The poems of the fourteenth-century Kashmiri mystic Lal Ded, popularly known as Lalla, strike us like brief and blinding bursts of light. Epiphanic and provocative, they shuttle between the vulnerability of doubt and the assurance of an insight gained through resilience and reflection. These poems are as sensuously evocative as they are charged with an ecstatic devotion: Lalla does not surrender meekly to enlightenment but embraces it with wild passion.
The poet Ranjit Hoskote’s new English translation restores the jagged, colloquial power of Lalla’s verse, stripping away a century of ornate, Victorian-inflected translations and paraphrases. In a radical break with the established convention of treating Lal Ded as a single author, Hoskote instead proposes the theory that her name stands for a contributory lineage of questors and reciters who followed in her wake. While introducing the reader to the philosophical, political and social contexts of the original poetry, Hoskote also attempts to address the troubled history of Kashmir through the figure of Lal Ded.
Emotionally rich yet philosophically precise, sumptuously enigmatic yet crisply structured, Lalla’s poems in Ranjit Hoskote’s translation are glorious manifestos of illumination.