Vivek Menezes in National Geographic:
It was Kashimiri poetry that sparked the idea of a family summer holiday in Srinagar. I encountered Ranjit Hoskote’s I, Lalla—The Poems of Lal Ded in 2011, and was instantly hooked by the power packed in the four-line vakhs. Lal Ded, an unusual 14th-century female Kashmiri mystic and poet, inhabited a “Hindu-Buddhist universe of meaning,” as Hoskote puts it, while simultaneously drawing on Persian, Arabic, and Sufi philosophy. Similarly, deeply rooted syncretism is part of my Goan heritage, and Lal Ded’s poems touched a personal chord. Before long, I became obsessed with the idea of an extended visit to Kashmir to learn more about the cultural roots that yielded this intriguing poetry.
When my wife, three young sons, and I finally arrived in Srinagar the following summer, we discovered Lal Ded’s poems are truly the bedrock to Kashmir’s many-layered identity. Favourite vakhs were recited to us proudly by schoolchildren and kebab-sellers; by the gate-keeper who ushered us through the wood-and-brick shrine dedicated to Naqshband Sahib, a 17th century mystic who came to Kashmir from Bukhara; and also by the young man with wildly curly hair who piloted us through Dal Lake’s floating tomato plantations.
The heartfelt verses of Lal Ded are an important part of Kashmir’s living regional tradition, where Shaivism flows into Sufism through the unique “Muslim Rishis”. We found this richly confluent identity—Kashmiriyat—shining brightly on our very first night in Srinagar, when we attended a moonlit bhand pather performance as part of the Dara Shikoh festival hosted at Almond Villa, on the shores of Dal Lake. Directed by one of India’s best-known theatre directors, M.K. Raina, the folk troupe poked exuberant fun at the hypocrisies of religion.