Wednesday, April 28, 2010


The other day I was being driven by my son from Noida to Delhi. The young drive fast. Today, on top of that, there was an unending stream of calls to and from his cell which were being handled, thanks to power steering, sometimes with one hand on, and at others, off the steering wheel.

I was appalled not so much by what was happening in the car,but by what must have been happening in the innumerable cars on the road all crawling and jostling for space and all similarly occupied.

Studies have shown that even the use of speaker phones distracts the attention of the driver increasing the chances of meeting with an accident manyfold.

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Friday, April 23, 2010



The other day while surfing channels on TV, my attention was arrested by a scene from a 70s movie VAJETE where the son, Angad (Kunal Kapoor), a flight cadet, is leaving for his advanced training. The scene has the first class compartment in the background with the parents, Shashi Kapoor, the father and Rekha the mother are facing the son. All professionals and masters at emoting. The father, composed with a stoic continence hiding the turmoil inside, the mother's face overwhelmed with a plethora of diverse emotions clearly depicting the whole gamut: pride in her son, her affection for him, pain of the looming separation and also apprehension and uncertainty of the future, while the son is torn between feelings of leaving the parents and the excitement of soon joining his comrades.

The scene then cuts away to the sitting room of the parents in Bombay. Both a bit distraught: as Kapoor hands over a coffee mug to Rekha who breaks down in a flood of tears with the gates of pent-up emotions opening wide. ‘Let me Cry, Let me Cry,’ she wails between her uncontrolled sobs as Kapoor tries to comfort her unsuccessfully.

The scene did hit some emotional cord deep inside reminding once again that the fate of the servicemen is that they inevitably have to leave their loved ones behind more often than not for the frequent calls of duty.

On such occasions, overwhelmed and preoccupied with my own feelings, emotions, excitements and apprehensions, I had been only mildly conscious of the turmoil going on inside of those whom I was leaving behind over and over again many times during a span of 30 years of service in the Army...

Possibly the first time such a situation arose was when I left along with my brother for Lucknow. I do not recall the occasion but I must have been too excited of the prospect ahead of me, of joining the university, to notice the feelings or emotions of my parents.

Things started to become clearer and more specific once I started receiving calls for training at the erstwhile NDA now known as IMA in 1954.

`Today I have sold my son!’ exclaimed my mother with tears in her eyes; a simple, affectionate and loving lady from a village. My father had just signed the bond required before a cadet could report at IMA. The truth of what my mother had said dawned on me now and I realised that one has to pay a heavy price for wearing ‘OG’.

I could only wave half heartedly at my father that day. Unaware of his feelings at that time and on my way from Naniatal to Kathgodam from where I was to catch the train to Dehradun. He was preoccupied with the ongoing strike by the roadways employees and the insipient riot-like situation on the road down and waved me on to push ahead quickly without stopping.

Every time I left my parents behind to report for duty, I would turn to look back at the threshold of my home where my mother stood. She always had a melancholy demeanour and a faraway look in her eyes as if to discern what lay ahead in the future. In contrast was the “matter of fact” demeanour on my father’s as he came to see me off at the bus stand or the railway station as the case may be.

Later another set of those being “left behind” was formed when I met my future wife Rosy (Jeet). She, along with the family, had come to see me off at the Dehradun bus stand. As the bus started off towards Saharanpur, Rosy was hidden from my eyes but not from my mind. I was in a trance, lost in my own thoughts of the short time I had spent with her, totally unaware of her feeling at that time; those that I was to learn much later, post her demise, from her jottings in my diary.

The picture of hurt in Jeet’s eyes, Jeet as I called her post marriage, and her saddened expression accompanied me all the way back to Pathankot to join duty, when I had to leave immediately after the delivery of our daughter and also later when, like a good soldier, I abandoned my wife of less than two years and the child of nine months or so to join the unit by 29th October 1959 in far away Assam. ‘Abandoned’ was the word she had used then and again many times later to remind me of her mental state on being left behind. What she was feeling at that moment of separation, of being torn from the father’s lap, in her child’s mind and limited experience of world is more difficult to describe or visualise.

The sad lament of the engine's whistle more so as heard in summer nights while sleeping on the terrace of our village home, had a lot more to do with both Jeet and me in later life. It would be reminding us night after night of my impending departure, causing so much pain, by the same train till one late night I would leave her behind tearing my-self from the last embrace, words unsaid to answer the call of Army. I can only visualize her feelings at that juncture. However, I was utterly miserable walking in that dark night, each step taking me farther and farther away from her, silent and lost in my own thoughts with no words being exchanged with the person accompanying me to the station to see me off.

The tenure in Armament Research and Development (ARDE) was immensely enjoyable and satisfying and of a settled life. Then I took the risk of changing track once again; changing from a scientist to a soldier once again. I left for the long journey from Poona, in the last week of December 1970, to the far east of India, this time to Kalimpong in West Bengal. By this time the children were of an age that they would have experienced their own feelings on the parting.

These partings and reunions happen off and on at varying intervals during the service career. A fate ordained for those who serve and their families, so others can sleep in peace and in the comfort of the feeling of security, unaware of the traumatic experience at every of one of those frequent partings.

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Monday, April 19, 2010


I am a retired Brigadier with a post graduate degree in Physics, son of a District magistrate, with brothers...all with post graduate degrees, a sister married to an IPS Officer who retired as DG, siblings all doing well and at top levels in chosen fields, my own children no less. A second generation out of a village, proud of my heritage and background... when one day suddenly I became, to my horror, an OBC, that too with retrospective effect...even my father and grandfather and all down the chain.

The real OBC, as I look back was the high-cast `Brahmin Cook`:the undisputed ruler of the kitchen, proud of his sacred thread & loin-cloth and happy with a salary of a couple of rupees. That was at Gorakhpur during 1937-38,

'Til now I was proud of my status and my background but now I am extremely chary and making all efforts to hide my OBC Status.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Depressing view

Returning home from a seminar on "Digital Divide", I see a depressing sight from the window of the train: of Humans defecating and Pigs wallowing, all in public view. What DIVIDE would one name the spectacle? The divide between those in the cool comfort of the train and those outside and quickly falling behind from view or the one between the pigs and the Human beings, still facing each other outside.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010



(Temple of Lord Venkateswara located in the hill town TIRUPATI/ Tirumala of Andhra Pradesh. The temple is built on the Venkatadri hill, one of the seven hills of Tirumala, and hence is also known as the Temple of Seven Hills (Saptagiri in Sanskrit). The presiding deity of the temple, Lord Venkateswara, is also known by other names - Balaji or Srinivasa..The temple is reportedly the richest and the most visited place of worship in the world. The temple is visited by about 50,000 to 100,000 pilgrims daily, while on special occasions and festivals, like the annual Brahmotsavam, the number of pilgrims shoots up to 500,000, making it the most visited holy place in the world.)

After a long and tiring hopper flight, with a 50 minute halt at Hyderabad, from Indira Gandhi International Airport Delhi in the North of India to Tirupati down South and other activities on arrival, I was in a deep sleep when a strange rumbling woke me up. The time by my watch on the side table was 3 A.M.

Curiosity won over the desire to turn and fall back to sleep, I parted the curtains and witnessed a strange phenomena; a line of buses, nose to tail, chock full of people, all proceeding in the same direction, headed towards the Temple of Lord Venkateswara. Sandwiched in between and where ever possible were cars of all makes and sizes, scooters, motor cycles, three wheelers and the more devoted, barefoot, trudging in the same direction travelling on the road just across my road facing room.

Leaving the cool confines of my A.C. room and in my ruffled kurta pajama, I walk down the long corridor, take the lift down to the lobby already full of the more affluent, awaiting their cars and limousines . The two lifts are busy disgorging guests from upper floors: fat parents, lissome girls, press ganged teenage boys, shabbily garbed in loose T shirts with baggy shorts, sleepy with disinterest pasted on their demeanour. Large families, singles and newly-weds all on the same mission.

Some of them, with full heads of dark and curly hair and others with thick mane of shiny hair will soon return, sans their crowning glory with shining tops, having offered their most cherished possession to Balaji.

On a similar mission I see a large contingent of the IETE Council members, assembled for the MTS (Mid Term Symposium) and council meeting scheduled at Tirupati with their consorts, some limping and shuffling uncomfortably, due vagaries of age and assorted ailments, but with determination written on face for the climb and traversing of the long serpentine path to the ten seconds, allowed to face, pray, beg and say what one wanted from the idol of Lord Venkateswara.

Braving the searing heat of 43 degree Celsius, I walked out of the lobby of Hotel Fortune Kences towards the hotel gate bang on to the Renigunta road to watch the strange spectacle from close up. However, after three minutes of torture, with burning and smarting eyes from the diesel particles that has found place under the eyelids, I make a hasty retreat to the comfort of my room.

The double glass glazed window and the thick curtains are fighting a losing battle with the rumble of traffic outside, the banshee of the innumerable vehicle horns, some blowing in unison others piercingly individual . The annoying jingle repeated ad nauseam before and after the recorded announcements from the PA system of the APSRTC bus terminal, the buses emerging in an unbroken stream like ants from there subterranean abode. The Tirupati railway station is also within walking distance, not that I have walked it to, but it also makes its presence felt with the rumble and tooting of long whistles from the passenger or the frequent goods trains stopping or passing through.

Getting out of the confines of the AC room for a change my forays outside has been few and far between. Tirupati, with no respite from traffic, at least in the vicinity of the hotel, is the most polluted town. Even in the Metropolis the road traffic tapers down by 3 A.M but not so in Tirupati, “The Town That Never Sleeps”, and giving little time for the air to recharge.

The inauguration of the MTS on the theme “Taking Telecom & IT Revolution to Rural India - Bridging the Digital Divide”, where during the technical sessions I am also a speaker, is held in Shri Venketswara University auditorium, located in the green pollution free campus, so different from the main town but a welcome change. My Committee meeting, the first one scheduled for 9.30 A.M, has only me, the chairman, present at the venue: the Board Room of the Hotel. Members returning from their late night forays have more important agenda: wash, clean, change, breakfast and more importantly, in some cases, catch up on the missed winks.

MTS over, the committee meetings attended or not attended, having made their statements and presence felt, getting excused from the Council meeting mid-way to catch the return trains or flights, I am one of the few left ‘til the end of the day.

The hectic construction activity visible on the drive to the Airport for my return flight confirmed that development will soon catch-up and engulf Tirupati too. The vast open spaces would soon become concrete jungles.

For once my jacket and tie, ‘til now the butt of jokes from some of the casually and if I may say so improperly dressed council members, came in handy. The Airport Manger personally escorted me to the A/C Lounge to await the delayed flight while leaving other members to wait with sundry passengers in the sweltering hall with ceiling fans on the blink. This only strengthened my resolve to be dressed appropriately for the occasion whatever the environmental conditions are. One can always dress down if required, however the reverse is not possible and can leave one embarrassed.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010


As told by Ashok to me...

Of late the old faithful, less of a car more a family member, Esteem, had been trying to tell me something about her ailment. Having learnt how to filter-out the clutter and unmindful of her sluggishness noticed or unnoticed during our frequent outings together and as a reflex action I would press the accelerator a bit more, increasing the RPMs, to achieve the normal speed.

Come one day it was my turn to pick The VKs' for a social late in the evening in Delhi, some distance from Noida.

Getting dressed, I opened the door and slid in to the driving seat, cranked the engine, pushed the clutch, engaged the gear and pressed on the accelerator, simultaneously releasing the brakes. Expecting the normal surge of taking off I was surprised to note it missing and the reluctance in the Esteem to speed up; the "nagging" appeared to have become louder and more persistent.

I picked up the waiting VKs' from their place across the road and cajoled the Esteem into gaining some momentum and speed.

The loud nagging from the Esteem soon became a whimpering as we laboured up the slopes of the numerous flyovers en route. Somehow, though reluctantly, she did make it and carried us on to Subroto Park.

We were drinking and making merry inside while she, acutely aware of her debility and lack of energy making it difficult her to serve her master, was weeping outside.

Late at night for the return journey to Noida, the engine did pick up immediately on turning the key but with little power being transmitted to the driving wheels it was a slow and agonising takeoff.

Looking at the car’s state my worries increased many fold; even the thought of a chance break down, in the middle of night, far away from any help with a lady accompanying us was unthinkable.

Keeping my fingers crossed, praying all the while, I cajoled her into slowly crawling back, at least to the VK’s place, which she did luckily. However, it needed a push, by the colony guard on to the road to Ashoka House.

Loyal as ever, gasping for breath and with a valiant effort, somehow, she made it to the gate of the house. And there, with hardly any energy left, having performed her last act of duty for the master she gave a sigh and died on the spot.

The mechanic called the next morning, diagnosed a worn-out clutch and a pressure-plate with no pressure left.

All the while, ignoring the signals from the car, the clutch slipping, I had been, as a reflex, compensating for the loss of power by pressing on the accelerator till both the clutch and the pressure plate gave way completely.

Moral of the Story ‘Give due attention to Nagging: Wife or Car; Man or machine ’


I got a call early this morning from Gurdeep: Juli was no more and had left for her heavenly abode on the 2 April.The children had lost their Juli Aunty, well loved by them , she a good fried of my late wife , possibly that was the reason she would call me often.
A christian married to a Sikh, a qualified doctor from Lady Harding New Delhi; never practiced, devoting her time in bringing up the children and looking after Gurdeep .

Always cheerful, smiling she would bring sunshine where she went.
The family followed both the religions the church and the Gurudawara

Our friendship dated from 1979-80 when we were next door neighbours on Generals Road,in MHOW, proud occupants two second World War . How It happened is a small story given in the extract from My book 'A Soldier’s Journey through Life with Two Wives'

"….It was a T shaped structure, that I was allotted, with a
large compound difficult to maintain, …

…..We also fashioned a swing, the ropes hung from one of the branches of the Keeker
tree. Dimpy, Minni and Sandy the adorable children of Lt Col Gurdeep and Juli, his
non practicing, doctor wife our next door neighbours were soon attracted as if by the
magnet to the swing and so did the two daughters Anu and Anjana of Lt Col Ravi
Kumar both Directing Staff at College of Combat, living across the road.

The swing made us the favourite uncle and aunt of the kids and soon the three
families became intimate friends. The cycle trips with the children to Bercha Lake on
Sundays acted as another binding factor further cementing the families together.

Our new found friendship also resulted in a forced gift of a Pomeranian pup by
Juli. It was a bit of a problem and a nuisance in the beginning; crying, whining and
yelping through those cold winter nights missing the warmth and the security of his
mother. After a few mornings of bleary eyes due to lack of sleep we managed to wean
him and he soon adopted us as his foster parents adding one more member to the
family at Mhow. Duffy our other dog, a Lasha Apso was also a forced gift from Brig
Tewari when we were posted at Ranchi..."

Gurdeep was speaking from GOA where the family had gone for her burial next to the graves of her parents, it was her last wish and were rushing back to Chndigarh for the ceremonies according to the Sikh customs. I wish Gurdeep strength to
bear the loss with fortitude

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Friday, April 2, 2010



The car, weaving carefully through the chaotic traffic of the Rajpur road, traveled earlier so many times and associated with a string of memories, soon took a turn to the Diversion Road to Mussoorie, and then branching off to a narrower road, new to me, twisting and turning up the steep gradient and then suddenly down a short cobbled path through a narrow gate, just wide enough for the Esteem to pass through. Set in the boundary wall of roughly hewn stones inscribed with 'AT LAST', the name of the house, written in bold letters, on the right handside post.

En route, I had learnt that the late Khandri,'Charlie' to his friends, had designed and supervised the construction of what he called his 'Dream House'. Unfortunately, the enjoyment of the fruits of his labour was woefully shot.

The path ended at the carport with two new looking cars, an Esteem and a Santro parked in parallel. The house, quaint looking, a balanced design of the modern and the classic, was noticed later but first the eyes caught sight of the large collection of ornamental plants, some exotic the others more familiar, arranged aesthetically. The recent rains had added extra life to the plants and they were looking so cheerful and inviting. Ahead was a small pond with a wrought iron candlestick in the middle with an assortment of plants and creepers surrounding it.

A small pathway connected the natural beauty outside with the charm of the house inside. Entering the lobby, one was greeted with artifacts, antique and modern, arranged in perfect harmony. The Clock with Roman numerals and the swinging pendulum, so popular in the 30's hanging on the wall was the first to catch the eye. The Harmonium, with the foot-operated bellows in the corner, which reminded me of my school days and the music teacher, shared the space with the modern Computer and the push-button Phone on the table. There were numerous photos, pictures and paintings hanging on the four walls. A couple of flower arrangements added to the charm and the piles of hard-cover books stacked around showed the taste of the occupants. My eyes wandered unashamedly though with genuine interest and appreciation of the decor.

Moving in, slightly uncertain and a bit apprehensive, me, a stranger who had tagged along, possibly uninvited, though not an intruder, was introduced to and welcomed by Roshni, the young and very young looking daughter of the house, a U.K. educated Landscape expert, now a practicing consultant.

Through the hall with lovely carpets strewn around covering the rough floor, the main surprise was still awaiting. Emerging on to the wide verandah, the eyes fell on a vista of verdant forest. Two rows of thick growth of trees extending far and merging with Mussoorie hills in the background and monsoon clouds some fluffy and others dark gray, pregnant and heavy with moisture, slowly floating in the azure sky.

I was suddenly in the backyard of nature, pristine, untouched and unspoiled by modern development; paradoxically standing in and watching from a house with all possible modern conveniences; an unusual combination, rarely encountered.

The gradually sloping ground, designed and landscaped, no doubt by Roshni, the in-house consultant, the well manicured lawns, connecting the house with wilderness, it took me some effort to turn the eyes from the veritable feast in front and give attention to Usha, the graceful hostess, advancing towards us with hands outstretched and a welcoming smile. Introductions over, we were regaled with the stories lovingly told and history recounted of the various items of interest, plants, bushes, creepers, with nostalgia and unmitigated pleasure. And there was much to talk about, mostly of relics rescued from the past, the wrought-iron chairs, the benches on the lawn below, the ancient cast-iron cooking range, now a stand for plants in small pots, books and paintings, old survey maps of Dehradun and, now, Uttranchal on the wall, medals, belonging to Usha's late Father-in-law, a second World War veteran.

Savita, one of the late arrival, the graceful wife of the General who was away on some important mission which Generals normally attend to even when retired, was gracious enough to spare a few words of small talk with me, an old foggy Brigadier. Thanks to the Army culture, a family that creates a strong bond; you drop four names and one of them would be common and known to those around,

The spread on the table, served by a maid and a cook-cum-bearer, catering to every taste; icedtea, coffee, hot tea with or without sugar and among other numerous items of eats, including the 'Cake' was sumptuous to say the least.

On that balmy July evening, the temperature and humidity changing by the minute with the occasional gust of wind adding momentum to the slowly blowing breeze, the eye and mind would turn again and again from the animated discourse going on, and despite the nagging distraction from the slightly confused dachshund, desperately trying to gain the attention of the visitors, to the dance of light and shade being performed beyond.. The shafts of light, from the now, low evening sun, piercing the gaps in the randomly floating clumps of clouds, playing hide and seek, like theatre stage spotlights illuminating different sections of the landscape, shifting by the minute; now on the rows of the trees and then on the gorge in between, a slow, enthralling performance to be watched and savoured.

Away from the hustle bustle of the town, even if for a short time, parked in the heart of nature with a feeling of utter peace and quiet within, I was suddenly reminded that it was time to leave. Reluctant to tear away, every one lingering as long as politely possible on the goodbyes, we finally did so with Usha, ever a graceful hostess, taking the trouble to see us off.

In a somewhat euphoric mood and wishing to pay a compliment, I addressed Usha "Ma’am, you live in Heaven", "Yes," she said, "But…," having said that she quickly turned and disappeared within the house without even once looking back, possibly trying to hide the unshed tear.

Overwhelmed with emotion, memories and the unsaid '…' conveyed far more than by what was said during the past hour or so of our stay there. Was the animated conversation an unbroken stream? A face? A camouflage to cover the inner turmoil and the pain of loneliness?

Until then I had not realized that one single word could convey so much pain and longing. On the other hand, similarly distressed, I need at least two.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Plastic Soldier

The other day while at the Noida Golf Course for an evening of socializing; now long retired, then Captains and Lieutenants all veterans of the 1962Sino Indian conflict in NEFA, the conversation somehow veered to our personal experiences of those days. I was the Signal officer of Seven Brigade that faced the brunt of the Chinese attack, commanded by Brig JP Dalvi and I casually mentioned about my book, ‘Letters from the Border’, about my experiences of the Operation Leghorn as the Seven Brigade operation was named. Looking at me one of them queried, ‘How was Brig Dalvi?’ ‘He was a nice person,’ I spontaneously responded. ‘No’ he insisted, ‘but how was he as a Soldier?’ Before I could reply another present injected, ‘He was a ‘Plastic Soldier.’

Having been a close witness to what had been happening to him as the commander of the ill fated brigade and his troops beginning the 8th of October and culminating in the decimating of the Brigade on the 20th October 1962, this sudden and unexpected assault took me aback, I wondered as to what was implied by the sobriquet ‘Plastic Soldier.’ Was Dalvi ever allowed to do ‘Soldering’ and what soldering is as the brigade commander’s level? Forget about soldering, the question remains was he even allowed exercising command? Dalvi, in any case had done enough soldering in his life at the level where real soldering is done; serving with Baluch regiment during the Second World War being also mentioned in dispatches for gallantry. And later having two command tenures first that of the 4th Battalion of Guards and later the 1st Guards.

If he was at all plastic it was not by character but by the constant battering from the higher commanders that made him in to a thin foil with no elasticity left. In their wisdom, the higher-ups ensured that Dalvi remained divorced from his HQ, staff and communications. He was either on move or sitting in wilderness with his GSO 3, the intelligence officer, the rover radio-set operator, the cipher operator and the radio mechanic for company for days together. The man pack Radio Set no 62 which could be operated only when static on the Brigade Command net was his sole link with the out side world. He was denied any decision making authority. Even the brigade was moved forward from the concentration area at Lumpu to Tsangdhar and the valley of River Namka Chu without his knowledge by the new Corps Commander. As the matter stood, the command of the brigade was being exercised even a day earlier to 20th October, thousands of miles away from the place of operation by the Corps Commanded lying on his sick-bed in Delhi. This view is reinforced by what Capt HS Talwar, the troop commander of 17 Para Field, who had drifted that evening in the brigade HQ had to say: ‘That night (19 October) I had a meal in the Brigade Mess bunker in the company of six to seven officers. The gathering included the Commander Brig Dalvi, the Brigade Major Rex Kharbanda, the DAA & QMG Pereira the IO Capt Tushar Gupta, the Signals officer Capt Lakshman and the OC Mortar Battery Maj Balraj Nijjer. In the midst of this setting, the shrill ring of the Telephone Type J, interrupted the proceedings to indicate that the GOC, Niranjan Prasad, wanted to speak to the Brigade Commander Dalvi. The GOC wanted another company strength or so to be moved to Tsangle, besides the platoon of 1/9 GR which was already on the way. Dalvi was seemingly not prepared to accept this order on grounds that Tsangle out-post had no Tactical significance and was an additional drain on the stretched administrative resources of the Brigade. Some hot words were exchanged and in exasperation Dalvi offered to resign from the command of 7 Brigade. I was a complete outsider and witnessed the whole drama with a degree of detachment.

If this makes Dalvi ‘Plastic’, he definitely was of that genre, but that makes everyone in the chain of command ‘Plastic’ starting from the Division, the Corps, the Command, right up to Army HQ.

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I am a non practicing Hindu in that I do not follow rituals or visit places of worship, I am a Hindu because I was born Hindu, I am non practicing as I was born to liberal parents, way back in Thirties, who gave me the freedom of choice. I am proud to be a Hindu as it permits me a way of life which I want to follow. However, I do wonder that if these self-proclaimed protectors of the Hindu religion, the Togadias, the Singhals and other like minded achieve their Utopian dream will I have to put-on a Dhoti, a Tilak, a Bodi that too on my bald head and carry a Trishul in my hand to proclaim my religion.

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