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The Definition of Hindutva

October 17, 2014

(A work in progress)

I’ve been reading a fair amount in recent times about the definition of Hindutva and its interpretations.

The true and agreed upon definition of “Hindutva” as defined by Savarkar is “an ideology that sought to define Indian culture in terms of Hindu values.” which translated to a simple statement that the Indian subcontinent is the home of the Hindus and the Hindus are those people who live here.

Then came the Supreme Court interpretation of the word, who tried to clarify any remaining misconceptions.

However, since my childhood, the word Hindutva always has a negative connotation. When I read into the definitions and the literature available about Hindutva, I wondered about this connotation given these definitions.

Through the reading, I came across statements made by the current followers of Hindutva. The RSS Leaders, the Shiksha Bachao Andolan members… and therein was the problem.

Any religion, caste, sect or club are left to interpret the laws in their own way. The written text could very well state that “Hindutva is all inclusive” but the way it is actually enforced could be very different.

For instance, the ‘all inclusive’ part could be enforced with a particular standard of behavior that a group of people think is correct and adheres to the Indian culture.

Let us first consider RSS, one of the key proponents of the Hindutva Culture and definition in India.

The history of RSS has been conflicting. I have not particularly been associated with the organization in any manner. I remember some families, including mine, refusing to let their male kids enroll in RSS. The RSS never came recruiting for women in those days, for some reason. It was considered a ‘brahmin’ organization and my parents who were firmly against caste did not want anything to do with the organization.

The RSS might claim to be an all-inclusive party, but majority of their leaders have hailed from Brahmin families. Which probably explains one interpretation of Hindutva. Agreed, there were leaders amongst these who had liberal views and have achieved more development than the political parties of the time.

Consider M.S. Golwalkar, who took over the reins of RSS in 1940.  His views were consistent with the sentiment of the time… India was on the throes of independence. The RSS had staunchly refused to be a part of any political party but did contribute to the freedom movement in their own way. And the ‘Hindu’ sentiment rose high after the ‘divide and rule’ policy followed by the British.

He wanted everyone to revert to a specific definition of ‘Hindu’ – which was defined more by religion than geographical location. I have not delved enough yet into his policies to understand if these were guided merely by the thoughts of those times and what his definition of being a ‘Hindu’ was.

Proceed to his follower Deoras, who had a more moderate view on the Hindutva policy compared to his predecessor, attracting more people towards this simplified definition of the policy.

Now, let’s jump forward to our times – the modern India. Most of our generation is barely aware of the work that RSS did in the initial days or what the policies of any of the older people were. Today, what we do know are the foot-in-mouth habits of its current leaders and known faces, which we believe is a reflection of their policies and interpretation of the Hindutva policy.

Perhaps these statements are truly a reflection of the policy, but it does leave people with a bad vibe about the entire thing.

RSS and its associated members (in the recent past) have consistently tried to rewrite India’s history according to their interpretation.

Example 1: Mr. Dinanath Batra, the founder of Shiksha Bachao Andolan, has raised several petitions claiming that there is wrong information in Indian textbooks (some of which are horrible, to be fair). But his books, which are currently mandatory is Gujarat, enforce a whole load of misinformation on children. And his statements supporting these books reflect the ancient mind that interprets India as a pure, leaning towards Brahminical leadership structure that leaves no place for the hundreds of other castes that have been considered ‘Indian’ for centuries.

He was also the person who was instrumental in getting M.K.Ramanujan’s Essay “Three Hundred Ramayanas” from Delhi University’s syllabus. The essay is a discussion of various essays and interpretations of Ramayana across the world.

Example 2: Numerous statements made by Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, the current RSS Chief, regarding women, the Hindu culture and the ‘destroyal’ of the Hindu culture.

The statements are scary because I read into it a trend of thought. A thought that does not really interpret Hindutva as the way Savarkar meant it to be. It seems to me that it interprets Hindutva as an encompassing policy of Hinduism, which they believe is a religion and not a philosophy.

Because they might say that this is what Hindutva is and the statements that follow go against that statement.

They say that women going out is against our culture… which means their interpretation of culture is dated only to a certain century. They say that they are happy to accept everyone into their culture, but they have issues with people eating meat because it is against our culture. Which means they refuse to accept a huge section of our population (who consider themselves to be Hindu) who do eat meat.

These conflicting statements do leave me wondering about their very intention.

It is a very pious Indian thing… like a merchant who has photographs of 10 gods up on the wall behind me but has no compunctions about cheating a customer. He is pious and follows all the rituals but has none of the humility and grace that the religion preaches.

The ambigious statements made thus far and my reading leaves me confused as to their true intention.

(To be continued…)

What is Feminism?

September 29, 2014
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It has been a tedious couple of weeks with the word ‘feminism’ being flung about like holi colours. The colours were mostly flung on the feminine Deepika Padukone, who till date had never really taken a stand on anything – at least nothing quite as memorable as her run-in with The Times of India. Short summary of the incident – TOI posted photos of her cleavage and she got pissed off. And her getting pissed off was apparently a feminist reaction.

Oh and there was Emma Watson and her UN speech that apparently led to some people threatening to leak nude photographs of her.

And then there were people who are holding up boards saying “I am a feminist” or “I am not a feminist” and citing reasons for the same. Naturally, there were people who decided to pick on that and make fun of those particular sentiments.

Feminism is an ugly word today. The generations of bra-burning feminists have gone by and they achieved so much that today I am able to sit here and have a voice. It might be hard for a lot of people to believe this… but feminism became a cause because it was required. The same way racism became a ’cause’. Because you cannot expect a percentage of the population to remain behind covers all the time.

A lot of people tend to make jokes about how men and women can never be equal, because – hey! women cannot take their shirts off in public and walk around. Because women can’t be roughed around like a guy. And I wonder are people so dumb that they think this is what feminism is about.

By making these jokes, people prove that our society hasn’t really grown much. A girl in a village who is working the fields because she needs to earn money so her brother can go to school does not know the meaning of feminism. A girl who is forced to marry off a guy five times her age to broker a deal her family made does not know the meaning of feminism. A man who is forced to take up a job he hates but that pays enough to marry off his uneducated sisters does not know the meaning of feminism.

It is an ugly word today because the women of today have made it so. Because the definition of feminism today is making a guy carry your bags, is standing by idly on the road while the guy sweats to change a tyre. It is “choosing” to idle at home and ‘make a pretty home’ while the guy brings in the dough. This is not feminism… because feminism was about ‘equality’ and these concepts enforce inequality again.

Am I a feminist? A few years ago, I would have said yes. But today, given the kind of women who are proud to declare themselves feminist, I would not want to be associated with that group. And somewhere down the line I realised that by tagging yourself as an ‘ist’ you limit yourself.

I am a woman of today and I would like to be accepted for what I am and what my skills are. I hate it when people tell me not to go out alone at night because I am a girl. I hate it when people tell me not to whistle or swear because I am a girl. I hate it when I am expected to behave a particular way because I am a girl. I hate it when my brother is expected to behave a particular way because he is a boy.

In the day-to-day life, particularly if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by people who are intelligent, you do not face these issues. And simply because you are not facing these issues on a day-to-day life, it does not mean this is not a problem.

I would  not be able to pursue a career today that I love if someone, 50 years ago, had not stepped out of her house and started a revolution by simply stating that she would like to work. I would not be allowed to choose the person I want to spend the rest of my life with if someone had not begun that little resistance towards marriage a few decades ago.

Perhaps anything that I am doing today is not new. But to a little girl in a little village, seeing another woman walking around alone with a camera, taking photographs of random strangers will be an inspiration to step out and do more than just being a sister, a wife, a mother.

Being a sister, a wife and a mother are truly important definitions, as is being a father, a brother and a father. When the latter does not limit one section of a population in being mostly what they want, why should the former? And if we were truly equal, we can truly be a sister or a brother, a wife or a husband, a father or a mother. Because when you oppress one section of the community and limit their participation, the pressure grows more on the other section.

Sure, we can couch in terms like ‘be a man and suck it up’ but why should anyone have to suck it up? Why can’t a guy go out and be an artist instead of a software engineer?

Which is why I want to ask all those people mocking women / men holding up boards saying they are feminist – what is your problem? Can’t you accept a better world? Do you feel compelled to demean every little thing with redundant questions like – can a woman walk down a road without a shirt? We live in a world where a woman cannot walk down a road fully clothed and be safe, and jokes about rape are considered funny. And it’ll continue to be considered funny as long as using a woman’s sexuality as punishment continues to exist. We can never walk down a road, clothed or unclothed, as long as people make threats to reveal nude photos of a woman simply because she spoke out. As long as a woman is threatened with rape simply because she spoke up.

That is what the fight is about, after all.

The Kashmir Floods

September 11, 2014

The past few days have seen Kashmir feature quite prominently on my Facebook feed. There are groups I’ve been added to where Kashmiris from all over the world are posting asking about their relatives who they haven’t been able to contact etc.

To be honest, the floods did not really enter my mind initially. As Indians, we are a little numb to news of disasters. There is a particular threshold any disaster needs to cross to evoke emotions in us. It is probably because of the barrage of news we read every day in the media – suicides, rapes, murders, terrorist attacks of some sort, Naxalities killing someone, kidnapping. We live among a gruesome society and we accept it.

In the past few years, there have been quite a few calamities. I remember very few clearly – the tsunami wave, the floods in Uttarakhand and now, Kashmir.

Of the three, Kashmir seems to have the least amount of information outflow and a lot of chaos. Perhaps it was always like this but this time we see it because social media has finally caught up with a lot more people and they are pouring out their confusion onto the net.

Perhaps it is because Kashmir has a more educated, affluent section of population with a vast number of them living outside the state.

Perhaps it is because it is Kashmir.

I do not know, and frankly, am not sure I care.

What concerns me is the chaos. Why is there so much chaos? As a country who has a fair number of floods every year, we should have a decent plan of action to put into play every time. I am not going to compare the disasters because each are different in their own ways. But… why isn’t there a 12-point protocol? Or if there is, is it being enforced?

Why did it take a week for Google & India to come up with a missing persons site? Why isn’t there any website where people can click on a location and see what is happening there?

I know it is easy for me to comment on this, sitting in an arm chair, far away from all the chaos. I know this requires vast amount of ground resources. But we have one of the best fricking armies in the world, some of the most intelligent tech forces in the world and enough hands and legs to populate… well, you know. So why can’t we do this?

Or is that the people are resistant to government information? There are no mentions of the number of deaths in the floods – and I refuse to believe that there are none. What is the after plan? The worst part of a flood starts after the water has receded. Looting apart, diseases are a major concern. Restoration of spaces is a major concern, especially in a place like Kashmir where winter shows its fangs quite harshly.

Has social media brought some major flaws to the front or are we lagging behind this time? Was it this bad every time?

And this being Kashmir, how long will it take for the religious sentiments to surface and clash? And bring the army into the front again for a different purpose? And how much will this affect rescue operations?

There are hints of that on the forums that have been created to share information. Hints of Muslims gnashing their teeth at the thought of the army helping them. The Indian army. There are hints of aggression. But is also beautiful to see many others, regardless of religion, ask those people to shut up and go away and stop stirring trouble when everyone has united for something. It is these people we would need to stand strong soon… because inevitably, there will be resentment from some section of the society that enough was not done, or not done soon enough or some such thing. Because amidst all this chaos, we see only the chaos and miss the little sunshine that is beginning to help in tiny bits.

And lastly, a serious environment question that a friend of mine posed:

Is anyone thinking why these floods are happening? Does anyone even think of the ecological reasons behind this? The overdevelopment? The way tourism has destroyed some of these lands, the way development has destroyed them and left them open.

” If glaciers are melting, the mountains are being deforested, the wetlands have disappeared, traditional flood outflow channels are silted up, and there’s too much construction for the local environment to bear, then even one excessive or delayed rainfall is going to create an unmanageable catastrophe like we saw in June 2013 and are seeing again now.” the person said. 

India is headed the way of growth and industrialization. Which means great for the economy. But when I hear reports of mining projects being authorized without bothering with the environment reports, reports being squashed in the name of progress, my mind cannot help but envision us traveling in futuristic cars with oxygen masks through barren lands littered with skeletons.

There is a reason environment groups exist. There is a reason why they are labeled crazy. Maybe they are. But perhaps you need to be a little crazy to be able to shout out your beliefs from rooftops and exist. But without them, who would check the uncontrolled greed of the corporates, our uncontrolled lust for ‘progress’.

We drive further and further looking for greenery and forests. We see civilization eclipse the quaint mountainside roads we used to drive by in sheer silence and awe. We see that the roads are better, but there are also a 100 shops alongside it. We do not realise that this is the progress that we are heading for. We will have better roads connecting all cities, and the trees and animals will be pushed into the background. I would rather drive on a bad road with trees than an awesome road with buildings.

Perhaps I sound idealistic. Perhaps in real life I do go back and do things that I crib about here. But we all do that. But if we all contributed a fraction towards what we believe in, the world would be a better place.

I love progress. But I also love my trees and forests and beaches and the creatures in it. I do not think their lives are any less important than mine simply because we are on top of the food chain.

What is the point of 100 smart cities that might have to be rebuilt every few years, and we have to breathe through masks?

Studying Indian Schools

July 23, 2014

Much has been said in recent weeks about the schools in Bangalore, India. One of the private schools came under the public microscope after reports of a 6-year old child being sexually abused by teachers were published in the media.

There were protests, petitions and more asking for justice. People asked for PTAs to be more empowered, CCTVs in all classrooms and many such measures to be implemented.

And people seem to be finally waking up to the fact that there is something extremely rotten in our education system. Forget the syllabus. The functioning of these organizations is extremely flawed.

My parents have been teachers for decades. And I’ve seen plenty of parents come home and pour their woes out to them. I’ve seen students who are fighting with their parents come to my mother for advice. My mother, I am proud to say, is one of the rare teachers who actually listen. She treats the students as human beings, which is actually quite rare in the Indian education system.

Though we proudly say that we like to teach and our Indian education system is among the best, the teachers are not really the best. I’ve sat through boring classes where we were made to read through textbooks, some of which were factually wrong. I was blessed to have parents who encouraged me to think, and some teachers who nourished that as well. But for most part, you were expected to listen in class, take notes, memorize them and pour it out on the exam sheets and score the best possible marks.

Thinking was not particularly encouraged by most teachers.

And then came the breed of private schools who claimed to promote the new, innovative concepts of education like free-thinking, creative process etc. They charged a hefty fee for this process, and then there were hidden charges.

But if you are a parent, you would want the best for your child and you would send them here, no matter what. 

Today, we are forced to ask – how valid are these schools? How qualified are these teachers to actually educate children? 

How many teachers today have chosen the field because they really liked it? Most people I know are there because they couldn’t go anywhere else. I know teachers who suck at teaching or anything related to it but they’ve been awarded ‘Best Teacher’ awards by the government and affiliated bodies.

Today, it is one school under the microscope. They are being pulled up for their fee structure, lack of safety etc. But this is the story with all schools. Who are they accountable to? How educative can they really be? How qualified are their teachers?

If I had a kid, I would not be worried about how fancy the schools is. I would want my kid to have a chance to play in proper fields, get a little mud on the uniform, build crazy things in craft classes that might not be practical but show good vision, to be a part of any number of projects the kid wanted to be in, to be able to play as long they wanted to and yes, learn a little bit about history and science and all those things in a way that would interest them. Personally, I do not give a damn how many awards the school has won or if the kid scores a 96 percent on his / her exams (actually, a 96 percent in normal circumstances would be a little disturbing). 

Perhaps we are to blame for this situation. The rat race that we are all forced to be a part of. The intense competition for higher education, or even basic colleges… where each kid to expected to score no less than a 100. This is what we are building to and these schools promise to deliver. So what if the instructors are masochists, pedophiles or just not suited to the job. They manage to deliver and we are ready to pay through our nose for that. For that 100 percent.

Narendra Modi, Godhra and The Internet

April 28, 2014

Several times in the past week people, including me, have wondered why we keep harping about the 2002 riots. There have been worse riots with death tolls being much higher in the past and a lot of people responsible for this haven’t been brought to justice till date. So why did Narendra Modi win the lucky title of the bad guy.

The answer remains simple. The Internet.

When the 1984 Sikh Riots happened, or the Babri Masjid fiasco, the channels of discussion between people were limited to their neighbours. Sure, we were outraged but we could write “Letters to The Editor” and perhaps one or two would get selected. Nobody could really do anything about it. The media was mostly nationally owned and the foreign correspondents could talk elsewhere.

Internet penetration was quite bad in 2002 as well… but there were more media who could talk about their views. More perspectives for people to hear. 

Fast forward 4 years later, by the time Modi was trying to salvage some things on his end, the social media was taking shape. Internet media had taken root. Blogs were around. A lot more people could add their two cents and these were the most recent riots for reference. At least the most talked about in the India. Sure, there were people dying in Kashmir and in the North-east but the media didn’t talk about it and so we did not.

People made short films. Photographs could be shared on the internet without waiting for verification by a nosy and purist editor. And so they were shared, without verification.

By 2010, when Modi started his PR campaign in earnest, a Google search would pull up the negative stories about him because there were just that many. Till his agency started working towards planting positive stories and wait for the crawlers to do their job, all we knew was of this guy who was responsible for the death of several thousand people. Most of the Facebook-savvy crowd were just being born in 1984 and issues related to those times just were too distant. We would look to the immediate past and there was this guy standing there, big and tall.

It shaped the opinions of a lot of us, who were impressionable at that time. My opinions of Modi and his guilt were shaped by a documentary I watched in college about the Gujarat riots. I went home and tried to read up on it and most of what was available talked about his guilt. The video footage of Modi asking the people what we should do with dissenters made an indelible mark in my mind.

And for the new generation, we wanted answers and accountability, starting somewhere. The somewhere was this one quantitative figure standing in front of us. 

I wonder if Modi would have been so reviled if not for the internet and social media. Or if he would be so loved if not for the internet and the social media. Or if the truth would have been so irrevokably lost if not for the internet. 

Most Indians who are hungry for economic progress have pushed his actions to the back in favor of the promises he brings. The internet makes sure we do not forget Godhra. This post will probably be another one of those floating in the top. But without the access to a blog, I’d have probably scribbled this on a piece of paper, which would be used to wrap the hot bhajjis sold on the street corner. 

There is a long list of people who have remained unanswerable to their mistakes and sins. And perhaps we would have to wait for another decade before we can make any leader accountable for anything, starting with Robert Vadra. Vadra’s sins too would have gone unspoken about if not for the internet, given the amount of influence his wife’s party exerts over certain sections of the media.

Internet. Friend or Foe.

The Delights of A “Non Smart” Phone

April 5, 2014

Being without social networks has its perks. The phone size gets a lot smaller.

The texts are not in a series for you to scroll through it and remind yourself about all the things you were supposed to do and have not done.

You do not get constantly woken up by the sounds of beeps – Text messages, Whatsapp, Facebook messages, Facebook notifications, mails, tweets and whatever else you are subscribed to.

You do not feel compelled to start your day by reaching out to your phone as soon as your eyes are open and scroll through all the messages received, allowing that to set your mood for the day.

Your phone remains silent a lot more. Most people don’t bother calling and prefer messaging, so you might have missed that important meeting notifications. But you didn’t know about it, so you cannot stress about it. Right now.

Logging onto Facebook has a novelty value. You actually go “hmm” on all the posts. You do not get annoyed by photographs and videos of everyone’s kids and might even decide to view one of them when you log on from your computer.

You get distracted a lot less. That is, once you get over the habit of automatically reaching for the phone when your mind goes blank every other minute.

You learn to listen to the voices in your head.

You finally pick up those books you bought in the strong hope of wanting to read them.

You might forget appointments since they are not listed in the calender, but then again, since the alarm didn’t go off, you continue with your peace blissfully (for the short duration at least).

You learn to recognize, if not memorize, more numbers given that your simple phone does not have the capacity to store your 3000 numbers and email IDs and all other relevant details.

You forget about Candy Crush and all those games and learn to enjoy the frustration of a small screen and a silly game.

Most importantly, the phone fits in your pocket, can fall a few times without any worry and even if it does break, all it costs is a couple of grand and a loss of 10 numbers that you probably remember anyway.

The Politics of Language

April 5, 2014

More than a decade ago, when it was proposed that every bus in Karnataka had to have the bus number in Kannada as well, I thought it was ridiculous. Buses are for the public and there are plenty of people in the state who cannot read Kannada. Hell, even people who read Kannada take a minute to decipher the numbers as we are so used to the English numbers. It was then proposed that it be made mandatory for everyone living in Bangalore to learn Kannada. I thought this was a little silly too. Then they said let every kid in school learn Kannada and I merely shrugged. Kids can learn more languages easily and one more language is always good.

But when I heard that Nandan Nilekani, the former chief of Infosys and current Congress candidate from South Bangalore, tried to give an election speech in English and was booed out of the auditorium, I strangely understood.

English is a language I use more than Kannada. I write in English. I talk more in English. Yet, it was somehow blasphemous that a potential political candidate would use English in his speech.

There were a few reasons for this. Firstly, South Bangalore is one of the oldest parts of Bangalore. Though there is a mix of people from other cultures – Tamilians, Telugites etc, Kannada is the predominant language in this reason. Most people know and use this language to interact with neighbours, regardless of what they speak indoors.

Secondly, Kannada has been struggling against the massive influx of other languages. The Kannada pride, as that may be, is much lesser than seen in other languages. We do not insist on parading the language, or insist on being fanatical like some neighbouring states. The dialects in this language are also quite varied. For instance, a person from South Karnataka can barely understand the Kannada spoken in the northern regions of the state, though they are both technically speaking the same language.

The cultural support that exists for the language hurts it more than it would have perhaps if there was none. Most people who are locals shudder at the thought of watching a Kannada movie, particularly in the theater. The film community, in an attempt to ‘safeguard’ the language, have various restrictions that include no dubbing of other movies into Kannada, no taxes for Kannada movies and reserving a certain percentage of movie screens across Bangalore for Kannada movies alone.

Despite these moves, much of the upper middle class rarely watches a Kannada movie in the theatres. The reason? The movies have bad storylines, worse acting, over-the-top sequences and are made by a monopolistic family. New talent in the field has to have the approval of the ‘first family’ of the industry.

Movies increasingly are the one way to sustain and show cultural changes, and Kannada movies seem to be a couple of decades behind. (Okay… slight exaggeration).

For most people in Bangalore, knowing Kannada is an afterthought and not a requirement. The basic respect for the language and the locals is being trampled by stronger outer influences. Which makes the locals quite nervous about their cultural identity, hence antagonistic about these outside influences.

Bangaloreans, by nature, are easy going to the point of laziness.

But this unspoken and subtle threat against the identity is causing a subtle shift in the easy going nature and making way for impatience and frustration. The easygoing nature, as one person said, is often mistaken for stupidity.

Naturally, when the person who is supposed to represent you, thereby your identity, to the nation, tries to speak in an absolute foreign language, you would get booed out. It does not matter if you think that half your audience is made of “other” people. While you do have a responsibility to them, you also hold an equally important responsibility towards the identity of the state, its culture, heritage and language. You cannot completely alienate that by talking about ‘issues’ to a global audience. This is not Infosys, which is an Bangalore-borne Indian company, supported by several identities.

The sheer lack of respect for the locals has been grating for a while. The slight wrinkling of the nose when one talks about “Bangaloreans” or the locals is quite pissing off. The slight pause in conversation when I claim to be a Kannnadiga to someone who is talking about all the ‘modern’ things of clubbing, partying etc. Bangalore would not have been known as the pub city if its residents were truly orthodox. They’ve definitely grown orthodox, perhaps as a reaction to the crazy invasion of other cultures. The invasion of rudeness. The invasion of jugaad. The invasion of ‘it is okay to hit you car and then beat you up’. The invasion of people who think that the locals are slow and stupid because they were polite to you.

I’ve heard often enough that it is easier to get an auto if you speak the local language. That isn’t really true. But yes, sometimes it helps us to establish our ‘localness’ and knowledge of the place and the fact that we aren’t going to bargain for a ride. It helps us to tell the driver to put the meter on and not hop into it agreeing to whatever price is quoted and fight for it later. The autos do overcharge, but they do it because someone brought in the culture of bargaining here. Because someone discounted the price of fair and hard work. I grew up in the city where an auto driver would ferry a woman and her kids home without any extra charge or fuss because it was raining cats and dogs. I grew up in the city where people would stop and help you figure out what was wrong with your vehicle if you were stranded in the middle of the road.

I grew up in a place where the neighours would happily feed your kids if you were late from work. I don’t know when that niceness was interpreted as “stupid”.

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