Sunday, June 30, 2013

Day 30 - Many things made me feel good today

I woke up to one of my travel stories published in Sunday Herald - about a lovely walk along the Thames in Henley, England.

In other news, my mother told me that while S and I had been at the movie last evening, she showed Puttachi some of my sketches and paintings and Puttachi was apparently completely floored.  "Show me too," I said.  "I've completely forgotten what I'd made."

So my mother took out all the sketchbooks and painting books that she has so carefully hidden away, and showed them to me.  One of them in particular struck me speechless.  Literally.  Haven't had that happen to me in a while.  

See, this sketch is not perfect, I know.  I'm sure an expert will point out a hundred technical mistakes in it. Even to my own untrained eyes, I can see that it is not very symmetrical, and it does not have a good 3D effect.  But good enough for someone with no prior experience of sketching.    But what I could not, and still cannot believe that there was indeed a time when I had the patience to sit with a sketch and concentrate on doing justice to all the tiny details. 

After my speech came back to me, I said, "How jobless I must have been to make this!"  I checked the date - and sure enough, I found that I was indeed jobless at that time.  It was when I had torn a ligament and was on rest for 6 weeks.  And apart from doodling, I haven't made a single serious sketch after this one.

And in case you are wondering, this is the Channakeshava temple at Somanathpura, one of the most beautiful examples of Hoysala architecture, and my personal favourite carved wonder - small, and exquisite.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Day 29 - Outrageous prices

Saturdays are always difficult in terms of writing.  Something is always happening, and there isn't much time to sit down and think of something to write about.

Besides, I've spent all my available time enjoying the music and the amazing liveliness of this random video

We had been to watch Man of Steel today, and before that, we were loitering around the mall, and I played a little game I play with myself when I am jobless - check out an outfit, guess how much it is priced, and then check the actual price.  Today, I found a cotton frock in Puttachi's size.  It was well-tailored, good cloth, and I thought ok, considering the label, about 1000 bucks.  I checked and it was nearly 5000 rupees.  5000 for a frock.  The last time I was so surprised was when I lost my way and found myself in an upmarket store in UB city.  I picked up a handbag and said, "4500 for this?  I can get it for 450 in 4th block!"  And S said, "Check the price again."  I checked, and it was 45000.  I fell over backwards.  (Not exactly, but I did crash into the nearly invisible glass door on my way out.)

People who actually pay money for these things - even if they can afford it, why would they?  Are brands really that important to them?  I feel really sorry for them, actually.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Day 28 - Spirit

People who know Puttachi well know that she is very cooperative, which has worked very well for me.  But there was one aspect of her cooperative nature which has worried me for a long time.  And it is this - she doesn't resist much to anything, doesn't put up too much of a fight.

Here is an example of a regular occurrence at the park, when she was younger.  She is about to climb the steps of the slide, and someone comes, and asks her to move aside.  She dutifully moves, lets the other child go before her, and then she climbs up.  Or worse, the other child pushes her, and she frowns, her face crumples, but she doesn't fight back.  If she is on the swing, and some other child aggressively asks her to get off the swing, she climbs down without another word.

And except when she was physically hurt, she didn't seem to be affected by it at all.  

And if I convinced her about something being good for her, she would accept immediately.  That also worried me - why doesn't she protest even a little bit?  Am I doing something wrong?   Here's something from an old post of mine - a conversation on the way to an ice-cream shop

Amma, I want pink ice-cream.
Amma, will there be pink ice-cream?
          I don't know, let's go and see.
If there is pink ice-cream, I will feel happy and eat it up, but if there is no pink ice-cream, then I will see which ice-cream they have, and I will like it (ishTa maDkotini), and eat it up. 
Should I rejoice that this child knows the secret of happiness? Or should I worry that she is going to become too accommodating and compliant?

We had once been to someone's house, and the lady of the house gave her child and Puttachi some snacks in two bowls - one blue, one purple.

Puttachi: I want the purple one.
Other child: No, I want purple.

The lady gave her child the purple one and said, "See Puttachi, blue is also nice."

Puttachi said, "Yes, blue is also nice," and ate from the blue bowl.

The injustice really bothered me.  Now, there are two things here - one, Puttachi laid claim on the purple bowl first.  Second, the bowls are at the other child's disposal, and the child can eat in that bowl even later.  So if it were me in the lady's place, it would have been a no-brainer.  I would have convinced Puttachi that the other child had dibs, and that Puttachi could eat in the purple bowl even later.   In fact, such things did happen at our place, and Puttachi had compromised several times.  Now, because people know Puttachi's nature, they take advantage of it and she has to compromise even when she has first rights?  I was very upset.  But Puttachi didn't seem to be bothered.  Later on, I asked her casually if she had wanted to eat in the purple bowl, and she said, "Yes, I would have liked it, the purple was so beautiful, but blue was also okay."

Or could it just be a kind of maturity?

 Puttachi:  Amma, am I taller or is X (her friend) taller?
Me: What do you think?
She:  I know I am taller than her.
Me: okay.  (Puttachi is taller, but I don't want to make these things an issue, so I don't offer any comment.)
She:  But X keeps telling me that she is taller.
Me: So do you tell her anything?
She: No, I don't.  I just let her think she is taller.  I know I am taller, so I just keep quiet.
If only she retains this wisdom even in the future...

Or is it just that she avoids confrontation?

Whenever I worried, my friend M would tell me "Perhaps that is Puttachi's strength."  Yes, perhaps.

But come on, some kind of resistance? Tantrums? Anything?

I'm glad to report that she is finally showing that spirit that I had always wanted her to show.  On one hand, she is still accommodating, empathetic, understanding, and kind..  On the other hand, she has started recognizing injustice, and she reacts appropriately to it.  The other day, some kid shouted at her to get down from the swing, and she stood up, put her hands on her hips and said, "Ask nicely.  Even then, I will get down only after five minutes.  Wait for your turn."   Few things have pleased me more!   I realized that this is what I wanted, and this is what I was bothered about.  I did not want her to take things lying down, but stand up for herself.  Not to compromise.

I'll keep you updated on this  journey!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Day 27 - Everything comes back!

When we were kids, we used to tease our mother about her "colour sense."

Mother:  Shruthi, please bring the orange box from the fridge.
Me:  Where, where, can't see any orange box.
Mother: Right there, top shelf.
Me:  I just see a white box with a yellow lid.
Mother: Yeah that's the one.

And then Peevee and I would go into splits and tease our mother endlessly.

But then, last week,

Puttachi:  Amma where are my pink pyjamas?
Me:  Not washed.  Wear your blue ones.
Puttachi:  Blue?  I don't even have blue pyjamas.
Me: You do.  The one we bought at xyz.
Puttachi:  That's not blue!  That's dark grey!  Ha ha ha haaa!!  Why did you call it blue, Amma?

And I go - gulp.

I guess, during childhood, you want precision, you are particular about things - but after sometime, you are satisfied with a vague description of everything....  Has this happened with you too?

Similar things happen, not only with regard to colour.  I say something is in the left cupboard, and I would have meant, the left of the usually-used right cupboard, and I expect her to understand, while Puttachi searches in the left-most cupboard, and can't find it....  such things used to happen with us and our mother too!

But that's not all.  There was another thing my mom used to do (still does.)  She would be thinking of something, and then suddenly speak aloud about it, as a continuation of the thought process in her head - and all of us, who had absolutely no context, wouldn't understand head or tail of what she was saying.  "Huh?"  we would blink, and then she would realize and start from the beginning.  Oh how we have pulled her leg about this!

But, yeah, you guessed it.  From the past one month, this has happened with S and me.  And I am the one speaking without any context.  And S is the one left wondering.

What else did we tease our mother about?  What else is in store for me?  :)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Day 26 - Books from different cultures

I have spoken before about the connection I feel with books written in Kannada.  The culture, the language, the societal norms, the people - all are familiar, and strike a chord with me.  This holds good for books about India written by Indians too.  No matter which Indian state the story is based in, I can feel the book when I am reading it.

Though most of the books I have read are probably British and American, I find myself increasingly going back to Indian writing.  But lately, I have realized that books from a few other countries give me that connect  as well - maybe not to the extent that Indian writing does, but still.

Stories from Africa (Chimamanda Adichie, the Mma Ramotswe series), Afghanistan (Khaled Hosseini), and to a small extent, South America (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende.) to name a few.  And of course, books based in Japan and China, though its been a while since I read those.  Though the culture of these places is very different from ours, the sentiment is the same, if you know what I mean.  I can see why a character reacts in a certain way.  I can sense the weight of history of the culture and country in the stories. I can see and understand why this history matters, and how it influences the behaviour of the characters.  And the more I read such books, the more I want to read.

Any inputs from  you?  Any recommendations?  (As if my to-read list is not long enough already!)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Day 25 - Power Naps

When Puttachi was little, my day was tough.  Everything that came with being a full-time carer of a little child, and along with it, managing a house with all the cooking and cleaning and other things that go with it.  By afternoon, I would be ready to drop.  It used to be okay when Puttachi had naps, for I would crash alongside her.  But she gave up naps very early, just after she turned three.

It was at this time that she started school, and driving her up and down, and squeezing in walks and chores and cooking and me-time in the available 2.5 hours when she was in school was tiring in itself.  So, after she came back and ate, she would start playing, and I would be on the verge of collapse.

It was then that I accidentally discovered the power nap.  There was no question of taking long  naps when Puttachi was awake and mobile.  So, I used to just lie down next to her on the bed when she was playing, and I would fall asleep.  Within minutes, Puttachi would shake me awake, and I would find myself so refreshed that it was unbelievable.  The refreshment definitely did not seem proportional to the time I actually slept.  After a few times, I decided to make the falling asleep intentional.  I set an alarm, and told Puttachi not to move from my side, and not to disturb me until the alarm rang.  Of course, I was (still am) fortunate that Puttachi did as she was told, and is very empathetic too, so it worked.  The alarm would be for 12 min, out of which I would actually sleep for 10 min, but that was enough to last me the rest of the day!

10 minutes - like an instant battery charger!  I still do this.  In fact, Puttachi herself sometimes looks at me and orders me to take a nap.  She even sets the alarm for me.  And sometimes, if I haven't been able to catch a nap, S can make that out by the way I walk and talk in the evening that I haven't had a nap!

I don't need the nap every day, and this kind of intense nap doesn't come easily if I lie down when I am not too tired.  I have to be really very tired - it is then that it works best.

If you haven't tried this, try and see if it works for you.   I'll accept your thanks later.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Day 24 - The joy of exercising your body

By no stretch of imagination can I be called a fitness enthusiast, but I try.  Apart from a healthy diet, I try and get in some exercise on most days.

Mostly, I walk.  Sometimes, I do yoga.  Occasionally, I just do some stretches.  I am nowhere near those who go gymming and running regularly, or swim or play a sport every day, but I try to keep up whatever little I do.  I intend to step up my exercise regimen, but... all in its own time.

But the beauty of it is that even this little bit of exercise does me good. I cannot make out that exercise has been helping me until I stop exercising for a while.  And then I can really make out the difference.

Regular exercise keeps me  in a good mood, more alert and interested in my day.  My digestion is better, I  suffer less from PMS, and on the whole, I feel better about myself and about life.  Isn't that reason enough to exercise regularly?

Small things make me feel good - when I run up three flights of stairs and don't collapse with exhaustion, for instance.  Or when I'm walking along the road, and I don't have to literally heave myself up on too-high footpaths, but instead cruise along - feels great.  And then during the actual exercising itself - yoga, for instance - the stretches feel so good.  Anybody who has experienced the pleasure of a yoga stretch will know what I mean.

It isn't easy for everybody, but do fit a little exercise into your day.  That small investment will prove its worth by making your day better and easier for you.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, where I will pontificate on power naps.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Day 23 - Imli Chutney

Strange, huh?  A food post, all of a sudden?  Just wanted to share with you this chutney that makes everything interesting.

If you google for Imli chutney, you'll get lots of recipes, and so I won't bother

There is the Khajur-Imli chutney, made with dates and tamarind.  And then there is the hunisehannina gojju, made with lots of ginger, and south-indian style seasoning, that goes well with huggi/pongal.

But mine is a 5-minute version, and I make a little bottle of it every two weeks, and I always have a stock in the fridge.  It makes everything interesting.

Sprouts?  Add a little groundnuts, and a spoon of imli chutney, and you have a tasty snack.  Curds - add a spoonful, and see how great it tastes.  Eggs?  I tried giving Puttachi eggs in various forms, and though she ate it all dutifully, she fell off her chair in wonder when I boiled an egg, sliced it, and poured a spoonful of imli chutney over it.   Now it is a staple at our place.

It is also a formula for instant chaat.  Boil some chickpeas or something, add imli chutney, and even if there is nothing else to go with it, it can easily be called chaat.

How I make it - forgive me, I have no patience for recipes and proportions, but what I do is:

Heat tamarind paste and jaggery syrup together with a little water. Add salt, kala namak, chilli powder, ginger powder, roasted cumin powder, and then boil it well.  For thickness, you could add a thickening agent like cornflour or rice flour or something, but I don't bother with that also.  Once it boils well, cool it down and bottle it.  Store in the refrigerator.

And yes, I have all the above ingredients always available in the said forms, and that's why it is a five-minute process for me.  

Warning:  Too much of anything is not good, obviously, so if you are dealing with kids, you'll need to make rules about what you can eat it with, and how much.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Day 22 - Raising smart, independent girls

One of the most important - or shall we say, the single most important thing about raising little girls is to get them to be independent.  Society is full of overt and subliminal messages about the suitability of women being meek and submissive and dependent on somebody else for their life's decisions and happiness.  It is very hard to fight against the current.  But, bit by bit, little by little, we have to.

Puttachi is completely into dolls and babies, and much of her play revolves around her dolls getting married and having babies .... but yet, when she was watching Brave, where the queen tells Merida that all girls should get married, Puttachi said, "That's so silly.  We should get married only if we want to.  And we should have babies only if we feel like."  I relaxed.  As long as she knows that..... :)

Similarly, the way we talk to girls, the stories we tell them, the role models we point out to them - all this matters in what they think of themselves and their abilities.  And this holds good for boys too!  Responsible parenting of boys involves raising them to respect women and believe in their abilities.  Because, just as girls are exposed to society's messages, boys are too!

A Mighty Girl shares a lot of links to news of smart, independent girls who make a difference in their own lives, and the lives of people around them.  They point to books and movies that portray girls and women in a positive light, and show that girls can do anything that they want to.  They also link to articles that show how to talk to girls (and to boys too) so that they all grow up with a healthy respect for themselves and their abilities, and that of the other sex.

Please share other links, resources in the comments. Thank you.

Day 21 - Losing myself in learning

When I was in school, a classmate and I had decided that we would be archaeologists when we grow up.  I don't quite recall what we thought archaelogists did, but we were pretty serious about it.  I have also conducted "excavations" in my backyard.  Gradually, the idea about growing up to be an archaeologist faded, but naturally, my interest in the subject didn't fade away.  I always read with interest stories of ancient cultures and reports of new findings of old artefacts.

Now, I'm thoroughly enjoying this archaeology course I am taking from Coursera.  The videos, the required readings, the exercises - everything interests me greatly..  Today, I started research online for an exercise, and it led me to the history of archaeology in India.  I was so intrigued, that I clicked and clicked, and all morning, I've been engrossed in reading about the origins and the fathers of Indian archaeology.   And then, suddenly I felt  hungry, looked at the time - and realized it was lunch-time.

Isn't this the best way to learn?   Choose something you really want to learn, and then lose yourself in it?

Someone asked me - "Why this course?  Why do you want to learn about archaeology? Of what use is it to you?"   Honestly, that thought had never crossed my mind.  I thought for a bit.  What use is it to me?  I have no idea.  I don't see me "using" this knowledge in my life, practically.  But I feel a keen desire to learn about it.  And that, as I see it, is reason enough.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Day 20 - Detective Daughter

One of the great things that S does with Puttachi - he gets her to answer her questions herself.  He guides the way, of course,  and suggests what questions she should ask in order to arrive at the answer to her original question.

He has been doing this ever since she was very small.

For example, I say, "Come on, let's go to Ajji's house."
And she says, "Which Ajji?"
My instinct would be to answer immediately.

But, S doesn't do that.  He says, "Think, Puttachi. Which Ajji's house could it be?"
She looks confused.
S: Where is B Ajji's house?
She: Far away.
S: So if you go there, will you come back tonight itself?
She: No, I'll probably stay the night, because it is very far and by the time I reach, it will be dark already.
S: Right.  So if you have to stay overnight, what will you need to do?
She: I have to take my clothes, toothbrush....
S: Correct.
She: (looks around) I don't see anything around.. Amma hasn't packed any bags.... meaning we are not going to B Ajji's house.  That means we are going to V Ajji's house!
S: Correct!

This, I have found, is a great way to get her to be curious and to think for herself.  The above was just an example, but S does it for every single thing.

To add to it, Puttachi was a fan of Slylock Fox when she was younger, and typically, the father-daughter team would solve it together every Saturday morning.  After that, she gets kicks from deducing things on her own, and glows when I call her "Slylock Fox"

A simple example - "Amma, I saw you buying Palak yesterday, and you are making chapatis today, and I know there is paneer in the fridge, which means we are having Palak-paneer today with chapatis!"

This week, I brought the book Bumbletown Detectives from the library, and it involved deduction based on visual clues - and she loved it so much that she wants to keep it for a few more days! I think she'll love a treasure hunt - my aunt had arranged one for her when she was three - I simply must get over my intertia and organize one for her now, with some complicated clues. I'm sure she'll enjoy it.

In short, I believe that this habit has helped her think and question and deduce and analyze better, which is always a nice skill to have, isn't it?

Try it out!  If not anything else, it is fun!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Day 19 - The inner editor

After I started writing regularly, a problem arose.  Unbeknownst to me, (I always wanted to use that word :))  an editor had taken birth within me.  And that is a good thing, but it can be a bad thing too, as I am finding out the hard way.

Previously, I first wrote whatever came into my head, and then I edited. But now, as I write, my editor is on alert, and I find myself editing as I write.  This is kind of limiting.  I need to have that openness, nothing-can-stop-me attitude when I am first putting my thoughts down.  The editing is necessary, but it can happen later.  I now need to figure out how to work around this.

The second problem with this annoying editor is that she is interfering in my enjoyment of books.  Well-written books are not a problem.  I can immerse myself in them completely.  And sometimes, when the writer deals with something particularly well, the editor pauses, and takes note, and even says, "aaaah!"

But when I am reading books that aren't quite well-crafted, the editor keeps screaming.  
"That adverb is unnecessary!"  
"Use the active voice!"  
"Yikes, imagery is overdone!"  
"Come on, you could have been more subtle!"
"Oh, stop with the description!"

Imagine reading a book with somebody screaming inside your head.  Not happening.  Good thing, I suppose, in one way - it is an automatic filter - I'll know instantly when to stop reading.  But on the other hand, if the story is good and I want to complete it, it is agony.

Please tell me whether this happens to you, and how you deal with it.

Day 18 - Quality vs Quantity

I had just put up a post which was boring even by my standards.  It kept bothering me and so I took the post down.  As you can see, I haven't been feeling communicative since yesterday and I feel it is simply not worth putting up substandard posts just for the sake of writing something.

So what is this, you ask.  No comments.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Day 17 - Link to online book

Today is a day where I don't feel like writing anything at all.  I have a number of topics in my head but I just don't want to write.

So, I'm just going to take the easy way out and use this post to point you to the online version of the book I helped create through Storybook Me.

You can also read the other books in the series here

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Day 16 - Feminism

Feminism is just common sense.  A sense of equality and justice, and the belief that what holds good for one, holds good for the other.

Thankfully, the impression that feminists are rabid, crazy creatures, is fading now, with more and more people, both men and women, proudly calling themselves feminists.  

But, being brought up in a conservative and patriarchal society like India, feminist ideas don't come naturally to most of us. Some beliefs are so steeped in our psyche that to step aside and look at those ideas anew, you need a trigger, or else, you need someone to plant the seed of a new outlook in your head.  Sometimes, it is just some random thing that encourages you to question what you've always believed to be right.  But once you start thinking and questioning, your world will expand by leaps and bounds.  It can be painful at times, to realize that what you have been taking for granted is fundamentally flawed.  But it can also make you happy, and free. 

If you wish to look, there are hundreds of people writing beautifully about such topics all over the internet.  But if you are lost, let me show you a good place to begin - IHM's blog.  It is a great go-to spot for issues relating to the Indian context.  I urge you to explore the archives too.  You'll also find resources, and links, and you'll be taken to the blogs of other people writing about women and patriarchy and misogyny and feminism.....  and once you are attuned to this way of thinking, you'll start questioning things yourself.  

Let me know how it goes.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Day 15 - Half asleep

Whew, this day nearly got away from me!

Been on my toes since morning, except for some time sitting in a car, which, I can tell you, isn't too pleasant in Bangalore.

Finally, the day is done, and I am half asleep, and every bit of me wants to curl up with a book, and then go to bed.  [sidenote - anybody else out there who thinks that one of the sweetest moments in life is to sit in bed with a good book just before bedtime, listening to the patter of rain outside?]

But yet, here I am, writing this, hoping I am making sense, and wondering why, when I set my mind to it, I can make the time for anything even in the most uncomfortable of circumstances.  Well, I guess one needs to have a project worth being committed to.

This was one of the reasons I set myself this challenge.  To see whether I could keep this up even when I can hardly move my fingers across the keyboard.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Day 14 - The breadfruit tree

The school I went to was a very small one when I first started going there.  Just a handful of students, a few loving teachers, a small shed or two where classes were held, and lots of trees.  Sometimes, we had classes under the trees, and most of the classrooms were the kind where you sat on the floor on mats and wrote on little desks.  It was lovely.

As the school grew, new buildings had to come up, and the trees needed to be cut down.  The first one to go was a magnificent breadfruit tree.   It had been the backdrop for most of our activities, and when our teachers told us about its fate, we were really upset.  

We were asked to draw pictures of the tree as a keepsake.  I remember the picture I drew very clearly.  The tree had a little broken branch jutting out from the trunk at a height that was within an adult's arm's reach.  Our headmistress used to hang her bag from that branch.  My drawing included that too, and I remember it made the teachers laugh.

When we went back to school after the weekend, there was just an empty space there.  

I told this story to Puttachi last night.  She dissolved into tears, and couldn't be consoled.   

Day 13 - Body Beautiful

When I was trying to understand the source of the pain in my foot, I did a bit of reading on the structure of the human foot.  I was highly impressed.  What a marvellous feat of engineering! (Yes, I'm talking about the foot.)  Its structure, flexibility, its ability to bear so much weight - it is nothing short of wonderful.   And it got me thinking.  How often do we look at our feet and whine about their ugliness, or about how tanned they are, or how misshapen our toes are or how wide our feet are, and all along, the foot  is an elegant body part that does so much work for us.

But that holds good for everything - we are the result of thousands of parts of our body working well in tandem - our stomach, our heart, our kidneys, lungs,  intestines, little glands that we haven't heard of but are vital to our well-being, our brain (Our brain!  I've been reading VS  Ramachandran's "The Tell-tale Brain" and it makes mysteries and thrillers fade in comparison.)  - so many beautiful parts in  perfect harmony.

This magnificent body of ours, working so hard, and so smoothly, to enable us to - whine about how ugly that very body is!

Ridiculous, or what?

Hair too dry, nose too blunt, eyes too wide, skin too dark, legs too fat, lips too thin, breasts too small, teeth too crooked, tummy too flabby - all we can think of is what's on the outside, and we feel inadequate.   Why?  Because we are aiming for a standard of beauty that is never within reach.  Never within anybody's reach.   Movie stars, who are supposedly supremely beautiful, go in for nose jobs and chin reconstructions and tummy tucks - what does that show?  Nobody can truly be happy with whatever they look like, if they try to strive for some silly standard of beauty!  Such a waste of time and energy!

But that is not all!  We transfer that feeling of inadequacy to our children too!  Look at this beautiful letter a daughter writes to her mom.  Heartbreaking.  But that story is playing out in millions of homes all over the world even now.  

What do I hear you say?  That even if we don't give our children these wrong ideas of beauty, they will get it from outside anyway?  From peers, and from the media?  Yes, they will.  It is inevitable.  But if you inculcate into them a healthy sense of respect for their bodies,  maybe they will be grounded enough not to be too swayed by those images that the media thrusts at them.  Just maybe. Worth a shot, right?  If we start throwing at them false notions of beauty right from childhood, then the poor things don't have a chance at all. 

But I know, easier said then done.  I'll finish writing this, get up, catch a look at myself in the mirror and cringe at how frizzy my hair is.  That's called social conditioning.(and the lack of hair conditioning, in this case.)   Who said that frizzy hair is ugly?  Why is it supposed to be ugly?  That's what I am trying to get at.

Trying to look beyond all these notions of beauty is hard, but we can do it.  It is just not worth the agonies that women, and even men, go through every day.  And more importantly, we owe it to our children.  Let them, at least, grow up free from the constricts of these silly notions of beauty!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Day 12 - An atypical day

Today has been, so far, a very different day.  For one, after dropping Puttachi off at school, I decided to - dust.  There, that should tell you.  And since the day had anyway started off on a tangent, I decided to just go where it took me.  So, apparently this was a day when I wanted to watch television, and potter around the house doing nothing. So that's what I did.

Today was different in another respect - that I had nothing ready for lunch.  This doesn't ever happen, and so while I was lazing about, I was vaguely wondering what to cook for lunch.  And then, serendipity - this post made me decide - what's good for breakfast is good for lunch.  So lunch was ready in five minutes.

Just as I was feeling a little guilty about "wasting" my day, this article came by - "Why Can't I be a Housewife?"   Read it, please do, especially if you are a housewife/homemaker who is battling with people, or with yourself about wasting your life, your education, and not having any ambition.
But ambition is not necessarily a virtue that needs to be solely linked to a career. Aspiring to become a better mother, a better cook or a better friend is also being ambitious. The competition really needs to be with you, not with anyone else. Are you a better person today than you were yesterday? That is ambition to me.
Reminded me of this ridiculous article by Chetan Bhagat on why men should have working wives.  And this great response to it.

I think everyone needs a day like this (or half a day) when you absolutely do not have to be responsible for anything, and have no pressing duties to perform, and just go where the day takes you. Refreshing.

This day of mine would perhaps not have taken me to the laptop had it not been for this challenge.

Now, let me go back to doing nothing - for another hour, until Puttachi comes back from school.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Day 11 - How to be a better writer

I get many emails asking me for advice on how to write better.  Ironic, considering that I myself am on that quest!   Anyway, my general response is:  Read more, and write more.

One thing that really helped me was joining the Practice Group at  the Internet Writing Workshop.  Every week, you are given a prompt, and you have to submit a story of less than 400 words based on that.  Then, you critique others' work, and others critique yours.  Through this, I learned:

1) Economy of words - if you have to tell a meaningful story or a snippet of one in 400 words, each word counts.  And I think it has helped me choose my words well.

2) By critiquing others' work, I learned to observe how people wrote.  What worked, what didn't, and why. Very illuminating.

3) Critiques of my work - I agreed with most comments about my work. And they helped me improve.  There were a handful of experienced writers whose critiques I would wish for, and hope for, and when they did critique my work, I always learned so much.

4) I read other people's critiques of other people's works - and that was equally educative.

Apart from all this, you should realize that writing is not just, you know, start at line one, write the whole piece, put the pen down (figuratively), and you're done.  No way.  There are, I'm sure, people who can do that, but the majority of writers, even the big ones, have to slog it out.  The first draft is usually very different from the final version.  Writing is more of editing, and re-writing, and wondering how this could be said better.... it is hard work.

And it takes time.  Like Blaise Pascal said, "I'm sorry I wrote you such a long letter.  I didn't have time to write a short one."  Makes perfect sense!

And ever so often, the lovely picture you have in your head doesn't show up on paper.  And you agonize, and wonder why, when it sounded so great in your head, it is so bland when put in words.  And then you try and polish it, or give up on it.  So if this happens to you, don't worry, you are not alone.

So the next time I get a mail asking me how to become a better writer, I'll just point them to this post, because this is all I know.  And then I will go away to find out more about it myself. 

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Day 10 - A conversation about what "me" is.

This conversation with Puttachi happened a couple of months ago.

Puttachi:  Amma, I have a question.

Me: Bring it on.

Puttachi: When we say "I" or "me,"  what are we talking about?  What is "naanu" (me)?   Is it my head, or my  face, or my body, or my heart, what is it?

What do I do when faced with a question I don't know how to answer?  Throw it back at her, of course.

Me:  What do you think, Puttachi?

Puttachi: (thinks) I think it is the face, Amma.

Me: But there are doctors who can perform surgery and change the way you look.  If somebody changes my  nose and my lips and my chin and my eyebrows, and gives me a new face, will I stop being Amma?

She: No!  You will still be Amma.  Then maybe it is the body.

Me:  You know, there is a scientist called Stephen Hawking.  He cannot move any part of his body, except a finger, through which he controls a computer, and he communicates through that.  But his brain is very active.  So what do you think?

She:  Ohhh, then maybe it is the brain that is "me."

Me:  Do you remember Doddamma Ajji?  (S's grandmother, who had Alzheimer's.)  She was very healthy, but she didn't know who we were. She didn't even know who she herself was.  So does that mean she is not Doddamma Ajji?

She: Oh, Amma, then what is it?  Maybe everything together is "me."

Me: Yeah, maybe, Puttachi.

And that is how we answer difficult questions around here.

Day 9 - TED

Another boon of the internet is the access we have gained - to people, places, and most of all, to ideas.

"Ideas worth spreading" is the tagline of TED, which I think is one of the greatest things available on the internet today.  Superlative, uplifting, inspiring, thought-provoking talks by amazing people on all kinds of topics - it broadens your mind and expands your horizons.

I'm sure you've all watched some TED talk or the other, but if you  haven't, (or even if you have), this is a good place to start.   You can even google for "Top 10 TED talks" or "Most-watched TED-talks" and then one will lead you to another, and before you know it, you'll be hooked.

These talks aren't too long - less than 10 minutes, some around 20 minutes - you can watch them instead of watching TV, for instance.  When do I watch them?  When I'm having lunch, when I'm folding a heap of laundry - and most often, when I am engaged in that very boring but necessary task of cleaning and processing green vegetables.  Sometimes, if I need a break from work, or cooking, or if I just need to sit down, I watch a TED talk.

It is so heartening to see the kind of things going on in the world, to come to know about the latest ideas and research and technological developments that is happening out there.

You can listen to renowned scientists and writers and engineers and artists and performers.  You can listen to some great talks on education.  Or you can be quietly, but equally inspired by unknown, lay people from remote corners of the world who are silently making a difference in the world.  Like the Afghan girl who speaks about secretly educating Afghan girls, or a 13-year old Masai boy who created a solar-powered device to scare lions away. 

Every time the news in the papers sickens me, every time the cheapness, perversion and corruption of humans starts to get to me, I turn to TED talks.  They offer me solace, inspiration, and restore my faith in humanity.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Day 8 - Online courses

Just about a couple of years ago, if someone had told you that you could take a course from the top universities of the world, from stalwarts in the field, sitting in your home, for free, would you have believed it?

It is wonderful how MOOCs are growing.  And I experienced it myself first hand, when I took a course "Think Again: How to Reason and Argue" from Coursera early this year.  It was good fun, in many ways.  The video lectures and assignments and quizzes were well-structured, and technically, it was excellent.  One of the instructors, Dr.Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, was very good, and I thoroughly enjoyed his lectures.  I later found that he is a very well-known person in his field.  The discussion forums on this course abounded with comments by students who gushed about how lucky they felt to be learning from such a bigwig.

The best part about this course was the fact that I could view the lectures whenever I wanted.  And if I didn't understand something, or if I dozed off in the middle (I did!)  I could always play the video again.  What an advantage over a real classroom situation!  I earned myself a certificate with distinction too at the end of it.  

There are a couple of things I learned about online courses.  One, the instructor matters.  I signed up for another course, but I didn't find the instructor impressive enough, and I un-enrolled in a couple of weeks.  Another thing is that you have to choose the course depending on your level of interest and the time you have available to do it.  I know, sounds obvious.  But I signed up for Astronomy with a lot of enthusiasm, but I couldn't spare the kind of time or attention needed for the level it was taught at.  

I have now signed up for an Archaeology course.  I found to my great joy that the instructor is a very robust, ebullient, likeable lady, and I actually feel like she is talking to me personally (felt that way with Dr.Sinnott-Armstrong too)  and it makes me want to give my best to the course. 

There are many other sites out there, like Udacity, apart from Coursera where you can find online courses.  And of course, if you go the websites of several top universities, you can see information on courses they offer there. 

A great way to learn more about something you're already interested in, or to add to your skills. From the comfort of your home.  For free.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Day 7 - The downside of loving to read

I have written before about my love for reading and how it eclipses everything else in my life.

The issue has come to the forefront again, with Puttachi getting hooked to books.  One part of me exults, because it means that entire worlds are going to be opened up for her, she'll never be bored if she has a good book with her, and as long as she remembers to take a book with her, no wait will ever feel long or boring.

But the other part of me worries that it will take over her life as it has mine.

A few weeks ago, I had taken her along with me to the doctor, and there was a long wait ahead.  She had a book with her, and so she didn't whine even once.  She read her book, and she was content.  When she was younger, I would have had to keep her engaged, tell her stories, convince her that there aren't many people ahead of us, device games, and still she would get bored and restless.  Yes, even if I had taken one of her books with us, and read to her from it.   Now, this reading by herself is apparently so interesting that she doesn't even remember that I am by her side, which leaves me free to ready my own book!

On the other hand, previously, she would look at everything around her and ask questions about it.  What do those boards say?  Why is that person in a wheelchair?  Why do they have a picture of bones here?  Tell me about these bones.  Why does this clock not have a second hand?  Why is this building built this way and not any other way?  What is the name of the flower we can see outside?

Isn't it important to know about the world around her?  Is it right that she gives up her curiosity about what is around her, for what is in a book?

And then there is another issue.  She has lately started preferring to read than go out to play in the park. Honestly, she has never been a completely outdoors person, and there have been many times over the years when she has preferred to stay at home and play with her toys, or paint, rather than go to the park.  Which is ok.   But now, she has yet another reason to want to stay at home.  And this bothers S, who is a very outdoors-loving person, and who believes  whole-heartedly in the power of fresh air and sunshine, and the importance of physical activity.  I believe in that too, but I can understand Puttachi's wish to read that book rather than go to the park, because I am like that too.

By getting lost in the world of books, are we missing out on our own world?

I've got to try and steer Puttachi to a middle ground - but is that fair on my part?  Drawing her away from something she apparently enjoys so much?  

Any thoughts on this?

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Day 6 - The joy of owning less

Every increased possession loads us with new weariness. -John Ruskin, author, art critic, and social reformer (1819-1900) 

This quote came along with AWAD a couple of days ago.  Coincidental, when I was just experiencing the freedom of owning just two pieces of footwear. 

Ok, to start from the beginning.  From the past few months, I've had a pain in the ball of my foot, for which I've been advised to wear special footwear, and get a bar attached to it for support.  Temporarily.  (Hopefully.)

So, in essence, I now have just one pair to wear at home, and one to wear outside.  Whether or not the outside pair suits or matches with my current outfit - I have to wear it anyway.  Initially, I felt quite wretched, not being able to wear footwear that I found elegant, but as the days flew past - what freedom it brought me!  No having to decide what to wear - will I have to walk a lot, will this suit this dress?  Nothing!  And this is being said by me, I, who at any given time in my life, possess just about 4-5 pairs of footwear!  Can't even begin to imagine how all those with dozens of pairs of footwear manage.

It reminds me of my mother telling us about how many clothes they had back when they were young.  She and her sister both together, owned 3 sarees for regular use.  And perhaps one for special occasions.  It could all fit into one single shelf of a cupboard!   And there is a Kannada phrase "mai mElondu, kOl mElondu."  "One on your back, one on the pole (a horizontal pole on which they used to hang clothes)"  - meaning, they just had two outfits.  Wear one while the other is being washed.  That's it!

Many new items that you buy force you to buy something else for them. We call this  "Sanyasi samsaara" in Kannada, referring to the traditional tale of the Sanyasi who bought a cat to get rid of the mouse that was chewing up his dhoti.  And then he had to buy a cow to provide milk for the cat, then a shed for the cow, and then an attendant to look after the cow, and so on until he ended up becoming a landed man with a wife and three children.

Sounds familiar, huh?  

I don't know about you, but I am a great believer in owning fewer things.  Those who know me well will nod their heads sagely and say that it is only because I am too lazy to maintain things, and it is my way of shirking responsibility.  Be that as it may, but for me, less things = more peace.

Day 5 - Impostor syndrome

When does a writer start being a writer? The moment she writes a word? The day she completes a piece of writing? The first time her work is published?

Turns out that for me, none of that was enough. I had won an award for a short story, had published a few children's stories in a newspaper supplement, and yet, I didn't consider myself a writer.

At a party, a friend was introducing me to someone, and she waved her hand at me, and said, "She's a writer." I looked over my shoulder to see whom she was pointing at. And then grinned sheepishly.

It was at this time that I won a prize for my children's story. What followed after that was beyond anything I had expected. First of all, my story was performed by schoolchildren. It gave me such a high. Shortly after that, The Hindu called to ask if they could do a feature on me.

It was unreal. Why would they want to do a feature on poor little me? In my head, a writer is someone mature and accomplished. And I was the opposite. So why would a newspaper want to feature me? And it wasn't even just any rag - The Hindu, of all papers.

 And then it got wilder. On the day of the interview, the photographer arrived first, and went click-click-click, making me pose, and turn, and saying - stand in the light, stand facing the light, smile, relax your features.... and I obeyed like a zombie. Just as he was leaving, the interviewer arrived, and she talked to me for about an hour. It was fun to give the interview, but the moment she left, my brain couldn't take it anymore.

It was a severe dichotomy  in my head - "what should be (a writer)" vs. "what is (me)." And I couldn't reconcile the two. Then it turned physical. My teeth started chattering, I started trembling, and my legs wobbled. I was alone at home. I heated a cup of water for myself (I was shivering too much to trust myself to brew a cup of tea.) I wrapped myself in a blanket and curled up on the sofa and sipped the hot water until my body relaxed.

And then, I started crying. I have no idea why. Hot tears flowing down my cheek like they wouldn't stop. I don't remember too much what I did.  I think I called S and my mom, but I am not sure.

And what thoughts were going on in my head?

 "This shouldn't be happening to me."
 "I'm just an average writer who had a stroke of luck - they shouldn't be making so much of me."
"I'll never be able to write another good word, and then the whole world will know I am fake."
"They should stop calling me a writer - I am not one."
"Is there any way I can get them to stop the article getting published?"

In a few hours, I was completely back to normal.  I even looked forward to the article, and though it initially shocked me to see my face printed across half a page, I enjoyed all the attention when it did come out.

Later, a conversation with my aunt revealed to me that what I was feeling was called "Impostor syndrome" and it is very real, and that I am not alone. Can't tell you how relieved I was to find that I wasn't abnormal after all!

Even then, I could not call myself a writer. I would cringe if I was refered to as a writer. Given that I hold so much esteem for writers, why do I run away from that name? Do I think so low of myself?  I don't think so. Is it a false sense of modesty? I have no idea. Or maybe my idea of a writer is someone with a book to her name or something big like that, and so I don't consider myself "there" yet. I wish I knew what it was.

Only in the last  year, I have been comfortable with that tag, and though I hesitate slightly before I say it, I do say - "I'm a writer." And the more I say it, the easier it gets.

Note:  I needed a year and a half to bring myself to write about this! Gotta thank my post-a-day effort.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Day 4 - Puttachi at Six.

Many people ask me why I don't put up Puttachi updates frequently any more.  There were many more LOL-worthy incidents when she was younger.  The way her mind worked, the funny things she said.... not that there aren't any now, but she's - let's face it - growing up!  And updates about a big little girl are not as much fun, or of interest to a general audience, as those of a little girl.

Anyway, Puttachi turned six last month, and at least for myself, I need an update post.

At this age,  this is how she is:

Her nature -
  • Still very sweet.
  • Vocal about her feelings
  • Very empathetic - cries during movies, actually seems to feel my pain if I stub my toe.
  • Very very very lavish with the hugs and the cuddles and the kisses. She likes nothing better than cuddling up to me as soon as she wakes up in the morning.  Had a luxurious time indulging in this during the summer holidays, but have limited it to three minutes now that school has started.
  • She's started showing spirit (more on that in another post)
  • Enjoys humour, loves jokes.
  • Loves to laugh.
  • Always in high spirits (90 pc of the time)
  • She still loves to talk, and does the talking for both S and me all the time.  
  • Has to be the single greatest skill she has learned in recent times - and I don't mean just learning to read - I mean loving to read books.  We are members of JustBooks, and we cannot seem to borrow books fast enough for her.
  • I have had to drag her away from books, apply time-limits, and have even had to admonish her when she reads at the dinner table.  (Sounds familiar, huh, Amma?)

Sports and Games 

  • She's been learning badminton for the last 8 months or so, and seems to enjoy it.  I'm glad I put her into an organized sport - something that will compel her to exercise regularly - her stamina has increased.
  • She loves the water- and though she cannot swim yet, she enjoys splashing about in the pool 
  • She doesn't enjoy jigsaw puzzles as much as she used to, and she loves board games.   She also enjoys word games.  She is still in love with her little tricycle.
  • She's crazy about the swing - we have a big wooden plank-swing inside our house, and she and her friends really have fun with it.
  • Increasingly plays by herself - is happy doing things on her own.  Still plays with dolls, and talks to them all the time.  Makes up elaborate stories that she enacts with her dolls, that go on and on for days.
  • Enjoys making tents with dupattas and bedsheets and setting up her family underneath them


  • I've been trying to teach her the basics of classical music.  The initial progress was slow, and then she picked it up quickly and sings pretty well.  But it is really hard to get a routine going when your teacher happens to be your mother as well.  In the middle of singing, she stops and starts telling me something funny that happened to her that day.  And if I tell her to sing a particular line 10 times until she gets it, she laughs half the time.  I've told her that she can stop if she's not interested, but she insists that she wants to learn.  So....I need to handle this differently.  Still trying to work it out.
  • Especially when she is painting or drawing, she sings under her breath constantly.  It is so much fun to watch her do that.

Art and Craft

She enjoys art and craft, and messing about with paints, and paper and scissors and glue.  She is thrilled if both of us sit together to create something new.


  • Puttachi has never been fussy about food.  She even declares sometimes that she didn't like a certain something "that much" but will finish it anyway because it is healthy.  I know, too good to be true.  But ever since she started eating all by herself (about 2 years back) - it has been a nightmare because she takes ages and ages to finish.  Either talking or dreaming.  And she insists on finishing the food on her plate, which can be really annoying at times, when I just want to clear up the kitchen and go, and when she doesn't let me feed her to hasten the process.  Finally, after two years of torture, things seem to be looking up.  There have been mis-steps, but the going seems to be good.  Phew!
  • Finally I am also getting to know her food preferences. That she prefers chapati over rice, that watermelon and sapota are her favourite fruits and she doesn't care much for mango, that she worships cashews and sev, and that she prefers eating vegetables just like that, and loves the simplest of dals.

She has a highly-favoured inner circle of friends  now, and enjoys spending long hours with them, play-acting, or just behaving silly.

What she looks like

  • She's tall for her age - lanky, long-legged. But her cheeks are still reminiscent of their childhood roundness. As she loses more and more of the little-girl look, I find myself  increasingly drawn to her baby and toddler pictures and videos.  What has remained constant is the intensity of the look in her eyes, and the way she furrows her brows when she is listening intently or concentrating, or thinking.
  • She is still in the I-want-long-hair mode, and I am cooperating.  Though, I have warned her that if it takes too long to do her hair on school mornings, I'll have to cut it to a more manageable length.  That makes her cooperate in so many ways!

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Day 3 - Storybook Me

Storybook Me is a non-profit organization that creates personalized storybooks for underprivileged children. It is the brainchild of 18-year-old Sanjana Tadepalli.  They had called for volunteer writers and illustrators for their first set of books, and I offered to write a story for them.

I was paired with an illustrator, and one child was allotted to us.  We never met the child, but were given details about her - her picture, her likes, her fears, her dreams.... Based on this, I came up with a story featuring the child, who gets to do in the book what she actually would like to do.  Then the illustrator, Manoj Nath, created the pictures.  I received a copy of the book a couple of weeks ago, and I must say it is very well-produced.  Good paper, clear print, even a glossary at the end for difficult words.  And finally, a photoshopped picture of the child with her favourite movie star, who makes an appearance in the story too! :)

The books were handed out to the children last month, and we were told that we would be sent links to the video.  I am looking forward to that, and will update this post with it.

Here are a few pictures:

The cover:

Loved the detailed illustrations by Manoj Nath.

Writer and Illustrator Bios.

No, this is not a book you'll be able to buy - there are just a handful of copies for all the, shall we say, stakeholders?

Such a good idea, isn't it, to make children feel special?

(This post is part of my one-post-a-day effort for the month of June.)

Day 2 - The Sound of Music - through the years

The Sound of Music is probably one of the first movies I ever watched.  And it is a movie that I have watched again and again throughout my life.  I'm sure that holds good for many of you.

- My earliest memories of the movie are just of those parts with the children.  At each watching, I understood more and more of the movie. Like layers of paint being applied to a canvas, each time with more detailing.

- At every age, different songs appealed to me.  Initially it was "Doe a deer."  In my teens, it was "You are sixteen" (I could sing it well too, and my friends kept asking me to sing it for them.)  Later, it changed very frequently, and has settled down to "Edelweiss" since the last few years.

- When we were young, all characters appeared black or white.  I would treat the Baroness like a wicked witch.  It was such a revelation when I watched the movie after a long gap and discovered that she was just, well, human!

- On my latest viewing (last month) I discovered that some of the songs and dialogues in the movie are totally at odds with the feminist ideas in me.  Over the last couple of years, I've become increasingly aware about social norms and patriarchy and misogyny, and I've repeatedly  discovered that many of my favourite songs and movies are so terribly chauvinistic.  It's not a good feeling - to find that something you loved before makes you uncomfortable now - but I'm not sorry. This new awareness has done me good.

- Every time I watch the movie, I view it differently. But one thing that has remained constant over the years, is my swooning over the elegance of Christopher Plummer.

- I watched the movie with Puttachi for the first time last month, and of course I had to keep up a constant explanation for her.  I had considered stopping the movie after the first half, but she would have none of it.  She even protested hotly when I insisted that we watch the second half the next day, for it is too long a movie.  I prevailed, of course, and she was restless until she got to watch the second half.

The highlight of the movie-watching with her, is this conversation:
(The song "My favourite things" is playing.)

Me: Puttachi, good idea, isn't it?  When you are scared, just like you think of your "happy place," you can also think of your favourite things and that will make you feel better.
She: Yes!
Me:  So, what are your favourite things?
She:  (thinks for a second)  You, Amma.

Didn't you see me floating with the clouds?

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Day 1 - The greatest challenge in blogging

I broke my head for over a month, wondering if I should indeed give myself this challenge.  It's one thing giving yourself a private challenge, but it is a completely different matter to make a commitment in public, and then scramble about, trying not to fall face first in the mud.  

After I put up yesterday's post, the mouse kept moving towards the delete button, but my will prevailed, and so it stays.  

But why is it so difficult to blog nowadays?  It came so easily to me before.  Now, though I have started writing professionally, it seems more difficult to articulate my thoughts on the blog.

My blog has been running for eight years.  Initially, I made up blog posts on the long commutes to and from work, and when I got to a computer, I would write it all down.  I wrote about my life, my experiences, my opinions - everything I saw would turn into a blog post.  I liked that.  I had the time to turn thoughts around in my head and format it into a nice, interesting post.   My old posts are jaunty, carefree, and fun to read, even if I say so myself! And oh, I had lots and lots of commenters, and I had the time and the patience to answer them all individually and with wit.  That made more people comment, and so, my blog was a very lively place.  

After Puttachi was born, my blog took on a whole new slant.  Posts on parenting and posts about my baby became frequent.  The young and the restless looked elsewhere, but from another direction, a whole new audience came by.  But at this point, I didn't have the time nor the energy to reply individually to comments, though I tried.  But thankfully, that didn't drive my readers away - the numbers tell me so.  But the blog is more of a one-way affair now.  It is sad, but inevitable.  

So coming back to this question, why do I blog less now?  The main reason pops right up - I am more judgmental about my writing now.  I am too critical about what I write, and before I put anything up, I think twice, and thrice, and four times, by which the urge to put that post up has long since fizzled out.  

So this challenge is my way of trying to get over that mental block.  Let's see how it goes!

Day 1 of the month-long posting challenge.
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