Friday, April 14, 2017

The history of Lalbagh's trees - article in BLink

If you've walked at Lalbagh, you've seen, no, experienced those gorgeous trees. But if you're like me, I bet you wouldn't have realized that many of those trees are from across the world, and some are extremely rare. And many of them have a story behind them, and there's rich history in every corner of Lalbagh. I wrote about some of that history in this week's BLink.

Read the article here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Getting your child to speak to you about her day

"How was school today?"

"Fine."

"What did you do?"

"Nothing."

Does that sound familiar? Exasperating, no? But how do you get kids to talk about their day?

Some time back, I read a list of questions that you could ask kids so that they open up to you about school. The questions in that link is a good start, but you can evolve what works best for you, depending on your child's age and interests.

I juggle questions, mix them up, ask some more than I do others, but here is an example of some of the questions I ask Puttachi:

- So what made you laugh today?

- Did you see anybody do something kind today?

- Tell me what the worst moment was for you today.

- Did you feel scared?

- Did anybody bother you today?

- Did you help anybody today?

- Did anybody help you today with something?

- Was the teacher happy or upset with anybody from your class today?

- Did anything make you angry/annoyed today?

- Did anything make you happy today?

- What was the best part of your day?

- If you could change one thing about today, what would it be?

Btw one question that ALWAYS gives me an enthusiastic response is this:
"Did anybody get hurt at school?"  Because somebody always falls down or hurts themselves during play break, and children are utterly fascinated by bruises and scratches and falls.

And when children open up about something, you can follow up on it the next day. For instance, if the child has told you yesterday, "Mr. M spoke sharply to D because he was disrupting the class." Today you can ask, "Was D better-behaved during class today?"

These questions are also a good way to reinforce kind behaviour. For instance, when Puttachi tells me, "G was crying today." I ask her, "Did you try to find out why, or did you say or do anything to her to make her feel better?"  That way, Puttachi knows what is expected of her.

Another thing is, when she starts speaking about her day/emotions/feelings, I try not to interrupt her for any reason. I allow her to retain the flow, though sometimes it is tempting to stop and correct her pronunciation or language, etc.

I'd be interested to know if you've tried something that works for you,



Monday, April 10, 2017

Carmina Burana live

Had a new, very beautiful experience last Friday.

Ever since we arrived here, I've been thinking I should attend a western classical music concert in San Francisco. But honestly I never got around to do anything about it. But when a friend told me that the SF Symphony is performing Carmina Burana, I knew the time had finally come.

My love for Carmina Burana began sometime in my childhood when I knew it as the "Old Spice ad music". I can see some of you nodding - if you need a memory nudge, here it is. That bit is called "O Fortuna." It has been used in many movies too, overused, in fact, as I have heard.

Anyway, I play it often on Youtube, and S and Puttachi also developed a liking for it. I have vaguely wondered how it would be to listen to it live. And now I know, because, this Friday, that is just what we did.

And it was goosebumps-inducing indeed. I'd never been to a concert hall before, and both experiences combined -- it was beautiful. I don't claim to "understand" western classical music though I try. I just enjoy it, though.

Also, since it was a choral event, the 99 singers performed several choral pieces. Varnatt by Stenhammer for instance. Andres Hillsborg's Mouyayoum was weird but fascinating. Puttachi particularly was amazed by it, how they produced all those effects without a single instrument. Puttachi fell asleep mid-way through the one-hour Carmina Burana and later claimed that it was because it was so beautiful that she fell asleep, but yet, I'm glad she got this experience too and appreciated it in her own way.








Friday, March 31, 2017

Day 31 - What I learnt after 30 days of blogging continuously

It wasn't easy, blogging for 30 days continuously. I look at my posts from 7-8 years ago and I'm amazed at how chatty I was. I also note a downward slope in blogging as my published writing took off. I find that I'm increasingly reserved on my blog now. On some days this last month I had to struggle for something to write about. It is not like things aren't happening - they are, and sometimes at breakneck speed. I just don't feel like noting it all down on my blog. Perhaps I've just changed.

There's another reason that I think is the main culprit. The lack of response and interaction on the blog. After the advent of Facebook, I prefer saying things on FB, because of the engagement levels there. I get responses, I get to converse, exchange ideas . . . In the heydays of blogging, it was like that even here. Just open one of my old posts and see the deluge of comments out there. At that time, there was a kind of motivation. Now, I feel I am speaking to a void. I know some readers are still there somewhere, but I know that posting comments is a pain. Why, even I don't post comments on blogs I read. It is so much more easier on FB, even though I keep reminding myself that for me, FB and the blog have totally different purposes. FB is to network, and the blog is to record. And yet . . .

I have some more travel posts pending, but I myself got tired of those. So I'll take a break and then post them.

Meanwhile, I've decided not to subject myself to this enforced blogging for a while at least!


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Day 30 - The Missions of California

An integral part of the history of California is its network of missions. Spanish missionaries stablished them in the later part of the 18th century. The Native Americans were absorbed into the missions and put to work there. Many cities in California have these missions, and during our travels, we've seen several of them - and they all look both simple and grand at the same time. The adobe structure is unique to all these mission buildings. There is one comparatively small mission in Fremont itself - Mission San Jose.

4th grade history textbooks speak in detail about these missions, their ultimate secularization, and their effects on the lives and culture of Native Americans. Students are also allocated a mission each, and they have to do a report and a slideshow on their mission, and study in detail the history of that mission. Puttachi was allocated Mission San Antonia de Padua and she did a decent job of reporting about it, finding pictures for the slideshow.

And it was as part of this education that the children were taken to Mission San Juan Bautista (named after St John the Baptist) on Wednesday.

Some pictures taken from a phone, so please excuse the quality.

Mission San Juan Bautista.
The statue of St John the Baptist, his arms raised in prayer or rapture

But from afar, he looks as if he is picking fruit from a tree (acc to one of the children in my charge)

The Plaza Hotel - rooms for travellers cost $2.50 at a time when most people earned less than a dollar a month. A very fancy place, with stables, a saloon, a card room and comfortable rooms. But privies outside!

But even the privies at the back were fancy - 2 storied! There was a separate walkway that connected the living rooms on the right, above, to a storeyed privy on the left (behind the trees) so that women and children could go there directly without having to face the horrors of passing by the card room in the ground floor

The altar at the church

The pug mark of a mountain line - it came in when the tiles were being set.

The church was supposedly one of the larger and grander among missions.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Day 29 - A lesson from a child

I volunteer in Puttachi's class once a week to help with some filing. I go when class is on, and I quietly finish my work and leave, and so don't interact much with the students. I usually don't pay much attention to the papers I'm filing, which are mostly classwork sheets of the students. But sometimes, some papers stand out for one reason or another.

This year, one student's work stood out for its sloppy writing, incomplete work, and missing sheets, so the name of the student stuck in my head.

When I was chaperoning for the field trip yesterday, all the kids were out and about, and one boy (who wasn't in my group) came to me suddenly and said shyly, "Thank you, Puttachi's mom."  I smiled and said, "For what?"

"For coming in every week to help with the filing."

"Thank you," I said. "That's so sweet of you. What's your name?"

And yes, it was the same child.

He was the only one in the whole class who thought to acknowledge me. In my eyes, he's a winner already.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Day 28 - Chaperoning

I went as a chaperone today on Puttachi's field trip to Mission San Juan Bautista. The kids in fourth grade are learning about the missions, how they affected Native Americans, and so on, connected with the history of California, and this field trip is a part of that education.

I was in charge of 6 kids, and once we got to the mission on the school district bus, we were essentially left alone to do as we pleased - 1 chaperone with 6 kids. I dare you to try minding six opinionated nine-and-ten-year-olds with completely different personalities, who each want to do their own thing.

In my group, I had:

2 Hermione-types, who wanted to see everything and do everything, and read all the boards down to the last full stop. They wanted to follow the written guide to the T and find everything mentioned in the guide, and IN THE SAME ORDER. (Full Disclosure - one of the Hermiones is Puttachi.)

1 boy who stated quite flatly that he was on the field trip just because he had heard that there was a Rock Shop (that sold rocks) and an Ice-Cream shop and he wanted to buy stuff.

1 girl who doesn't know English, but I didn't need language to know that she complained bitterly and constantly to the other girl (who understood her) about me. Finally I demanded to know what it was all about, and it turned out that she wanted to go to the Rock Shop too while I was taking them around the mission and telling them about (horrors!) history. This girl cheered up immediately the moment we went to the Rock Shop and remained pleasant thereafter (even when I spoke about history - after all, she didn't understand a word.)

1 girl, the one who understood the girl above, who also declared that she was here for the Ice-cream shop and nothing else. (Btw, it was just an ordinary ice-cream shop.)

And finally, 1 boy - who lost 5 of his 10 dollars of shopping money within ten minutes of arriving, and so, after that, was grumpy throughout, insisting on retracing his steps all along to find the $5 note (all of us had to go with him because the group had to stay together, and no, he didn't find it) The rest of the time, he lagged behind, disappearing suddenly by wandering off into a sidelane or into another room in a museum - generally giving me several heart attacks and causing some severe greying of my hair. He also took ages to finish his lunch (after which he was marginally more cheerful) and spent 20 minutes in the bathroom after that (with all of us waiting outside, because, well, you know, we have to stay together) - and then finally, complaining to me hotly about the 2 Hermione-types because they were taking too long to read about history in the museum ("What is so interesting?")

So to manage the desires and wants of these six, I was pulled in six different directions, and it is a wonder that we did manage to see what we could. And no, we didn't go to the ice-cream shop, and hence I earned the unending wrath of two of the aforementioned.

But yes, chaperoning is so enlightening, and so much fun, that although each time after being a chaperone, I say, "Never again!" I end up doing it all over again!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Day 27 - Editing

I've written before about my inner editor who wants to edit all my words even before they are on the page. After I started editing professionally, the inner editor became annoyingly omnipresent, but after a while, she settled down into her niche in a part of my brain. Though she does show up from time to time, I am more successful in silencing her for a while, until I'm ready to summon her up.

About editing itself - there's something beautiful about getting a piece of prose to its final, presentable form. With each writer, the challenges are different. And the more I edit, the better I become at recognizing what needs to be done with a certain piece of text.

Also, there are different levels of editing. Some manuscripts need heavy editing, where I need to shake up entire passages and put them in a different form. Some need lighter editing, and some just need a once-over. But each one is difficult in its own way, and I change font styles and sizes during each round of edit to ensure that I've missed nothing. It is tiring, but fulfilling.

Besides, it is a lovely feeling when clients have good things to say about you. Quick link to my testimonial page here!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Day 26 - Yosemite

I finally got to go to the famous Yosemite National Park late last year, with my family, my sister's family, and my aunt's family (who were visiting from the UK)


The impressive El Capitan


Half Dome

Sentinel Dome, which we climbed

The final stretch of Sentinel Dome. This was unique because I did this with a toe splint and special footwear that I had been wearing, to correct an issue with my foot.

This is the Tunnel View. You can see all the major rocks from here - among others, El Capitan, Half Dome and Sentinel Dome
Panoramic View of Half Dome. In this picture, you can see how the glaciers have carved out a path (and given that dome its unique look) over the years.
This is as seen from the deck at our vacation rental in Groveland.
Puttachi enjoying her early morning solitude



Saturday, March 25, 2017

Day 25 - The Colours of the Callery Pear

Here in the US, I don't get to enjoy one of my favourite sights of spring - the honge mara (pongamia) bursting with new and tender fluttering leaves of the loveliest green imaginable.

So I find new favourites to gladden my heart.

Spring here is heralded by the arrival of the yellow wildflowers (you can see a pic in this post) and the first blooming trees - case in point, the Callery pear/Bradford pear. The pretty white flowers are a sight to see. (Not so pleasing to the nose though - they're really stinky.)


The nice thing about these trees that they are really pretty in the fall too. In California, fall colours aren't much to speak of, but thanks to these trees and some maples, we do get to see some flames of gold here and there.

Here are some pictures I took in the fall:




 
And here are the ones I took this spring.





The petals sometime cover the ground and look like powder snow. The wind sweeps them up into little piles on the sides of the pavement, and then it looks even more like snow.
Yes, I haven't taken any pics in the summer (with green leaves) or in the winter (bare branches) - next time, perhaps.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Day 24 - Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Continued from this vacation.

I'd seen the Californian coastal redwoods (Big Basin, Portola Valley) but I hadn't seen the giant sequoias (Which is another type of redwood). And Calaveras Big Trees State Park had two groves of giant sequoia. So off we went.

While the coastal redwoods are slim and tall, the giant sequoia are much wider, and shorter. Though this visit was full of some breathtaking sights, it was also filled with despair at the stupidity of human beings.

Take the Discovery Stump, for instance. In the 1850s, a hunter came across this huge, 1300-year-old-tree and because nobody in the cities believed him when he told them about it, he came back with workmen and cut the tree off in order to take a slice of it to display to them. And then they used the stump as a dance floor.

The Discovery Stump

Soaring into the skies - so mighty!

Just look at that rich, red, colour!
"The screaming mother" or some such  name. This is another tree that suffered from human greed. Humans removed its bark, in order to go and reassemble it at some exhibition, to show how tall and thick these trees are. This tree died.

A grove of young sequoia. Redwoods usually grow in groves and clusters.

The Pioneer Cabin Tree. I've been obsessed with this tree ever since I'd seen a picture in a book. Finally saw it. 4-5 months after this, this tree toppled over in a storm. I was just in time.

The top of the Pioneer Cabin Tree. This giant tree was surviving (until it fell down recently) thanks to that single photosynthesizing branch.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Day 23 - Columbia Historic State Park

The next vacation we went was with another family (Puttachi's BFF and her parents). We stayed in a vacation rental at Arnold, and visited Columbia Historic State Park and Calaveras Big Trees State Park. We booked late and landed up with a vacation rental that didn't look too inviting, but it turned out to be excellent. It was comfortable, had a well-stocked kitchen, and had multiple decks in the back, with hot tubs, and lounge chairs, and evening coffee tables, and a swing, and it was open to the woods. We made good use of everything. It was here that we saw the milky way (I'd never seen it before and it was exquisite.
A school established in 1860

So, first, about Columbia Historic State Park - it is a town from the time of the Californian Gold Rush. It is a quaint town, with old shops, houses, and even horse-driven carriages on the roads.


The classroom

Chores for children!

A school privy was cause for great excitement

This was in a museum, I think. The museum had some good displays, and lots of  information. IT was too dark inside for decent pictures, though

Walked into a bookstore and even this gentleman seemed to be from another era. Loved the whole feeling!

You could pan for gold here, if you bought a gold-panning kit. The kids found some gold flakes and some colourful minerals which they brought back safely.

The marks of desperation. After all the gold ran out, people scratched and dug into rocks in a final, desperate attempt to find gold.

Continued here

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Day 22 - The empty page

I've been sitting here with this draft open for the past 15 minutes wondering what to write about and I still haven't zeroed in on a topic. So I decided, Carpe Diem! Let me write about the empty page that I am staring at.

The empty page is both a promise, and a threat. Promise, because it holds so much potential. It could be a fine article, or a bestseller, a modern classic, or your magnum opus. A threat, because it is almost definite that what comes onto the page in black and white is in no way near the multi-coloured explosion of fabulousness that you are seeing in your mind.

I recently read an article that the reason writers procrastinate so much is this. As long as that article, that story, that poem, that novel is not written, there is still hope for it. But the moment you sit down to write, your limitations come into effect, and you are faced with the knowledge that you have a long, long way to go.

That is the reason deadlines are such wonderful things. They force you to just do it. That is why I hold deadlines in such high esteem. And that is why I give myself a deadline even if nobody else does. Because deadlines are sacrosanct, and I stick by them, come what may. Deadlines are the only cure for a writer's procrastination. Deadlines are the only way that the threat of an empty page can be turned into the possibility of a fulfilled promise.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Day 21 - The joys of vacation rentals

Before I go on to the next vacation, I wanted to wax eloquent about the joys of vacation rentals. Previously, I'd been to hotels, resorts, plantation stays, bed-and-breakfasts and the like. But only after coming here did I experience vacation rentals, booked through airbnb, vrbo and such sites.

As opposed to a hotel where you rent a room/rooms, when you book a vacation rental through for instance airbnb, you're booking an entire house, along with everything that comes with a regular house (furniture, linen, kitchen utensils and essentials, electronics, etc). (Of course, airbnb also has options of renting a room in someone's house, etc., but I am not going into that now.)

It doesn't necessarily work too well for a couple, or a single family, but when you go in a group, with a bunch of families, then there's nothing like it.

I'll do a quick, informal comparison of a vacation rental with a regular hotel room.

1) The cost - Generally speaking, a vacation rental turns out to be less expensive. Even if you include the cleaning cost that is a part of the total cost of a vacation rental, it is less expensive (all other considerations remaining constant) for three families to book one vacation rental for three days than for three families to book three hotel rooms for three days.

2) The location - One of the biggest advantages of a vacation rental, especially in places of natural beauty is that you can get to live in the heart of nature, or in the natural surrounding of the place.

3) Hanging out together - In hotels, all the families have to book separate rooms, and then meet in each others' rooms if need be. You have to go out for meals, or at least to the dining room of the hotel/resort. But in a vacation rental, you are renting the whole house, and so each family has a room of their own, and you meet and hang out in the common living spaces, the kitchen, etc.

And it is really fun to hang out late into the night, or wake up in the morning and sit in the balcony having communal cups of tea.

4) Food - The obvious disadvantage of a vacation rental is that you have to make arrangements for your own meals. It is not such a big problem if the rental is close to stores/restaurants, but it is a problem if you're away in a secluded spot (Refer to point 2) away from civilization. But there are a lot of ways you can arrange for food if you plan ahead. In our vacations, we've carried store-bought frozen food that we've heated and eaten, we've taken home-made frozen food that we've supplemented with fruits/salads, we've ordered take-out, and we've even carried rice/lentils/spices and prepared food there at the rental. The arrangements we made depended on the kind of vacation, the location, the people we went with, and a host of other things.

I was very sure that whatever I do, I wouldn't cook on a holiday and I was strictly against carrying essentials and cooking at the rental. But in the previous vacation that I just finished documenting, we had to do that, and I realized it wasn't a bad thing at all, especially if you are not tired out after a full day of sight seeing. It is really comforting to come back to some home-made food, especially if it is a longish vacation.

5) Housekeeping activities - another disadvantage is that depending on the rules of the rental, you might need to load the dishwasher/take out the garbage/start the washer before you leave. But once again, it is not such a big deal. Also, you cannot be a slob and leave the kitchen/bathroom/living spaces messy just because you're paying for cleaning, so some time does go in just setting things right. But once again, if everybody joins in, it is not a big deal at all.

6) Risk - Of course it is a risk that your vacation rental will not be as good as you hoped it was. In hotels, you know what you'll get, or at least, it will be close to your expectations, but you can't be so sure about a vacation rental. But then on the other hand, it might surprise you.

I'm sure there are some other points I'm forgetting, and I'll add them later. But if you are reading this trying to decide whether to go for a vacation rental, and if you  need any inputs, or if you have any questions, feel free to email me on the address on this page.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Day 20 - Twenty years ago

Do you also get all those gleeful Facebook posts that almost seem to be chuckling evilly when they say "These songs turn 20 this year"? I see them all the time on my timeline and I listen to/watch the video and all I can think of is "But that movie came out, like, just 4-5 years ago! How can it be 20 years? I remember this song and I wasn't even born 20 years ago!"

Well, the truth is that I was already an adult 20 years ago.

Besides, what makes these 20-year-old-songs more unbearable is that 20 years back is when I joined engineering college. So most of these songs are inextricably linked to memories of my college life (which, as you can by now guess, happened just 4-5 years ago ;))

For example, the songs from the movie Gupt remind me that I wasn't able to watch Gupt due to the king-size ego of a new computer science teacher.

It was a Saturday and our classmates had made plans to take the college bus right up to Cauvery theatre in Sadashivanagar to watch the afternoon show of Gupt. As we finished class, and were packing up, someone told me that this lecturer (whose name I can't recall) wanted to see me immediately. I couldn't think why, but rushed to his room. He was one of those new recruits, fresh out of college, in a lecturer's job before he had the confidence for it.

As soon as I went in, he started lambasting me about my arrogance in computer science lab. I had no idea what he was talking about, and kept asking him repeatedly what it was. He said something garbled, and what I could understand from his words was that during lab, I had asked the lab assistant a query, and had not asked him, the lecturer. How could I ask the assistant for help when a lecturer was present? Did I think he didn't know anything? I tried to tell him that not only did I not have a query, and hadn't asked anybody anything, but that he wasn't even the assigned teacher for my lab class (he just took regular theory classes for us). But he went on and on, and I could feel the seconds ticking away.

He demanded that I apologize, and I refused on the grounds that I hadn't done anything. "I won't let you go until you apologize!" he said. But I didn't, though I knew that the college buses would be leaving any moment now. He cursed me for my arrogance again, but he didn't dare follow up on his threat to not let me go, because his own staff bus would leave 5 minutes after the students' buses left. So he left, still saying, "You're going to regret this."

I ran to the bus stop, but the buses had already left. And taking a city bus would mean changing three buses and no way would I get to the movie on time. So I just took another bus (the staff bus) and went home.

That afternoon, I got a call from a girl called Shruthi from another class. I don't know how she had found out what happened, and I don't know how she got my number, but she called to tell me that it was her this man was after, and he had got the wrong Shruthi to go to the staff room. She apologized profusely, but well, it wasn't her fault!

The next Monday, it seemed like everybody had gotten to know about it (by the way, I still don't know why it was such a big deal for it to buzz around the classroom at such speed.) And when this man came into our classroom to take his regular class, he looked around, spotted me, came close to me, not meeting my stare, and mumbled an apology.

I said, "Sir, I won't let you go until you apologize loud enough for the whole class to hear."

And guess what, he did! :D

I've heard that Gupt is not worth watching, and I haven't watched it since, but I'll never forget it as the movie I couldn't go out to watch with my friends, because of a silly man's ego.

And see? I remember such tiny details of this incident. It can't have happened 20 years ago.




Sunday, March 19, 2017

Day 19 - Lassen Volcanic National Park

Yes, we're still on that vacation, and if you've noticed, a lot of these places have something to do with volcanic activity. Coincidence. Lassen is another such place, and once again, I'd never seen anything like it before.

Manzanita Lake

A very climb-friendly tree. Puttachi went up quite high.

Had a hearty lunch of packed sandwiches and Trader Joe's salad near this place.

Happened upon patches of snow that hadn't melted since winter. So much fun playing with snow on a summer day. There was enough snow to slide down, in some places. Great delight!

This is Bumpass' Hell. Bumpass is a name, and hell - because of the sulphuric ponds. The place was full of sulphur vapours, and it was not very comfortable to hang around there for too long. 

Another view of Bumpass' Hell. Taken from the walkway you can see in the previous pic. Look at that blue pond, and those hissing vapours.

This is on the hike to Bumpass' Hell - which was great - just the right challenge level, adventurous, dangerous, picturesque. Those two peaks in the mountain was actually one mountain. It blew (volcano) and half of the mountain was ripped off. So if you join the dots (so to say) between the two peaks, that was the original mountain.

There are several mudpots in the area. Basically a pool of bubbling mud, due to gases from underground that escape through these pools of mud. It is like watching a liquid bubble and boil in a huge pot.

More about this vacation


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Day 18 - Sundial Bridge and Turtle Bay Exploration Park

Considering that I hadn't even heard of a place called Redding before we planned this trip, I was not expecting to see this fabulous park and even more spectacular bridge in this place.

The Sundial Bridge - a cable-stayed bridge (pulls the bridge up to keep it in place.)


Seen from the bottom - quite spectacular.
The bridge is across the Sacramento River

The park itself is beautiful, lots of botanical specimens, and a good place to walk, talk, sit, spend an evening.

A little library, you're free to read books from here and return it. If you want to take a book for yourself, you must replace it with a book of your own.

And of course the kids wanted to read (even though the books were far below her reading level - books are books, and should be read, you see)

We came back to the park two times, once at night, after a leisurely dinner at the vacation rental. We walked under the Sundial bridge this time, and it so happened that the latest Pokémon had just been released that day. We didn't know it, but we saw these massive groups of teenagers gathered there, 10 pm at night, intently looking at their phones. We only understood later on what was happening and we tried to catch some Pokémon too (I hope I've said that right, I'm hopelessly behind the times.)

Anyway, the bridge looked quite beautiful lit at night, viewed from underneath it.


More about this vacation

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