A glimpse into the life of a traditional Kashmiri milkman

It is a way of life deeply intertwined with the culture and traditions of Kashmir
The sight of him carefully milking a cow in his
humble barn transported me back to a time when
such scenes were commonplace across Kashmir.
The sight of him carefully milking a cow in his humble barn transported me back to a time when such scenes were commonplace across Kashmir.

The journey of a traditional milkman in Kashmir begins with the first light of dawn. These dedicated individuals called 'goeur' in Kashmiri language rise early and set out from their homes, often located in larger villages or towns, to embark on their daily mission of collecting milk from the households in the surrounding areas.

Their journey is not just a routine; it is a way of life deeply intertwined with the culture and traditions of Kashmir.
Last week, I had the privilege of meeting Jamal Kak, a traditional milkman of my village.

My interaction with Jamal Kak offered me a unique window into the daily life, traditions, and challenges of a Kashmiri milkman.
Jamal Kak, a middle-aged man with a weathered face and a welcoming smile, has been a milkman for over two decades in my village. His family has been in the dairy business for generations, making him a custodian of Kashmir's age-old tradition of supplying fresh milk to the locals.

As I sat down to chat with him on a summer morning he began by sharing the history of his family's involvement in the milk trade.
"Our ancestors started this business generations ago," Jamal Kak explained. "It was a way of life for them, and it has become one for us as well. We take pride in providing fresh, pure milk to our community."
Kashmiri milkmen like Jamal Kak are known for their dedication to preserving the authenticity of their product.

Unlike the mass-produced milk found in supermarkets, Jamal Kask's  milk is sourced from his own, local dairy farmers and households, raised with great care.
"We treat our cows like family members," he said. "Their health and happiness are paramount. Only when they are content can we expect them to produce the best milk."

Our traditional milking process, too, is a labor of love. Jamal Kak's family adheres to age-old techniques, milking cows by hand. The process is time-consuming and requires skill, but it ensures the milk remains uncontaminated and retains its natural flavor.

The sight of him carefully milking a cow in his humble barn transported me back to a time when such scenes were commonplace across Kashmir.
As the sun began to rise over the stunning Pohru river, Jamal Kak used to load up his milk canisters onto his back. His ability to balance these containers on his back is a testament to his skill and experience.

The journeys of our traditional milkmen like Jamal Kak are not just about the transportation of milk; they are also an opportunity for social interaction and connection. As they visit different villages, they become a source of news and updates for the villagers. Conversations flow as freely as the milk they carry, with topics ranging from weather conditions to the latest developments in the region.

Kashmir's unique geography presents its own set of challenges for milkmen like Jamal Kak. The region's unpredictable weather, with heavy snowfall in the winter months, can make transportation difficult. However, Jamal Kak and his fellow milkmen have developed ingenious methods to overcome these obstacles, ensuring that their customers receive their daily dose of fresh milk, no matter the season.

Jamal Kak also shared stories of the close-knit community of milkmen in his community. They often collaborate, helping each other during challenging times. "In times of heavy snowfall or emergencies, we come together to support one another," he said. "This camaraderie is an essential part of our profession."

Apart from the camaraderie, Jamal Kak spoke passionately about the strong bond he has with his customers. Many of them have been buying milk from his family for generations, and he knows each of them by name. This personal connection is a hallmark of traditional milkmen and contributes to the sense of community that defines life in Kashmir.

"Every morning, I visit the same households, and we exchange more than just milk," he explained. "We share stories, concerns, and laughter. It's these moments that make my job truly fulfilling."

However, like many traditional trades, Jamal Kak's profession faces challenges in the modern world. The convenience of packaged milk from supermarkets and the allure of urban jobs are drawing the younger generation away from traditional dairy farming. Jamal Kak expressed his concerns about the future of his profession, as fewer young people are willing to carry on the family tradition.

"We are fighting to keep our heritage alive," he said with a hint of sadness. "Our milk is pure, and our methods are time-tested, but we need the younger generation to appreciate the value of what we do."

With the advent of modern transportation and communication, there has been a shift towards more efficient milk collection and distribution systems. Some milkmen now use motorcycles or small trucks, and communication tools like mobile phones help streamline their operations. However, the essence of their role remains unchanged: they are the custodians of Kashmir's rural dairy tradition.

As my conversation with Jamal Kak came to an end, I couldn't help but admire the dedication and passion he exuded for his ancestral profession. His commitment to providing pure, unadulterated milk to his community is not just a job; it is a way of life deeply rooted in Kashmir's culture and traditions.

The author is a teacher and regular columnist

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