Karuna – A ‘special’ mother’s story

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Karuna had been up for hours that night, much before her morning alarm began ringing. The impending engagement of the day and the untold agony it entailed had kept her awake.

Karuna had a good mind to call up the authorities and say she wasn’t coming. Well, that wouldn’t be ethical. After all, she had a reputation to live up to! The IT woman, who had made in spite of all the odds, an inspirational divorcee, who had built up her work single-handedly! No, the role had to be played out!

Sighing deeply, Karuna quickly got ready, left instructions to the nanny and left without saying hello or bye to Ansh, her son.

Karuna had been invited as the chief guest at a medal ceremony of a famous school. She was to give a stirring speech, present the awards to the winning children and congratulate the parents while making adequate appreciative noises. Only she knew, how she hated that task.

Karuna managed to get through her speech with her trademark million-watt smile plastered across, after a warm welcome from the teachers. As the shining students started lining up for their medals and as the announcer waxed eloquent about their achievements, a stab of jealousy and anger shot through Karuna.

She felt like throwing the heavy cups and shields on the breathlessly proud parents who were filming every single rapturous moment. If only she could scream aloud at the unfairness of it all! Hiding her tears, Karuna quickly rushed through the ceremony, almost ran from the venue and hid in a nondescript cafe, quickly ordered a strong coffee and let her mind wander to her painful past.

Why couldn’t her Ansh be like these brilliant children? Intelligent, athletic, super smart or beautiful? Why did she have to be the chosen one for such untold punishment? It was incomprehensible that the breathtakingly beautiful and super smart she and her top grader husband Aman could conceive and birth Ansh.

Ansh was what they called nowadays, a special child. Pretty euphemistic, Karuna spat angrily. Initially, all had been good. Both the partners were earning well, investing in cars, a pad in an upscale part of the town, gold, stocks, in that order. And once into their thirties both decided to have a child. Ansh was conceived after much turmoil and multiple visits to the doctors. As an infant, he was doing ok, more or less keeping with the expected milestones. When Ansh turned two, Karuna began to comprehend something was amiss, something was wrong and Ansh wasn’t like others.

A visit to the doctor confirmed her worst fears. In her anger, she had rejected everything, shut herself away from the prying. But she couldn’t keep away from the loving boy.

Aman took the news very hard. He began to work harder and stayed away from home most of the time as if that would somehow obliterate the harsh truth. Whenever Aman entertained his colleagues, he would insist that Ansh be kept out of sight or put to sleep with the nanny overseeing. Out of sight was out of mind.

The stress, the pretenses began eating into Karuna’s psyche and it was a matter of time that Aman and Karuna separated bitterly. Truth be told, Aman did contribute generously monetary wise, but was that enough?

Karuna quit her job, started a home venture while looking after Ansh. The venture grew so did her knowledge about a special child’s needs. She refused to remarry because she felt if the own father couldn’t wholeheartedly accept his son, why would a stranger do so?

So the periodic bouts anger continued at the unfairness of it all, while she tackled life stoically, earning name and fame across the society.

But the scalding tears were shed in loneliness.

Presently Karuna paid up, confirmed with the nanny that Ansh was ok, roamed around the city, unwilling to go home yet, unwilling to face the home truths yet.

But eventually, she had to. Nanny opened the door and Karuna mechanically walked towards Ansh’s room. Ansh was dabbling with colors making bright pictures while having dinner.

As he saw her his eyes lit up, and he waved to her, beckoning her. As a listless Karuna sat next time, he tapped at his drawing and drawled, “Momma” and then offered a spoonful of his dinner. As the tears threatened to overflow, Karuna managed to gulp the food. Ansh then lay down in her lap.

As she stroked his hair, Karuna was stricken with shame.

How unadulterated was this love, untainted by societal goals or rules? She had this and she was rich. That was enough. What happened to the Karuna in her? Was it just restricted to her moniker?

Ansh was her extension, a part of her being and she would do everything to make sure, he had the best.

Agreed, every day was a struggle and the path ahead utterly lonely, but today was done and today’s lesson had been taught.

Love did heal wounds. For today!

Tomorrow? Who knew!

When Ayan Pal Talks About The Difference Between Search And Research

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, Session 6 will be with Ayan Pal on 21 May 2019, author of ‘Confessions On An Island’.

The difference between search and research

By Ayan Pal

I began my tryst with research during Engineering, not for any academic purpose, but to fuel my passion for writing instead. I was working on a historical crime fantasy set in pre-Independence India and the UK and needed to get my facts right, no matter what.

My primary source of inspiration was my prized possession – The World Book Encyclopaedia, a gift from my mom. However, the golden gilded copies could not help me complete my tour de force. In fact, it was an utter failure. I was simply searching for whatever I could find out and trying to fit them into the plot thus making it lose its level of thrill.

Thus, despite have a rock-solid story, and dollops of imagination, a lack of ‘proper’ research made my writing cumbersome and unpalatable. In short, even the ‘world’ was not enough! Having learned my lesson the hard way, I used any and every opportunity thereafter to understand how research can help one elevate one’s writing and make it more thrilling, irrespective of whether it’s a novel, short story, speech, or even a post on Facebook!

Let me begin with an exercise to try and try to use a plot point through Potassium cyanide – a poison most of you would be familiar with for its many references across crime fiction.

Option 1: It was the 24-year-old Ponnuthurai Sivakumaran from Sri Lanka whose paved the path to avoid interrogation if captured for Tamil Tigers. His act of defiance was simple – swallow cyanide hidden within the uniform as a capsule. As he stumbled upon the ground, his mouth frothing, and beginning a slow painful death, a new militant hero was born.

Debrief 1: The above option is an example of using half-baked research by scrounging through undependable sources like Wikipedia. Even though there is documented evidence about the said militant having committed suicide, his exact age and the details of where the capsule was hidden is clearly a figment of the author’s imagination. The last sentence is an absolute flight of fantasy that is more of an ill-construed opinion not based on facts. For starters, cyanide causes almost instant death, thus making the sentence unrealistic as well as incorrect.

Option 2: An Indian man MP Prasad, a goldsmith, who committed suicide left a hastily scrawled note describing the taste of the fatal toxin, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported on Saturday. “Doctors, potassium cyanide. I have tasted it. It burns the tongue and tastes acrid,” he wrote, according to the paper.

Debrief 2: I have just two words to say here – dull and boring. No attempt has been made here of using a fact to elevate the writing in any which way. While this is an example of great research, where the source is also quoted, is it necessary? Would it have been better maybe had it been done in a subtler way, say an Indian character reading the Sunday Morning Herald in Australia suddenly exclaiming to his wife about the taste of cyanide, causing her to immediately stiffen and get an idea that could change their lives forever?

While the above two pieces of writing, though flawed can actually be appreciated for conducting some sort of research, let’s look at an example that became a social-media sensation for its thrilling tone and seemingly factualness.

Option 3: There was a very recent murder case in Australia where an Indian woman killed her husband by giving him crushed Apple seeds. She & her lover have been convicted and sentenced for 22 years & 25 years in prison. I never knew till now that apple seeds contain Cyanide. I searched for the info & was surprised to find that apple seeds do contain Cyanide. This is also one reason why insects hardly hit an apple crop. They know instinctively maybe. Please ensure that the seeds are removed before eating apples. Especially children should not be given a whole apple. Instead cut, remove the seeds before giving it to them. You can google for the veracity of my observation if you have doubts. And do spread the message around to as many people as you can.

Debrief 3: This post is based on an actual case of cyanide poisoning in Melbourne, Australia where Sofia Samand murdered her husband Sam Abraham along with her former lover Arun Kamalasanan. On 21st of June 2018, the Supreme Court jailed Kamalasanan for 27 years and Sam for 22 years. Shocking, isn’t it? But not entirely true. You see, the actual incident had the woman giving her husband orange juice laced with cyanide. However, this half-truth looks almost believable with Google likely to throw up numerous results about the fact that apple seeds do contain poison. Imagine writing a book or delivering a speech to be recorded for posterity (say a TED Talk) based on fake news. What would that make people think about you?

The need to impregnate a sense of expertise and authority in the reader’s and/or listener’s mind through the use of factual data is a must, provided you vary of sources of data and actually speak with experts if you cannot experience it yourself to ensure you get the facts right no matter what.

In my novel ‘Confessions on an Island’, I have used vivid descriptions as well as dialogs to share a whirlpool of facts that not just help you understand the settings better, but also present clues that you will be able to relate with when the denouement presents itself. It being a psychological thriller, and with me being an Engineer and not doctor, I decided against doctoring the reactions of the characters and/or basing them on what I was most likely to do.

They were instead based by researching about patients who have faced similar mental issues, interacting with people with disorders like Bipolar, and actually feeling some of the many things that the characters faced. There were research and facts, there were various sources, but they were also used in sporadic amounts to ensure the content never overwhelms the countenance.

In my opinion, research is like the thread that holds the pearls of any story together, one that stays in the background and lets the real assets – the story, characters, plot, and twists shine. It is a foundation upon which the greatest of stories can be built. The moment it tries to become a pearl in itself and stand alone as a tour de force, you will end up losing the sheen in your writing, causing the carefully collected pearls to needlessly scatter.

The next time you try and pursue writing your next story, speech, or even that social media post, may the force of research be with you. Amen!

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When Sourabh talks about penning relatable Crime Fiction novels

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Festival 2019, Session 2 with Sourabh Mukherjee, author of The Colours of Passion and In the Shadows of Death.   on ‘There’s a Killer Inside Everyone’

What drives an individual to crime?

Because Murder is the last resort of the weak‘ (From Colours of Passion)

Sourabh Mukherjee who writes stories about human relationships and the way the emotions unfold, says the biggest challenge to a crime fiction writer is to create characters that are relatable because readers of today are extremely evolved, as they are reading content across the world. The readers are also exposed to diverse storytelling platforms.

He further adds, given the shorter attention span of today’s global reader, it has become imperative to craft stories that are relevant and topical.

Sourabh also touches upon the various developments that have taken place in this particular genre.

  1. The Protagonists or the crime-solvers aren’t larger than life characters. They are as human as you and me with inherent weaknesses, battling their own failures and short-comings.
  2. It is perfectly okay to have the reader figure out the ‘whodunnit‘ right in the middle rather than reveal it in the very last para
  3. More than the Who, and How, the Why is more important

Crime fiction in India is very mature and nuanced, unlike the traditional western crime fiction writing which dealt with thefts of valuables and more.

His advice to the budding crime fiction writers –

  • It is important to maintain the taut pace throughout the novel by revisiting the written chapters.
  • Hooks are paramount. So is setting up the atmospherics for an immersive experience for the reader.
  • Short chapters help to keep the readers’ engagement with the novel constant and sustain their interest.
  • Play out the crime. Delve deeper into the psyche of the killer. The moment leading up to the crime is very important. Do relevant research for a solid retrospective crime solving.
  • Relatable and realistic narrative maintaining the flow

To understand more about Crime Fiction Writing, do check the link embedded.

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Amma & Beta

IMG_2050I took the bite. And I took the plunge finally, after dawdling over the decision for months.  Thus I have come to the profound conclusion (of course subject to market risks) that Binge Watching might be good for the brain but is terrible for the body!

Now that we have dispensed with the conclusion at the very beginning, let us proceed further.

Though my son and most have been raving about ‘Sacred Games‘ I was skeptical about taking the plunge. Why you may ask. ‘She is a prude‘, you may conclude. Well, you will understand my predicament better, once you understand my watching patterns.

Once the family has been fed to my satisfaction and Hmm-Husband vacillating between IPL and sleep while Darling-Dotty wonders looking at her mountainous pile of books, ‘what is the aim of all this grind?’, I finally settle with my plate of piping hot food for some serious streaming on my laptop, content with the knowledge that I have seen this day through.

When the very first scene is all blood and gore, naturally you can’t chew on it. Neither food nor the scene. But yesterday was different.  I was in a benevolent mood towards self, as I managed to finish penning a chapter. I was willing to traverse the whole nine yards. ‘Sacred Games‘ was my reward. Like a true blue binge watcher, gave up on beauty sleep and finished the entire series in less than 24 hours. ( Let me gloat Ya, a record for me 😀 )

All through Ashwathama…Sarama…Yayati, I plodded on, pushed myself,  ‘ab aayega twist, ab aageya twist.‘ Only to have the end credits roll. Concerned that I might have missed a vital point somewhere, I called my son to reconfirm the plot. Apart from the marriage of convenience between Bollywood, Mantralaya, Police, and Ganglands, with religious violence thrown as a seasoning, what else was in the offing? ( of course, this is a very simplistic and uni-directional summarisation of the two-threaded plot)

Wasn’t all this already dealt with in Satya or in Black-Friday?

My son answered, ‘Maybe so. I will Google about Satya. Some Manoj had an awesome role na?”

I counted till three and said, ‘Bhiku Mhatre! Manoj Bajpai!’  Sonny said, ‘Mom, my generation has loved the clarity, the sheer honesty with which this ganging up together has been shown in Sacred Games. It is very raw.’

I: ‘You mean this marriage of convenience between powers-to-be and unsavory fringe elements of the society?’

Sonny: ‘ Yup mom. You will take time to get this!’

At that moment it hit me of how paleolithic I was.

But I wasn’t giving it up so easily. ‘At least you wouldn’t categorize me as pusillanimous. Would you? I am open to watching a farrago of content’

I thought I had the last word.

Sonny: ‘Looks like someone is getting ‘Tharoorised

Uff! Me thinks, I won’t go bananas. I gotta ‘scale‘ it down and watch the boy’s head weight.

Who knows what will crash and when?

We are headstrong alright! Mommieee!

Hyderabad Literary Festival 2019

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Time flies so quickly. 

I cannot believe that a week has already passed by. It seems only yesterday I was at Hyderabad. Last Sunday, I was attending the Hyderabad Literary Festival, as a delegate, for the panel discussion about ‘Women on Top’. The feisty Ms. Sudha Menon was my co-panelist with Ms. Kinnera Murthy, Director, HLF, moderating us two.

Now on a cold afternoon, I’m reminiscing fondly about that wondrous day.

It all began somewhere in October 2018, when our nominations got the nod from the HLF’s scrutinizing team comprising of Ms. Kinnera, Dr. T Vijay Kumar, Director, HLF, Professor of English, Osmania University. 

I was going back to the city where I grew up to talk about my book, my work, with my parents in attendance. The stuff dreams are made of! My happiness knew no bounds as I read the confirmation mail.

The festival was to begin on Friday, 25th January 2019 and end on Sunday, 27th January. Once the entire schedule went online, travel arrangements were made, family and friends were forewarned to keep their Sunday free for my event.

The D-Day finally arrived.

On the opening day, I landed at the sprawling Hyderabad Public School, the venue of the festival, with my mother giving me company. We were in for a humungous surprise. Right in the middle of the center court, a huge banner showcasing some of the authors slated to speak at the festival had my mug shot too.

hoarding picIt was a moment for me to cherish forever as my mom sported a 1000 Watt smile. What a colorful spectacle awaited us! The venues for the enthralling sessions in store were meticulously planned and organized. The bookshop was strategically located right in the middle. There was a huge art installation which attracted all the selfie lovers. The traditional Telangana dancers grooving to the foot-tapping music set the tempo. The venue was buzzing with book lovers, artists, artworks while simultaneous activities happened at Karvy Kanopy, Telangana Pavillion, Shaheen Hall, Tree of Life. The attendees had ‘satisfaction’ written all across their faces. The volunteers oozed warmth and energy of the festival was infectious. Big names flitted around.

I was bursting with pride just to belong.

On Saturday night the skies opened and it poured. Yet by Sunday morning on schedule, all the events rolled out. The eager volunteers made sure there were no hiccups, though the looming rain threatened to play spoilsport. Such was the enthusiasm and die-hard spirit of all involved.

Many blogger and facebook friends of mine took time out and came to support me. Their loving presence became the wind beneath my wings. Our session went well. The erudite Kinnera Ma’am asked very pertinent and thought-provoking questions and made sure the interaction was very lively.

IMG_0069The warmth we were showered upon throughout the festival made it very special. All sessions had a lot of takeaways. As the festival ended, we were left with a yearning and a longing for the sands of time that slipped by. 

With renewed energy and a stronger will to pursue our passions, we all came back with truckloads of memories to be revisited on a blue day. 

Hoping, HLF beckons soon

Fingers crossed.

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The History of Mathematics – Archana Talks

In her career as a writer, Archana has spun some terrific tales across genres. Whether it was her short stories, her Novel ‘Birds of Prey’ or the e-book ‘Tit for Tat’, they have all captivated her readers and brought in much-deserved accolades.

In ‘The History of Mathematics’, Archana touches upon known and hitherto unknown legends, mathematical concepts, mathematicians and serves up a delectable fare.

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There are 26 neatly arranged tales (nothing to do with the letters of the English Alphabet) with apt titles, captions, aided by drawings, equations, expressions and pithy quotes by the famous.

Archana Sarat speaks to us –

1. Congratulations Archana! Your book is just out and there’s a great buzz about the response to it. How do you feel?

Thank you, Anupama. Though I feel thankful that my efforts have been acknowledged and the book is loved by the readers, the entire process of writing and publishing is a surreal experience. The efforts of many people go into shaping the book: my editor, Percy Wadiwala, my publisher, Dipankar Mukherjee, my illustrator, Rayee Terdalkar and so many others. It is the Almighty’s blessing that I have all these supportive folks in my life. So, I cannot take credit for everything.

2. You have dabbled across genres. What made you take up writing on this particular subject and choosing it as a conduit for your creative expression?

I love to write very-short short stories, popularly called flash fiction. I had been toying with the idea of writing a collection of flash fiction stories on a single topic.  I have always loved mathematics and I enjoy reading books on the topic. When I chanced upon a book about the evolution of mathematics, the first few stories from ‘The History of Mathematics’ gushed into my head with hardly any effort.

3. How did you approach the writing of your novel? Was there anything particularly challenging when you took up writing on this subject?

Initially, I had just wanted to write stories that show us how math evolved. As my research intensified, I understood that mathematics, as we know it today, is the result of India’s invaluable contributions to this field. This was when I decided that at least half of the book must include India’s contribution to mathematics.

This decision became my biggest challenge. This was because there was hardly any information available about renowned Indian mathematicians like Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Bhaskara I, etc. These men were extremely humble, and they wanted their work to speak for itself and did not believe in attaching their names to their contributions. Did you know that we have no historical data about Aryabhata who wrote Aryabhatiya when he was just twenty-three years of age? Except for that one piece of information, we know nothing else about him though he is our country’s leading astronomer, physicist, and mathematician. So, research became a nightmare while I worked on this book.

4. The scope of the subject chosen is vast. How did you decide, how much to tackle, when and where to leave?

I’ve hardly covered a drop in the ocean as far as the history of mathematics is concerned. In this book, I have covered the time period from early ages till the eleventh century CE. I haven’t spoken about the contributions of China, Egypt, and the Arabs. I’ve also not written about the Kerala mathematicians. I will cover all this in a sequel to this book.

5. Why should anyone read your book? Who is your target audience? Can you sum up the journey of your book in two sentences?

We are at a difficult time in history when half the population is disillusioned with our country and the other half is taking pride in all the wrong things. I think reading this book can help clear our perspectives and allow us to see what a great nation we are.

The target audience for this book would be anybody from 8 to 88 years of age. Both math enthusiasts and history enthusiasts would enjoy the book.

To sum up the journey of my book, I must say that it was a labour of love. Nothing else but the unfettered passion to the idea kept me slogging through a dozen books on this topic.

6. Why do you think some children fear maths? Any tips to them to overcome their fear? Does this book help in any way overcoming those worry pangs?

Not just children, all of us fear things that we cannot understand be it cooking, ghosts or rappelling. The only way to overcome this fear is to make efforts to understand and appreciate the thing that scares us. This is where teachers, parents, and books, like this one, can help. When children read that the knowledge of mathematics is inborn, it dispels their fear of the topic. Also, the book contains a few tips and tricks from the Egyptians that make certain mathematical calculations easy.

7. Some say we are dumbing down as we are becoming tech-dependent by the hour.  Would a peek into the history of mathematics make us more analytical?

Becoming tech-dependent may not be a bad thing. When books became popular for the first time in history, parents chided their children for reading. They wanted them to go out and play. Parents did not allow the kids to read while eating. Now, I’m sure all parents would be happy to allow their child to read rather than sit glued to the computer or mobile screen. So, these things keep changing with the times.

However, even in these times, I strongly feel that being analytical may be good in certain things like reading and studying. The mere act of scratching out numbers on a paper using a pencil feels therapeutic to me. This is the reason why I have included many stories that talk about clay tablets, maintaining accounts using tally sticks, counting using beads, etc.

8.  What next? What defines you? Do you have anything specific to share with your readers that you learnt while writing this book?

My hands are itching to write a thriller next. It is my most favourite genre. It has been a long time since Birds of Prey, my debut psychological crime thriller.

Two things I learnt while writing my recent book are tolerance and perseverance. All new ideas face opposition. People cannot tolerate change and they find it easier to remove the person suggesting the change rather than remove their old habits. This is where perseverance comes into play. Our yesteryear mathematicians stuck on steadfastly and stood for their views. If you don’t stand up for something, you will fall for anything!

9. What do you think is the future of reading/writing in India?

A research study shows that we are reading much more than ever before in history, though this is predominantly in the form of Facebook posts, WhatsApp messages, Quora answers and Scroll articles. The future of reading and writing is bright in India provided the content is engaging and is presented in a pleasing manner. Shoddy covers, pathetic editing and meandering stories will not work anymore.

10. Any advice for other writers and budding writers?

Read.

Read in the genre that you write.

Read in other genres too.

Read bestsellers.

Read prize-winners.

Read all others too.

For every 1000 words that you write, read 10,000.

Pune International Literary Festival

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On October 5th, 2018, my first novel #WhenPadmaBaniPaula completed 6 six months since its launch on Amazon. What better way to celebrate that milestone than talk about my very first LitFest sessions at #PILF!

Pune, Ganpati, and Books have been defining elements of my life. When a chance came from #Readomania to do a book-reading session followed by a ‘Why my book’ pitch, at #PILF, I grabbed it with both my hands. For a first time novelist like me, this is a tremendous exposure and a huge platform to talk about my book.

5 years since its inception, PILF’s Mission has been to give Pune its first ever English literary festival. To create an exciting and interactive platform in Pune for writers, publishers, and readers. To showcase talented authors/writers/creative personalities from all media and demystify the gloss around the creative word.

PILF Vision is to engage, explore and experiment with all forms and genres of the written word inspiring you to fall in love with the written word, and light the lamp of knowledge!

PILF is held annually at Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration,  Yashada. The Pune International Literary attracts over 170 authors, writers, filmmakers, artists, and various other personalities every year and visitors learn by interacting with these luminaries.

On 28 September 2018, PILF was inaugurated by H.E. Lorenzo Angeloni and Shobhaa De, Friday. The three-day festival was graced by guest speakers like Anita Nair, Bhawana Somaaya, Gurcharan Das, Honey Irani, Kavita Kane, Ravi Subramanian and many many more

http://pilf.in/index.html

Readomania had a big presence at this Litfest, represented by the Head honcho Dipankar Mukherjee, Aditya Gautam, Archana Sarat, Deepak Sapra, Mona Verma, Sinjini Sengupta, Sutapa Basu, and me.

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 12.23.21 AMTo see such hugely talented writers who are very passionate and also equally down to earth is educational in itself.

Do read about Manjiri Prabhu -Author of ‘The Cosmic Clues’ and ‘The Astral Alibi’ published by Random House, USA – Festival Director of Pune International Literary Festival #PILF – it is a very invigorating story, will fill you with new energy because the sky is the limit if one is diligent.
Pune is known for its warmth but the PILF Team took it to next level of hospitality. Well organized and detailed. If you want to take a deep and contemplative journey through history, literature, movies, and art, then Pune International Literary Festival is where you must be.

Note to self – I will be back! With new stories!
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