The Curious Case of the many Stanzins

Trekking through Ladakh -the Diary of a procrastinator: Days 1 & 2

Landing at the Leh airport, I was greeted by Stanzin, waiting to whisk me away to my homestay. Stanzin Odzer is the owner of Ecological Footprints, the company that was organizing my trek. I had never seen Stanzin before and had only spoke with him once over the phone. Even so, I was sure this wasn’t Stanzin as soon as the guy at the airport said his first few words of greeting. My safety antennae buzzed vigorously, but I stayed calm and asked him who he was. ‘Stanzin’, he replied nonchalantly and chucked my baggage into the car before we sped off.

Reaching the homestay, he showed me to my room, arranged for a hot-water bath and later got me steaming hot lunch. He was rather quiet through it all though, making me a tad uneasy. Although I was happy with his hospitality, I was constantly wondering if this was the guy arranging my trek. It was only around tea-time that another Stanzin made his appearance – taller, thinner and wearing a ready smile unlike his other namesake. It was when discussing with him that I realized that Stanzin is a very common name in Ladakh. When a child is born, the parents write to their spiritual leader (Lama) for blessings and the Lama writes back with a name that will be child’s given name forever. When the letter happens to be addressed to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the child is usually christened Stanzin after the spiritual leader’s name -Stanzin Gyatso. The name means -holder of the Buddha Dharma.

During my stay in Ladakh, I came across so many Stanzins, it was rather mind-boggling! My home-stay hosts themselves, for instance, had three Stanzins amongst them. First- Stanzin Odzer, the guy organizing my trek; second -the guy who welcomed me at the airport and who was also Odzer’s brother-in-law and third – Odzer’s little four-year-old son! Then, I came across a beautiful book of poetry at the Ladakh Arts and Media Organization (LAMO) center at the Leh Palace whose author was a Stanzin Lhaskyabs.

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But before you think the name is masculine, let me tell you that I met an equal number of female Stanzins. Take for instance the young college girl managing the Ladakh Rocks and Minerals Preservation Study and Museum -just a few minutes walk from my home-stay. When the charming girl, who works part-time at the museum,  introduced herself as Stanzin Yanrul, I couldn’t help smiling. I met another lady Stanzin at a tea-stall on the Leh-Manali highway en-route to the starting point of my trek and yet another one at the Leh airport on my way back!

Well, now that I’ve revealed the mystery of the many Stanzins, I’ll sign off and return tomorrow with more fodder from the Leh stable. Until then, you keep ruminating over the Shakespearean quote – What’s in a name . . .




Trekking through Ladakh -the Diary of a procrastinator

Time flies… specially if you are a procrastinator like I sometimes am. It has been almost a year since I set off on my maiden trek in Ladakh. The date was 22nd August 2017, to be precise. And my aim was to mark my 40th birthday by trekking in the splendid beauty of Ladakh’s barren landscapes that I’d only seen in photographs of others before. So, six months before the intended date, I booked myself a moderately strenuous (I’m a sucker for anything that’s not labelled ‘easy’!!) camping-style trek from the Kharnak Valley a few hours away from Leh to the pristine Tsomoriri. And I prepped for the trek by diligently following a walking routine so my body would not rebel when the D-day arrived.

After the super-awesome trek, I returned home with the resolve to write down a day-by-day account of my experience here, on my blog, asap. That was a year ago, and as you can see, my asap didn’t arrive until today! All I did manage to write back then, was the heading/title for the post for each day of my trek.


If you’re wondering about the curious last line, you’ll have to wait until I reach the day of my trek that gave me this profound insight 🙂

Getting back to the here and now, I have finally decided to procrastinate no more! So, over the next ten days, I’ll try and relive the wonderful experience through my blog. Discipline is not my strongest quality – despite being a mother and professor -but I hope to change that at least for this short duration. Comments from you readers would definitely be an inspiration and propellant and I do hope my posts will be engaging enough to warrant your precious comments. So, I’ll sign off for the moment, and come back tomorrow with Julley! 🙂

An Interpretation of War

War, in its several manifestations, surrounds our life today. And although the systems in place prevent an actual war from taking place, there is always that tension . . .we’re always on the brink of all hell breaking loose. Here is my interpretation of War, written for ‘the same’, a blog that encourages women writing for women.


Imaginary Debt (1)

Do you remember the day

we entered our new home?

The stark, empty spaces

weren’t really empty, were they?

They were filled—every corner and crevice,

with an air of hope, anticipation

and yes, with love.

The bare walls

picked up those naughty giggles,

multiplied them manifold

and threw them back at us.

I remember riding the waves

in that sea of giggles,

with your hands in mine.

Our excited banter

crashed and banged against each other.

You teased me. I tripped

and fell over you as I tried to stop you.

Me- punching your chest

with a chuckle, you—flailing

your arms in mock anguish;

one would have thought we were at war.

But we weren’t at war then.

It is now—surrounded by

our favourite brands of gadgets,

tables, chairs, beds, cabinets,

pots, pans, art and what not-

it is now, that we are at war.

These lifeless hoards

that fill…

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A Poem on Writing a Poem

Today is World Poetry Day. Writing poetry, for me (as I’m sure it is for many others), is cathartic. At times, however, it has just the opposite effect. I want to express an idea, but the idea refuses to get expressed! I break into a sweat, I palpitate, I gasp for breath as though I were being drowned in my own words   . . . . . I hope you get the drift. This is precisely what  Ink  is all about.


©Priya Narayanan 2017, All rights reserved

I sit down to write a poem; the poem eludes me.

I grope in the shadows of my bag

to pull her out- a la a magician’s rabbit;

in vain. She has gnawed her way

through that fantastic realm, into reality.


I look for her in the nooks of a dilapidated house-

a house that engulfed its residents

to douse its own hunger.

I smell her in the clichés that pervade

before she slinks out the back door, a thief.


I seek her in the foliage of the pregnant trees-

trees in the throes of exploding

into a thousand more. A master at stealth,

I hear, but do not see her-

just as I hear, but do not see the koel.


The koel- his call, a disyllabic monotone

[you wouldn’t know when he sings a ballad

and when a dirge] -does he hide my poem

in his precious voice-box? Will he spit her out

when I strangle him? Or will he merely spit out his life?


The poem is sly. Leaving me

to engage with the koel, she glides

to the mountains. She would be safe there,

she deems, behind the mist that veils

a valley of flowers

a sparkling stream

a herd of antelopes

a silent prayer. She is wrong.


I gear up for the chase,

marking my way

with the unsung songs of the koel.


Trampling the flowers

muddying the stream

scattering the herd

shattering the prayer

I find her huddled behind a rock. I ensnare her,

drop her into a bottle of India Ink

and return home triumphant.


When I sit down to write the poem now,

all I can write is ink.

Have you ever had a similar feeling? What do you when you’re going down that abyss? How do you pull yourself back?



Secret Secrets


What image does that six letter word conjure in your mind?

A whisper?

A conspiracy . . . Secret Society?

Rumour mongering? Gossiping?

I remember the nursery rhyme that went ‘Seven for a Secret never to be told’. It does have a sinister, hush-hush aura about it, doesn’t it? On the other hand, it’s also funny how much stress a single word can thrust upon you, sending you into an emotional whirlwind if you are the melodramatic kind. If you’ve not been made privy to a secret, you feel betrayed, your very faithfulness is under the scanner. If someone has indeed deemed you worthy of sharing a secret, you feel elated, proud and trusted although that’s no guarantee that you’ll not, in turn, share the secret with someone else, making the whole thing redundant.

Which begs the question -How many people need to be involved in this verbal transaction for it to qualify as a secret? A quote by Benjamin Franklin goes:

‘Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.’

Does that mean a secret is a one-person thing? Is it possible for a person to successfully hide it from the world without choking? And do secrets really die with a person or do they assume a life of their own even after the person bearing it is dead? Well, I truly don’t know. But I do know what you can do to try and wriggle out that secret from me! Here’s  a poem by yours truly enunciating just that:


©Priya Narayanan 2016, All rights reserved

Pour me a drink.

My stories are in the bubbles
that rush past. Fleeting, floating,
rapturous, rumbustious –
my stories are the ones
that kiss your lips
and tingle your senses
before common sense prevails
and strangles each story
lest you gulp them down
and become one with them.

Pour me a drink.

My stories are in the ice cubes
that float like fish
in the koi pond
where you come to feast your eyes
on the streaks of golden orange,
your passionate gaze
causing them to sink to the bottom
from where only a coin diver
can collect them again –
if he has faith that they do indeed exist.

Pour me a drink.

My stories are in the numbness
of my tongue –
my otherwise wagging tongue
that is now paralyzed into silence.
Can you hear the stories
in my silence? Can you see
the stories in my eyes,
where the pupils
have been replaced
by the moon and his darker twin?

How long does it take for a story
to travel from the eyes and the ears
to the tongue?

Pour me a drink
and I might let you into my little secret.

Winner of the OWAQ poetry contest held by

Do you have a secret? Have you shared it with anybody? If so, what has your experience been? Do drop in a note in the comments below.

The It-Doesn’t Matter Suit and other stories by Sylvia Plath

A children’s book by Sylvia Plath? Who’d have thought! But as much as a paradox that it sounds, I’m intrigued by this review and can’t wait to get a copy for myself.

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Brontë's Page Turners

Due to popular demand (from my mother) I am resurrecting my well-intentioned but slightly dormant ‘Random Book of The Week’ weekly post. In these posts I will be rooting around my shelves for books read long ago which maybe do not fit into easy themes or which I just want to share with you because they are bit peculiar for some reason or another. Here are a few earlier examples of aforementioned peculiarity.

First up, a children’s book written by Sylvia Plath. ‘WHAT?’ I hear you cry, as you spit out your tea or feel a little twinge as the shock of such a statement prompts a little mini-wee. Yes, this does exist, and I don’t doubt that you are surprised. Most of us are aware of the bleaker side of The Plath Legend – in fact, as a book-obsessed but slightly morbid 15 year old I read the excellent

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Of Bullfights and Books

Last year, in July, I was on a trip to Spain with friends. One of the five cities we visited was Seville, a beautiful city in the Andalusian province of Spain. We had a plethora of activities planned for the city – visiting the Real Alcazar, the Cathedral of St. Mary, the Plaza de Espana, watching a Flamenco performance, attending a local fair and music festival . . . and each of these was an experience to cherish. But what left a lasting impression on me was the visit to the Bullfight Arena of Seville or the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza as they call it in Spanish. The arena itself is the oldest of its kind in the world and is a marvelous piece of architecture, but this post is not as much about the place as the sport it is famous for.


My first rub with bullfights was in a book – Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Death in the Afternoon’ to be precise. It is a book that both appalled and enamored me. The exacting details of a real bullfight on a sunny afternoon that the author provides in the book are at once interesting, poignant and ire-inducing. Why would anyone want to kill a bull that has done him no harm? And this same feeling washed over me when I followed our charming guide as she showed us around the arena in Seville.

“There are four main entrances to the ring,” she said pointing to the wide openings along the circumference of the ring. “The first one is from where the Cuadrilla* enters the arena, the second one is for the bull to make his entrance and the third is from where the Matador is carried out of the arena on the shoulders of colleagues when he successfully slays the bull as per the rules,” she continued, even as she cooled herself with the wave of an exquisite Spanish fan.

“And the fourth?” asked a fellow tourist with a look on his face that betrayed the fact that he already knew the answer.

“Oh, that one is used to drag the slayed bull out of the arena. We have a carriage drawn by four strong mules to do the job. Once out of the arena, the bull is taken directly to the butcher’s and you will find many a shop in the market serving its meat the next day.” At that last statement, Hemingway’s detailed descriptions of the Banderilleros, Picadors, the Matador – complete with their resplendent attires and the motions they go through while approaching, teasing and finally killing the bull- came back to me and made me shudder.It was too stark a contrast of beauty and gore for me to digest.

* A Cuadrilla comprises of 2 Picadors (lance bearers mounted on horses), 3 Banderilleros (flagmen), 1 Matador (the main bullfighter – either a pro or novice) and 1 Mozo de Espeda (sword servant)

The guide then talked a bit about the beautiful layer of sand -in multiple shades of yellow and brown- that covered the arena, eliciting praise from one and all, including me. But at the back of my mind, I was trying to understand how a layer of colorful sand – that without doubt would be bathed in the blood of another bull sometime soon – could evoke more awe than the unfair death of a mute animal.


Unfair, because you have anywhere between 3-6 armed people on the arena, fighting one bull. Although they say it is the Matador who slays the bull after showing off his purportedly elegant skills with the cape, it is seldom clean and simple. At most times (unless he is a pro and sometimes despite it), the Matador misses the nape of the bull through which he’s supposed to drive his sword. And then there are multiple attempts made to hit the mark amidst raging cheer (and sometimes despite the boos) from the audience. When all else fails, the other toreros rush in to impale the bull with multiple stabs of their lances until the poor animal has no breath left in him. How cruel is that? I know of this, because some of my friends witnessed not one or two but three such fights in Madrid, which was the next stop on our itinerary. Despite this, bullfighting is a reality in Spain and there are many who defend the sport as being a important part of their heritage.

In ‘Death in the Afternoon’, Hemingway writes about this and much more with such a clinical approach that I remember squirming even as I read the book in the comfort of my home. However, the author also contemplates the meaning of courage and fear, and the dynamics of life and death in its more basic form that found resonance with some of my own thoughts.

Let me now bring you back home to India, where bullfighting is not something new and unknown. Not at all! In fact, Jallikattu is a reality in the state of Tamil Nadu and people who indulge in the sport offer the same excuse as their Spanish counterparts – preserving ancient heritage. And that brings me to the second book on bullfighting – Vaadivasal, by C U Chellappa, an evocative story that revolves around the practice of Jallikattu, which literally means – tying a bag of gold or silver coins to the horn of the bull. The idea of the fight is for a contender to catch the bull by his horns and hold on to it for some distance/time. If he survives, the bag of coins is his.  Vaadivasal, by the way, translates into ‘arena’.


While both ‘Death in the Afternoon’ and ‘Vaadivasal’ deal with bullfighting, they couldn’t be more different in their approach to exploring the subject -with Hemingway’s approach being rather impassioned, even peppered with wry humor at places, and Chellappa’s story packing in a lot of emotion and drama and dealing with the bull itself as though it were human. This difference of course is not to the discredit of either author, since Hemingway’s book is essentially non-fiction while Chellappa’s is fiction of the almost larger-than-life variety.

I would recommend a read of both books for the sheer beauty of Hemingway’s language and the simple but evocative story of Chellappa’s.

Back in Seville, once my wandering mind returned to the present, I followed the guide to the Bullfight Museum that housed many paintings, photographs and souvenirs from Spain’s bullfighting history. But I’ll cover more of that ground some other time. For now, here are a few photographs of the beautiful arena that started me off on this book journey…

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A sculpture of a Matador at the entrance
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Model of the arena building
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One of the four principle entrances. The entire building is a beautiful combination of ochre-colored stone and rust paint – almost the same hues as the sand itself.
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Custom ceramic tiles (not surprising since Triana, the town famed for its pottery and ceramics is just across the river) in the washrooms with a repeating bull motif – again in shades of rust.
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Our enthusiastic guide

And here’s a thought I’d like to leave you with before signing off Isn’t it strange that something so gory should take place in a place that’s so beautiful?

Even as I write this post, I read on the net of the gruesome death (and its live airing on television) of 28 year old Matador Victor Barrio during a fight in Teruel, Spain. This has again set off the critics of the sport arguing for a ban – not only because of the fatality involved in the arena, but off it too. As is the rule of the sport, the mother of the bull that kills a Matador is put to death too – to end the lineage, they say. Click here to read more on this latest news.