Chapel Hill, NC – Kadayam Ramachandra Kasturi Rengan (known as Kasturi Rengan) age 97, died Friday, February 23 , 2018. Born in the lush green town of Kochi in South India on September 18, 1920, he was the oldest son of the late Ramachandra Iyer and Seetalakshmi Ammal. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife Giorgetta Vuoso Rengan (known as Gina), brother Ramasubramanian and sisters: Kamala, Sharada, Subbalakshmi, Gomati, Ambujam, Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Lalita.
Kasturi is survived by his children: his daughter, Maria Rengan, of Manhattan, NY; and two sons: Alessandro Rengan of Kettering, OH, and Marco Rengan (Jill), of Chapel Hill, NC; his siblings: Lakshminarayanan of Mumbai, India and Sundari of Delhi, India; his grandchildren: Captain Krishna Rengan, USAF, Rama Rengan, and Erin Rengan; and beloved nieces and nephews in India, Italy, Argentina, Canada, France and America.
Kasturi was born a Brahmin during the British colonial period of India and developed a sense of love and respect for all people. He attended St Xavier College in Madras, India. He joined the British Indian Army, during World War II – mirroring in many ways the fighting spirit of his wife Gina who he was to meet later in Naples. After completing training In 1939, Kasturi was immediately sent to Egypt with the 4th Indian Infantry division, where they were under the command of British General Claude Auchinleck. After three years of major losses, British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery took command of operations of the North Africa Allied Forces, including Kasturi’s 4th Indian Infantry which was now assigned the name – the Red Eagles. During this period, Kasturi was “mentioned in dispatches”, which were official reports of meritorious action in the face of the enemy, that were sent to the British high command. In August 1942, Kasturi fought in the final, successful battle of El Alamein, Egypt, which pushed Rommel and the Germans out to sea. After El Alamein, Kasturi was awarded three medals and promoted to Subedar-major. Kasturi was next sent to Italy with the Red Eagles, where they fought successfully at Monte Cassino with the Allied Forces under the supreme command of General Eisenhower. Finally, Kasturi was stationed in Naples as the war was coming to an end. During this time he met Gina Vuoso and they were married in Naples in 1946.
Kasturi and Gina returned to India in 1946, where they would experience the most brutal and turbulent time of the India-Pakistan partition beginning in 1947. He was stationed with the Indian Army in Calcutta where he and Gina harbored Hindu and Muslim families alike. Also during this time, Kasturi sat for the highly competitive Indian Civil Service exam. He left the Army in 1947, and was selected to become an officer in the Indian Civil Services, the backbone of the governmental administrative systems of India. He elected the Indian Railways as his career path.
Kasturi’s career in the Railways would take the family off the beaten path with postings in remote villages and towns in Orissa, Bihar, Bengal and Assam. As a junior officer, their assigned bungalow became both a makeshift hospital for the sick as well as a weekend Catholic church for mass. As part of his duties, Kasturi would criss-cross the regions of India in the Officer’s Saloon – a car with bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and more – often taking the family with him for amazing scenic journeys that were beautifully rich in Indian culture, customs and geography. Finally, in 1965, he was transferred to Mumbai (Bombay), Maharashtra.
In 1977, Kasturi retired from the Indian Railways with the title of Additional Chief Operating Superintendent, Central Railway. He then worked with Gina on her business ideas related to fashion. They opened a hand-embroidered sari business and a garment factory in Mumbai and eventually a shop in Italy. In the 1970’s, they moved back to Gina‘s beloved island of Ischia where Kasturi is considered an honorary native son. He was seen daily walking his dog, Carlotta, and buying groceries. His love for Italian food and life is legendary. They ran a clothing shop there until retiring in 1999. Due to health issues, their children moved them and their dog to Chapel Hill in 2014, where they were received warmly and with open arms by the community and St. Thomas More Catholic church.
In India and in Italy, Kasturi always helped the needy, offering alms at every stop light from a bag of change he kept within easy reach. He converted to Catholicism and has consistently loved his God while maintaining a fervent respect for the many religions of the world and offering this sage thought – to pray to any God who will listen; but always pray.
A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 2pm Friday, March 2, 2018 at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, with Fr. Scott McCue officiating.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, PO Box 3489, Newtown, CT 06470 or American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASCPA), 424 E. 92nd St, New York, NY 10128-6804.