The Lord is my Shepherd

In our high-speed and high-tech world, walking has sadly and unfortunately fallen out of favor.  “Pedestrian” is almost derogatory – a euphemism for something prosaic, rather ordinary and commonplace. Yet, walking with intention, walking for a purpose has deep roots. Australia’s aborigines walk during rites of passage, while Native Americans conduct vision quests in the wilderness; for many centuries, millenia perhaps, people have walked the Camino de Santiago, which spans across the breadth of Spain. I recollect having read someplace: All these pilgrims place one foot firmly in front of the other, to fall in step with the rhythms of the universe and the cadence of their own hearts. As one foot walks, the other rests. The fact of doing and being comes into balance. Remember “The Pilgrim’s Progress” written by John Bunyan?

I am one such pedestrian, one such pilgrim, and I am just back from walking in the Himalayas across a week and more, where I met another pedestrian, albeit slightly different. This is the story of Dighti Ram, a shepherd. At about sunset, I saw him standing in front of his dilapidated stone wall-and-tin roof shed staring out at the pasture; having nothing left to do but settle into my tent for the night, I walked up to him to see if he’d agree for me to make a few photographs with him. As I usually always do with the people I photograph, I chatted with him for a while even before I pressed the shutter. Why do I talk to people before I photograph them? One for reasons of photography: it puts them at ease and makes for more natural portraits, and two for selfish, personal reasons: always, each and every time without fail, I have walked away from such conversations with “so-called ordinary” people having (re)learnt invaluable, indelible lessons of life.

Dighli Ram is a 69 year old man who has tended to his goats and sheep across the last six decades in the sometimes verdant, mostly freezing, but always beautiful mountains of the Dhauladhar, the outermost fringe of the Himalayas. He has about 300 goats and 400 sheep, large tracts of farmland, and a house leased to a company, bringing his net worth to $120,000, wealthy by any standards in India. But this isn’t about Dighti Ram’s balance sheet or his assets – I’m just putting elements into context.  As we got conversing, I questioned if he ever got tired of doing the same thing day-after-day, walking the same stretch of land for sixty years, or for that matter did he compel himself to do it so that he could get more wealth, more property? His answer was to quote the Bhagavad Gita: “To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction.” Lesson #1.

He invited me into his shed to share a cup of tea, and later made me promise to come and stay at his farm whenever I am there next – a promise I shall abide by. Now Dighti Ram didn’t invite me because he assessed me by my business card, my professional network on LinkedIN or my salary. His innate simplicity allowed him to invite me without questioning: “What’s in it for me?” Most of us believe that to give, we first need to have something to give. This is paradoxical and the trouble with that is, as Oscar Wilde once said, “Nowadays, people know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” We have forgotten how to value things which don’t have a price tag – things (or feelings) such as empathy and care and compassion and love.  When I’m reminded of this, I realize that true generosity doesn’t start when I have something to give, but rather when there’s nothing in me that’s trying to take.  The more I am with such people, the more I learn to love unconditionally. In our dominant paradigm, Hollywood has insidiously co-opted the word, but the love I’m talking about here is the kind of love that only knows one thing – to give with no strings attached. Purely. Selflessly. Lesson #2.

His face lit up as he, the proud father, told me of his sons – one a shepherd like him and the other a TV-and-radio technician. Then with a forlorn, longing, faraway expression he told me of his wife who tends to the farm and harvest all alone, as he roams with the herd in search of pastures and how he misses her whenever he is away even at this age (which of course was utterly romantic). It reminded me of Kuan Tao-Sheng’s evocative and expressive words: “ You and I have so much love, That it burns like a fire, In which we bake a lump of clay, Molded into a figure of you and a figure of me. Then we take both of them and break them into pieces, And mix the pieces with water, And mold again a figure of you and a figure of me. I am in your clay, You are in my clay. In life we share a single quilt. In death we will share one coffin.” Yes, for all of us, our love, our happiness, our pride is alike; we share the same fears, cry the same tears. The more I spoke with him, the more I became convinced how in the tangle and weave, warp and weft of the Universe, we are all different yet just the same. Lesson #3.

Somewhere down the line in the course of our conversation, we started talking about wildlife in the mountains and he told me of the number of times he had sighted bears and leopards. So I asked if his herd had ever targeted by wild animals to which he said: “Yes, but I am safe as I have a rifle” upon which he proudly brought out a battered and bruised worn-leather rifle case, assembled his rifle and posed with it.

My smartass attitude got the better of me and I said: “But do you really think this small-caliber, muzzle-loading rifle is good enough to protect you against mountain bears or leopards?” – to that he just smiled at my ignorance, looked down at the ground briefly and then to the sky for a bit, and said softly almost in a whisper, “But He is always there for me.” Which is when the 23rd Psalm of the Old Testament came to my mind:

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

So thank you Mr. Shepherd, for reminding me:

“The Lord is my Shepherd”.

This entry was posted in General, Philosophy, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

18 Comments

  1. Laxmi Kaul June 1, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    Absolutely BEAUTIFUL.. each and every word in each and every lesson. May you carry these lessons in your soul forever and through you…. me
    May you live all the days of your life…

  2. Debesh June 1, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    Thank you so much Laxmi; I am most grateful for your kind words. For me photography now has become an indelible part of living this beautiful life. It allows me to see, permits me to recognize, and most importantly gives me faith.

  3. Harshita June 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    You are blessed to have met him…he is a wonderful soul…thank you for introducing us to him

  4. AJ Brown Imaging June 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

    Great post! I always take time to get to know my subjects before we start taking pictures as well. It is one of the best parts about my job. Getting to know someones story is something I always cherish. Thanks for sharing your stories.
    Cheers!
    AJ

  5. Mimi June 1, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    Just beautiful it brought tears to my eyes …

  6. Noni Chawla June 2, 2012 at 11:43 am #

    Truly beautiful. All of us need to read and think about these sorts of things even as we chase money and “success”! Thank you.
    I don’t mean to be a nit-picker, but that weapon looks like a shotgun, not a rifle. And it does not look like a muzzle loader. I looks like a single barrel, single shot, 12 bore shotgun. Sorry about this, but this does not take away from the beauty of what you have written.

  7. Manoj June 2, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    I am surprised…..I have spent months together in the valley, however, you have managed to grasp minute details which I am unaware, meet people where it is difficult to sight people ! BZ

  8. Abhi Thakur June 2, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT.

  9. Swapnil June 2, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    What a great post Debesh ! I simply love your way of writing. All pics of Dighli Ram are fabulous, but if I have to pick just one…I would choose the first image on this post. I think there was a reason why the Lord wanted your & Dighli Ram’s paths to cross. Look fwd to your next post as always.

  10. Ritu Dube June 2, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    Awesome. Its an absolute depiction of reality and verse of life in compassionate form. Loved reading it a lot.

  11. Helen Pattison June 2, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    What a wonderful article and a must read for all.

  12. Mary P. June 3, 2012 at 4:42 am #

    I was blessed by your musings and the pictures of this humble shepherd. Thank you for sharing them. Well done. While reading I found myself wondering , about you’re wandering… How many languages do you actually speak Debesh? Or do you always bring a local to translate for you? I found your piece of great value about His peace! It was the next best thing to being there….

  13. Frank June 3, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

    I find that it is easy to get sidetracked on what is really important as we walk through life.
    Thank you for the reminder

  14. Debesh June 4, 2012 at 1:25 am #

    Thanks so much Harshita for your gracious words; yes, it was divine meeting him. What a wonderful time I spent with him, and I know my attempt to recreate it falls short of what actually I felt.

    AJ: Thank you so much. I went to your website and blog as well. Stunning images my friend. Most grateful for your time in reading and commenting on my blog.

    Noni: Sir, thanks for your words, and I couldn’t agree with you more on making time to think and ponder on such things in our fast-paced and frenetic lives of today. “What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare…” as William Davies said. I’ve written to you separately on our rifle vs. shotgun debate.

    Thank you so much Manoj sir, Abhi, Ritu, Helen and Frank. I would be repeating myself but nevertheless let me say it: I am grateful for your time not only in reading my blog, but also commenting.

    Thanks a lot Swapnil – I’m happy you liked the post. Yes, I agree the first photograph is the best of the lot! You won’t have to wait to long – I’ll probably write something in the next 2 or 3 days. Thanks again.

    Mary, thank you for your words of encouragement. I’m glad you enjoyed reading my blog. I speak English and Hindi and more often than not, don’t have someone to translate for me as I wander alone in blissful solitude. I’ve found that the best language to use is a “smile”…it has always worked for me. I follow that up with sign language…it works!

  15. GeoffreyL June 4, 2012 at 6:53 am #

    Thank you for posting this story. This has some very strong truths and makes one think about what is really important in today’s busy life.

  16. Ashutosh Malik June 4, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    Beautiful.

  17. Debesh June 8, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Thank you so much for your time in reading my blog, and commenting and of course for your words of appreciation, Geoffrey and Ashutosh! All the best.

  18. Leslie Segall June 8, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    This time your blog is a reread for me. I got even more out of it than I did the first time. You are a wise man, a talented photographer, and a superb communicatorl

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