Major General Sanjay Thapa VSM – My Good Old Friend


Sanjay and I came to know each other during our Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC) in 1989-90 at School of Artillery, Devlali, Maharshtra.  In fact it was we both moved into in Married Officers’ Accommodation in the same area.  Thus we became travel buddies, travelling from home to our training classes, he riding his motorcycle and I a scooter.

Sanjay was a honest and hardworking student and he did put in his best efforts during the entire course.  He always admonished me for taking the course ‘cool.’  He often reminded me ‘You have the ability and intelligence to even top the course, but you never put in the best.  Why are you holding yourself back?”

Sanjay was a strict disciplinarian, obviously his Veteran Dad must have inculcated military discipline in him from childhood.  He never accepted any slackness from anyone, even if he was remotely connected with him.  Our early morning ride to the classes always was interrupted by Sanjay stopping his motorcycle to ‘set right’ young officers riding their cycles not befitting proper military discipline.

He was always meticulously turned out with a proper military haircut, even though his hairline had receded.  He was punctual always and that made me punctual too as he expected us to leave well ahead of time to reach our classes, at least five minutes ahead of schedule.  We often found that we were the first ones to reach, even before our Havildar (Sergeant) Major- Assistant Instructor-in-Gunnery (AIG) had even opened the class room.

As expected, at the end of the course, Sanjay came out with flying colours and was rewarded with an instructional tenure at School of Artillery and I returned to our Regiment.  Sanjay turned out to be one of the finest instructors from our course, all because of his dedication and commitment to his students.

After three months of completing LGSC, I returned to School of Artillery for a computer course (ADP).  Whenever I visited Sanjay’s those days, he was always closeted with his books preparing for the next day’s classes he was to conduct or was correcting papers of the student officers.

Then I met Sanjay while he was commanding a Medium Regiment at Bhatinda, Punjab in 2004, prior to me hanging up my military uniform.  He was staying in the Officers’ Mess, in a single officers’ suit.  There was nothing special to call it a CO’s Residence – it had nothing ‘special befitting a CO.’  His residence was a testimony to his concept of ‘Simple Living with High Thinking.’

General Sanjay Thapa, I know you are the most hardworking person and is now time to take a break – even your heart works with pauses, so you also have to learn how to ‘relax’.  Your retirement will make you proud of yourself and also make each one of us associated with you proud.

Retirement does not make you feel that  you are old. It means that you have been working real hard to deserve the longest vacation of your life. Wishing you a lot of beautiful adventures and happy moments with the ones you love.

Gods’ Speed and Good Shooting all the way ahead.

Major General Dharmendar Singh Gill – A Soldier Friend


Though Dharmendar and I underwent training together at the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Indian Military Academy (IMA) and having being commissioned together as Second Lieutenants to Regiment of Artillery in December 1982, we hardly ever interacted.  Rather we hardly ever met during our Academy days or during our initial regimental service.

We got acquinted only during our Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC) in 1989-90 at School of Artillery, Devlali, Maharashtra.  Veteran Brigadier GM Shankar was my desk-mate, but he was a bachelor then, staying in the Officers’ Mess.  Dharmendar and I were living in Married Officers’ Accommodation close by.


Dharmendar and his wife Babita were the most friendly couple in the neighbourhood.  They were better known as parents of Honey, their chubby chirrupy little daughter.  Honey was an adorable kid and every officer in the course knew who she was.  Marina and I being newly married looked forward for their company.

Dharmendar was a honest and hardworking student and he did put in his best efforts during the entire course.  He always admonished me for taking the course ‘cool.’  He often reminded me “You are very intelligent and will top the course if you put in little effort.  Why are you holding yourself back?”

After LGSC, I met him while travelling to India from Canada on vacation in 2015.  I had a stopover at Mumbai and whom will I call up – it was surely Major General DS Gill, then Additional Director General (ADG) National Cadets Corps (NCC), Maharashtra.  That evening he organised a get-together of all our course-mates stationed at Mumbai.  We had a grand dinner that evening.

It is pertinent to mention here that under the premiership of General Gill as ADG, the Maharashtra Contingent of the NCC struck gold in 2015  – the contingent has created history by winning the prestigious Prime Minister’s Banner for the sixth consecutive year at the Republic Day Camp held in New Delhi.  Maharashtra NCC was also adjudged the Champion Directorate from out of 17 NCC directorates in the country.  In 2017, the Directorate bagged the Runners-up Trophy.

Maharashtra NCC also has the unique distinction of winning the Prime Minister’s Banner and the Champion Directorate Trophy 17 times since its inception. The achievement is particularly remarkable since as many as 17 NCC directorates and 2070 Cadets from across the country participate in Republic Day Camp every year.


I am sure General Gill made a difference to many young cadets while serving with NCC.  They stand proof to his dedication and selfless service to NCC.  Performance of the Directorate when he was at the helm is commendable.

Soldiers like General Gill helped many soldiers and officers  to be groomed to be thoroughbred gentlemen and soldiers.   When a soldier as wonderful as General Gill finally hangs their boots, it makes many heart melt, especially those who benefited under his guidance.   I am sure General Gill will continue to do well or may be even better post retirement.

General Gill , please think about it, now you never have to ask for a day off ever again.  You may presume that you are your own boss, but wait!  You now left your old boss and start a  life with your new boss, your wife.  You are now a ‘Go Getter’ – your wife will now order you to go get something and like an obedient husband, you will go and get it for her – which you never did in your life.

Now that you’re retired you can do all the things you enjoy;  all of the wonderful things in your bucket list – including a visit to Canada.   In reality after retirement only the body grows older, but the heart grows fonder and the mind becomes younger.  You in fact realise that all these years you were trying to be mature, but now  is the time when you can get back to being a child.

Happy retirement General Gill!  Retirement is when you stop living at work and start working at living.  Please also make sure you work just as hard at relaxing as you worked hard soldiering.

You’ll be missed but never forgotten!

Exploring Montreal on a Calèche

From the Place d’Armes square, we embarked on a horse drawn chariot (Calèche) ride with our hostess Sue to explore the area of Old Montreal. The city of Montreal has decreed that Calèches will be off the city’s cobblestone paved pathways from the New Year Day of 2020.   There have been cases of horses being mistreated and horses dying while drawing carriages. The lawmakers felt that the resources employed to ensure safe operations of Calèches were causing a heavy drain on its budget.  The city plans to replace Calèches with electric vehicles.

Sue, an incessant chatterbox, kept us engaged throughout the tour with her commentary on the history of Montreal and the significance of each street and building, while simultaneously cursing motorists who blocked our way.  Most of her ‘constant cacophony’ was historically accurate, but every now and then she would come out with something outrageous which indeed needed the proverbial pinch of salt to digest


We rode through Notre-Dame street. On either side were shops selling their wares, mostly to attract tourists.  This is a historic street created in 1672 that runs parallel to the Saint Lawrence River.  The shops have large entry gates – these were meant for the horse-drawn carriages to pass through.


We came to the Old Courthouse, built in 1857, which today houses Montreal’s financial services.


Adjacent to it stood the modern Palais de Justice or Court House inaugurated in 1971.


Opposite to the court houses stood the Ernest-Cormier Building of 1926, from where once the Criminal Court operated.  The building features monumental granite, limestone and an imposing portico of 14 columns. The building now houses the Quebec Court of Appeal.


Next we came to the seat of Montreal’s local government, referred to as the Hôtel de Ville de Montréal – an imposing five-story building, constructed between 1872 and 1878.


We then came to Place Jacques-Cartier.  By the early 1800s Montreal was expanding and it had outgrown the old market square. In 1803 a fire destroyed dozens of buildings. This newly freed-up space became a public market square, Place Jacques-Cartier.  The market operated from here up until the 1950s.


At the North end of the Place Jacques-Cartier stands the Nelson’s Column, about a third of the size of the original.  It was erected by Montreal’s Anglophiles to celebrate Lord Nelson’s defeat of the French at Trafalgar in 1805.  It is also the city’s oldest monument and is the oldest war monument in Canada.  The monument caused plenty of angst and the local government proposed moving Nelson to some far off suburb but newer generations of Anglophiles fought tooth and nail to ensure that the idea was dumped.


Opposite the Nelson Monument is the Francophiles answer to the Nelson’s column, the statue of the French Naval Commander Jean Vauquelin.  He fought many battles in the mid 1750s against the British Navy.  The Francophiles honoured him with a square bang opposite the Nelsons.


The next point that we saw was the Place du Marché – or market place.  Prior to building of the Notre-Dame Basilica and the Place d’Armes square, this was the commercial hub of Montreal and also the gathering spot of the community.


Adjacent to the Place du Marché is the Old Customs House, now part of the Pointe-à-Callière museum. It was called Place du Vieux Marché until 1892.  On the 250th anniversary of Montreal’s foundation, it was renamed Place Royale.


As we rode through the cobblestone paved streets, Sue pointed to this building and said that most buildings in Old Montreal had windows of varying shapes that decrease in size and height with each higher storey.  According to her, it was to avoid the ‘Window Tax‘ being levied by the City of Montreal in those days.  I could not find any reference to any ‘Window Tax’ in Canada, however, a system of window tax, based on the number of windows in a house was in vogue in England and France.  In England this tax was first imposed in 1696, and was repealed in 1851 as it was more of a ‘tax on health, light and air’


This is one of the oldest churches in Montreal, the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, also known as the Sailors’ Church, since many sailors prayed here for safe passage.  In 1655, Marguerite Bourgeoys, a teacher, in return for her unpaid work, requested the construction of a new chapel dedicated to Virgin Mary.  The church was completed 13 years later.  This church burned to the ground in 1754 and the present church was built in 1771 over its ruins.


We then rode past one of the first fire stations in Old Montreal, now home to the Museum of Montreal History. The exhibits showcases the history of the building itself and how it transformed from a stable for horse drawn fire equipment to motorised trucks..


Next we came to the Customs House, erected in 1912, is closely associated with the growth of Canadian trade during the first decade of the 20th century. With Its responsibilities enhanced in 1916 with the introduction of direct taxation, this building gained prominence.


This building caught my attention, more for Sue’s commentary.  The inscription ‘Grand Trunk‘ and the accompanying GT monogram on this five-storied building indicates that it belonged to the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad Company.   The building was built in 1902 by Charles Hays, the President of the company.  Unfortunately, he was aboard the Titanic that sank on 15 April 1912, with his wife, Clara, daughter Orian and son-in-law Thornton Davidson.   The materials used are grey granite, beige limestone and chamois sandstone from India.

Sue commented that after the Grand Trunk Company closed down its Canadian operations in 1923 after its acquisition by the Canadian Government, the company moved its operations to India.  Again, I could not find any reference to this claim, but possibly the name ‘Grand Trunk’ being a proprietary trade name, could not have been used by the British-Indian Railway, unless the Grand Trunk Company had some association with it. So, Sue may have a point here.  The Grant Trunk Express, the legendary train in India may provide the link if any.


Thanking Sue and tipping her well for her ‘stories’, we alighted from her carriage and walked to Place Jacques-Cartier for lunch.  While waiting for the lunch to be served, I booked tickets for a boat cruise along Saint Lawrence River, for a story that follows.

Montreal : The Canadian Paris


When my eldest brother and sister-in-law came calling, how could we miss a trip to the great city of Montreal – even though it was my third trip to the city.  Montreal, a Canadian city in Quebec province is the third largest French speaking city.  The first would surely be Paris, but the second, you would not guess it in your wildest dreams!  It is Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  It seems virtually everyone speaks French in Kinshasa.


In 1603, explorer Champlain made his first of many voyages across the Atlantic to the St. Lawrence and planted the French flag here in 1603. Then the British and French fought over this land with the British victory in the 1760’s, Montreal was under British control. The French and Brits lived together but anger and warring was never far from the surface.

French was declared as  Québec’s only official language in 1974 when Charter of the French Language, commonly known as Bill 101 was passed by Canadian Parliament.  The primary purpose of the bill  was to encourage non-French-speaking immigrants to integrate into the francophone community.  For a traveller it gets trickier to read the road signs as they are only in French and most staff at hotels and restaurants tend to speak only French.  These were two handicaps I suffer whenever I travel to Quebec province, but has still not managed to learn French.


We set off from Toronto early morning and after seven hours of drive reached  Montreal’s old town, Vieux-Montreal.  Driving through the narrow cobblestone streets with lot of pedestrians, spotted with Victorian lamp posts, accompanied by horse-drawn carriages transported us into a different world, but driving through these narrow roads was bit uncomfortable for me being used to multi-lane roads of suburban Toronto.. Once Montreal’s financial hub, Vieux-Montreal is now home to hotels, restaurants, pavement cafes and art galleries.


How did these Scottish cobblestones came to be paved on Montreal’s streets?  They came over as ballast in the late 1700s in ships that returned to Montreal after unloading its cargo of fur and blubber.


We parked our car and set off on foot to explore Vieux-Montreal like most tourists.  We headed straight to the Place d’Armes square -said to be the heart of the city, though it mostly consists of office buildings.


The square is always bustling with activity, with musicians playing.   The monument in the center of the square is dedicated to Paul de Chomedey, founder of Montreal


In the Place d’Armes square, two tall bronze sculptors caught my attention.  These sculptors have been inspired by two snobs in the novel ‘Two Solitudes’ by Hugh Mac Lennon.  The two snobs depict the cultural distance between English and Francophone Canadians.  On the left is an Englishman holding his pug, staring at the Notre-Dame Basilica, a symbol of religious influence on Canadians.  On the right, two hundred feet away, stands a French lady with her poodle in her hand, giving an offended look at the Head Office building of Bank of Montreal, symbol of English financial power.


On the Eastern side of the Place d’Armes is the majestic Notre-Dame Basilica – built between 1824 and 1829 with two  towers reminiscent of Notre-Dame-de-Paris.  At that time,  the church was the largest in North America and remained so for over fifty years.


Entry into the church costs $5 – a token to help maintain the Basilica in pristine condition.  You will not repent paying $5 for a glimpse inside.  The interior of the church, based on Gothic Revival architecture. is decorated with golden stars, reds, purples, silver, and gold – all on a blue background.  It is filled with intricate wooden carvings and several religious statues.


The stained glass windows along the walls of the sanctuary do not depict paintings from the religious history of Montreal.


Rear top of the church houses a pipe organ, built in 1891.  The organ comprises four keyboards, 7000 individual pipes and a pedal board.


Adjacent to the Basalica is the Saint-Sulpice Seminary, a U-shaped building.  The building was completed in 1687and the clock added in 1713.


As we walked out of the Basilica, on our front left, across the Place d’Armes square, stood the Head Office building of Bank of Montreal,  Canada’s first bank –  Bank of Montreal  was founded in 1817.  This building was built in 1847, designed by British architect John Wells, resembling the Pantheon. On the bottom left,you can see the French lady with her poodle.  The building is in operation today as BMO’s main Montréal branch.


On to our right stood two classical buildings.  The white building called the Aldred Building built in 1931, designed by Ernest Isbell Barott, with a height of 96 metres or 23 storeys.  The building’s setbacks at the 8th, 13th, and 16th floors to allow more light on the square and create a cathedral-like effect, like the adjacent Notre-Dame Basilica.

The red building with a clock tower is Montreal’s New York Life Insurance Building (also known as the Quebec Bank Building) and was built in 1887. It was the tallest commercial building in Montreal at the time.


We now set out to explore Old Montreal on a horse-drawn carriage ride (calèche).  In recent years calèche has drawn the ire of animal rights activists and lobby groups.  The calèche will not be there with the turn of next year as the city has banned them from 2020.

Lavender: The Flower of Purity


On August 07 we visited Terre Bleu lavender farm in Milton, Ontario with my brother and sister-in-law.  Terre Bleu farm was started by Ian and Isabelle Baird who were enchanted by the spectacular fields of purple and the fragrant air that swirled all around, while vacationing in Quebec.  They moved from downtown Toronto, with their young children William and Madeline, to rural Milton and began farming organic lavender.


In 2011 the Bairds planted their first 10,000 lavender plants. After years of careful planning and cultivation the farm opened to the visiting public in 2014. Today, this is the largest lavender farm in Ontario and is home to over 50,000 lavender plants and many other herbs and flowers spread over 160 acres. Thousands of visitors throng Terre Bleu every summer to share the experience of sustainable organic farming.


Lavender is believed to have originated from the Mediterranean, dating back some 2500 years. It is a flowering plant of the mint family known for its beauty, fragrance and its multiple uses.  Today Lavender is cultivated across Europe, Australia, New Zealand, North and South America.

Lavender is amongst the world’s most ancient documented plants. Hieroglyphic texts from Ancient Egypt mentions the use of lavender in embalming and cosmetics.  When the tomb of Tutankhamen was opened, jars filled with ointments resembling lavender were found.


The ancient Greeks called Lavender Nardus (commonly called Nard), after the Syrian city of Naarda. Nard, or ‘Spikenard,’ its Greek name, is referenced throughout the Bible.

“While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof” (Song of Solomon 1.12)


Lavender derives its name from the Latin ‘lavare’ meaning ‘to wash’. The Romans used lavender to scent their baths, beds, clothes and even hair. They also discovered its medicinal properties.  In ancient times, bundles of dried lavender were given to women in labour for squeezing during contractions as the fragrance released was known to alleviate the pain and facilitate an unencumbered birth.


On reaching the farm we embarked on a farm tour.  Our tour guide was a smart enthusiastic young lady pursuing her university degree in life sciences.  She said she loved working on the lavender farm for the fresh scented air she could breathe as it rejuvenated her and also that she could put into practice what she learned at school.  Obviously, it did provide her monetary benefits, especially during her summer vacation.


Walking through the farm we saw women harvesting lavender flowers.  At Terre Bleu, they harvest the flowers manually.  Here they grow the French and English lavenders. Both are lookalikes with the French lavenders a bit taller than their English counterparts.  English lavender in comparison produces less oil, but is more in demand due to its aroma.  French lavender has more camphor in its oil which has a soapy taste. Hence, English lavender oil is preferred over French lavender oil in cooking.


Enjoying the aroma filled air of the farm as we walked a few minutes, we entered the distillation plant.   Lavender oil is distilled here by steam distillation.  This copper still (pot) distillation plant was imported from Portugal to facilitate distillation through the age old European traditions.  The still is packed with lavender flowers to the top avoiding air pockets between the lavender and water at the bottom.  The top of the still is connected to a condenser.  The still is heated and the water boils to form steam.  The steam rises and passes through the still stuffed with lavender flowers.  As the steam passes through the lavender, the pressure inside the sealed kettle along with the high temperature of steam causes the buds of the lavender to release its oils.  The lavender buds hold most of the oil and not the actual flowers.

In the condenser, the steam gradually cools down and turns to liquid that drips out.  As oil and water do not mix, oil floats on water because water is denser.  Oil is drained out from the top spout of the condenser and lavender hydrosol (mixture of oil and water) is removed from the bottom spout.  Hydrosol is used for removing makeup, and in the manufacture of body sprays, deodorants, linen sprays etc.


We then walked to the Apiary being maintained by the farm. The relationship between flowers and bees is only too well known.  Terre Bleu promotes organic cultivation, free from pesticides that are harmful to the bees.  This ensures many healthy bee colonies in the farm.


Lavender is definitely more than just a pretty purple bloom. It has many health and wellness benefits.  Lavender is a good sleep aid and can calm your stress and anxiety.  It is naturally anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and anti-bacterial and can cure dandruff.  It fights congestion and can relieve sore muscles and headaches.

Our farm tour ended at the farm-store where we enjoyed lavender flavoured ice-cream.