jones cracks exam to be commissioned into army

On Sunday, June 30, Vakola’s narrow lanes were choked with mourners as the casket carrying the body of Indian Air Force (IAF) hero Darrell Castellino was taken to its final resting place. Castellino was Wing Commander of the Mi-17 V5 helicopter that crashed during a rescue operation at Gaurikund, in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand, killing all 20 people on board.

Keeping up with jones: Jonathan Devine-Jones in Pune. Pic/Krunal Gosavi

Not too far away from Vakola, in Bandra (W), Mumbai resident Jonathan Desmond Devine-Jones (24) salutes crisply. “This is for all those men in uniform who have died so that others may live,” says Jonathan, whose chest swells in pride like those rivers, when he thinks about how the Forces are going about this challenging, operation. When asked if he ever thinks about what he would do if a similar situation arises in his life, Jonathan says, “Do my duty and do my best, of course.”

Rest in peace: Officers of the Indian Air Force (IAF) carry the casket of Wing Commander Darrell Castellino at his funeral mass in Mumbai

Jonathan has cracked the Combined Defence Services (CDS) examination standing 212nd in the All Indian Merit list as announced by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) on June 21. He leaves Mumbai to join the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehradun on July 6. After an 18-month stint at IMA as gentleman cadet, Jonathan will get commissioned as a lieutenant in the Indian army and be posted in one of the units. For dyed-in-the-wool Mumbaikars, who are unfamiliar with Forces jargon, the CDS exam is held by the UPSC twice a year in the months of February and September. Jonathan appeared for CDS in September 2012, the results of which were announced in January 2013. He later appeared for the SSB Interviews and cleared the same. The final merit of the CDS exam, taking into consideration equal weight age of written exam + SSB Interviews, was announced by the UPSC on Friday, June 21, this year. Jonathan credits Lt Col (retd) P Brahmankar and Cdr (retd) P K Banerjee, of Pune’s Apex Careers as giving him “super guidance” throughout.

Memories: A relative speaks to Ethan, son of Wing Commander Darrell Castellino, as he waits to lead the pall-bearers from the Indian Air Force, carrying the wing commander’s casket from his residence in Mumbai on June 30, 2013. PIc/AFP

Jonathan rewinds to his Mumbai childhood and school days at St Stanislaus High School in Bandra. He chuckles as he says, “I was not very academically inclined but crazy about sport, especially boxing, basketball and football.” One can put that sporty streak down to genes too - Jonathan's maternal grandfather and his inspiration, Brig (retd) D N Devine-Jones, was a boxer, sports administrator and a gold medallist footballer at the 1951 Asian Games in New Delhi where India took top honours in football. Incidentally, his grandfather was boxing coach of the Indian team during the 1972 Olympics at Munich, still remembered for a terror attack by a Palestinian group which killed Israeli athletes. Says Jonathan, “I do not remember too much about grandfather talking about that. I think my grandmother told me he was in another building when the terrorists attacked after entering the Olympic village.”

Saviour: A soldier assists a child as stranded pilgrims coming from Badrinath make their way down a mountain at Govindghat in Uttarakhand state. 

Jonathan did his B Com degree from St Andrews College in Bandra, but it was a two-month stint at the Army’s Institute of Physical Training (AIPT) on the Pune-Sholapur Highway, when he was just 16, that changed his clothes size and the course of his life. Jonathan laughs as he says, “I went to the AIPT in the summer holidays when I was 16. A two-month physical training regime there made me whittle down from 88 kg at 5’ 3” to 62 kg and I shot up to 5’ 9” too. Unbelievably, I lost 30 kg that summer, with the instructors literally whipping me into shape with running, boxing, football and swimming training.”

Mentor: Lt Col (retd) Brahmankar in a group discussion session. Brahmankar claims that what makes Jonathan a little different and outstanding are his initiative and keenness to join the Army. He does not want to pursue any other career besides the Army.

His mother Beverly Devine-Jones brought up Jonathan, after he lost his father when he was nine. “My father was working in Nairobi (Africa) then. There was a robbery there, he was shot,” says Jonathan, adding, “my fathers passing came as a shock to me, as losing a parent is never easy. But my grandparents really did step in to fill the void. My mother did a fantastic job as a single parent raising two children - my older sister Natalie and me.” While Jonathan says that his family acted like a cushion around him, he stresses, “My late grandfather Brig (retd) D N Devine-Jones has always been my hero. He was in the Physical Training Corps and served for 32 years. He had a great personality and was loved by all. He ignited the fire in me to take up this noble profession. I have very fond memories of him.”

Today, as Jonathan prepares to travel to Dehradun, ironically, the capital city of Uttarakhand, he does so with elation. "My family too is happy that I have made it. My friends, though, are rather intrigued at my career choice." Intrigued may be a politer word for ignorance as Jonathan thinks that a majority of Mumbai youth are unaware about many aspects of the Forces, as, “We do not have a cantonment area. Here, the perception is: ‘You are going to join the army? Arre marne waala hai tu’ (you are going to die). Or, people say, you will join as a jawan, not an officer. The commercial aspect too is very strong in this city.” Misconceptions notwithstanding, Jonathan does admit that the blunt “arre marne waala hai tu” may come true in the course of his career. “But,” he signs off bravely, “we know what we are getting into when we join the army. I want to tell the youth, do what makes you happy but give a thought to joining our brave defence force.” 

Indian Boxing Loses Legend
In 2010, newspapers recorded the passing away of Jonathan’s hero and grandfather Brig (retd) D N Devine-Jones. One report stated: “Indian boxing has lost a legend as former secretary of the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) Brig (retd) D N Devine-Jones passed away at his residence. Jones was 82 and is survived by wife, daughter and two grandchildren.

Jones was part of the Army Physical Training Corps (APTC). He was elected as secretary of IABF in 1976 and was re-elected in 1980. In 1985, he handed over the reins to late Capt Aspy Adajania”.

The Brigadier was a qualified international referee and boxing judge. The report in a morninger also stated he was actively involved with the conduct of boxing at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi.

Dehradun beckons Thane boy
Mumbai's satellite town of Thane has its own hero. A young man, Abhay Kadam (21), son of an autorickshaw driver, is also heading towards the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehra Dun after cracking his Combined Defence Services (CDS) exams. Kadam has been chosen for commission to the Indian Army too.

Kadam badhaye jaa: Abhay Kadam amidst happy family members outside his residence in Savarkar Nagar, Thane (W). Pic/Sameer Markande

‘Give the armed forces their due’
Mumbai-based Capt Ashok Batra who was commissioned into the Indian Navy on January 1, 1962 and decided to take premature retirement as Commander in 1976, echoes the sentiments of many in the armed forces who cannot speak to the media as they are governed by certain rules and regulations: "Many years ago, armed forces personnel were better paid than all the other services, ie IAS, IFS and the Police.

Capt Ashok Batra
Capt Ashok Batra

Over a period of time, thanks to the bureaucrat-politician nexus, the balance between their pay and allowances and those of the other services have reversed and come down substantially.

The powers of the bureaucrat have also increased at the expense of the Services. This has led to an extremely sad situation. The political class and the bureaucracy have no respect for the armed forces. It is only during emergencies that lip service is given and thereafter, all is forgotten. The nation has to learn to respect the armed forces and give them their rightful due. Till that happens, the standards are going to continue to deteriorate," he ends, emphatically.  

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