It’s not just the shepherd that guides its sheep, but the sheep that guide the shepherd. Since ages, my ancestors and their forefathers have literally walked through countries – happily, taking along their entire livings, following the cattle. We don’t take pride or offence in meagre things like lineage and are neither bothered to record it. Minimalism comes to us as an heirloom. Living life one day at a time is our lifestyle; and our planning, aims or aspirations rarely go beyond a season. The purity of our hearts is a result of our company; after all who could be more innocent than a sheep! Just like us or vice versa our sheep don’t have big needs or desires. They are truly one with mother nature and as the seasons change they move towards richer pastures where they’d find enough grass to graze upon. Someone told me once that in this regular process of finding pastures our forefathers have come all the way from Georgia (Gurjia) – somewhere between Black Sea and Caspian Sea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Gujrat, Rajasthan, Punjab and finally now at the Himalayan foothills. I couldn’t understand if it was a big deal as I’m not aware where these places are on the world map and none of my parents or siblings understood it either. We are a jolly and ever content community with the lowest of expectations or aspirations.

The almighty has bestowed us with our livestock and cattle which rear us with their nutritious milk. It forms a major portion of our diet. Seasonally they also provide us with huge quantities of wool to shear which we can sell off to earn a basic living. We are not farmers traditionally as staying at one place has never been our thing. However we grow some crops on a tiny piece of land sufficient enough for our cattle and ourselves to feed upon.

“The good shepherd never leaves a single sheep alone which goes astray; balance of the herd has each other, but the lost sheep has just the  shepherd.”

Mohammad is our favourite name. However our ancestors who’ve stayed put at various countries/states during this long migration have adopted to the dominant religion o f the place. Due to the sufficient calcium intake from our cattle’s milk, having longer teeth is one of our key features apart from a long forehead and brown eyes. Our houses have flat roofs unlike a typical Kashmiri’s house which is sloped symmetrically. This is mostly because our sheep never stay long enough at a place where we might need to fight the natural course of nature’s cycle. Much before it’s about to snow, the grasslands stop producing any more grass and naturally our cattle has to move back to low lands to survive.

Our houses/ dhoks are typically comprising of a single big room where the whole family sleeps. Immediately after entering the dhok there’s a chulha on the side with one small ventilation window above for exhausting smoke. On one side there’s a tiny space dedicated to keep safe our precious  milk and eggs. Our women prepare the tent when we halt during our migration while the men are gone to fetch the herd. They don’t know how to count and as a thumb rule tie knots in their dupatta to keep account of milk. Due to our capacity to move long distances in the mountains rarely anyone from the region has the same stamina or patience as ours.

Our dogs are the most renowned ones in this state. People call them the “Bakarwal dogs” and always desire to have one as their pet. They love being our mate not because we feed them; it’s something we ourselves have hardly been able to figure out. Most strict practitioners of Islam condemn having a low life creature like dog anywhere near them. However we people follow our clean conscience and hearts more than any stereotype. Dogs for us are a mirror image of gods. Just like us, even they are over protective of our sheep. While on the move they never get tired, rarely ask us for food, but invariably are ever most protective and discipline enforcing for our herd.

Our sheep although are slightly afraid, but are mostly assured of the protection our dog provides from the wolves and leopards. Be it any time of the night in whatever harsh temperatures, our dogs never fail to sense the danger of predators like the leopard or bear from far above. Our sheep sleep peacefully not because they are in a strong united herd but only because they are assured that the dog (an angel sent by god himself) and the shepherd will always protect them. The good shepherd never leaves a single sheep alone that goes astray; balance of the herd has each other, but the lost sheep has just the shepherd!

Maj Jayant Charan

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