Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Oscar Postscript

Of my three predictions, only one- the Best Actress award for Ms. Mirren- has materialized. Mr. Forest Whitaker’s award winning portrayal of the ousted Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin- his artful depiction of shades of humanity in what is unquestionably the Face of Evil à la Herr Bruno Ganz's characterisation of Adolf Hitler in Der Untergang (2004)- confirms my previously-voiced suspicion regarding “the Academy’s penchant for rewarding reel-life portrayals of real-life figures”. As far as this year’s Oscars go, General Idi Amin has waltzed away with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth (which is probably what happened at the customary post-Oscar Governor’s Ball).

Most intriguingly, The Departed, the one film I had expected not to win, was awarded Best Picture, while its director, Mr. Martin Scorsese, has walked away with the Best Director trophy. I attribute this to two possible factors: first of course is the sympathy Academy members must have felt towards Mr. Scorsese, who hadn’t won a single Oscar despite being nominated at least six times; secondly, the fact that of the five nominated films, only The Departed- ‘my first film with a plot,’ as its director describes it- told a truly all-American tale, and one that felt closest home to members of the Academy: a story of convoluted LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) cops. The Rest- especially my choice, Babel- might have been, well, a bit too exotic. Ironically, this undermines the much-touted claim of the 2007 Oscar as having been ‘a celebration of international cinema’.

Sympathy also accounts for Ms. Jennifer Hudson’s winning Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She might not have become the ‘American Idol’ but that didn’t stop her from gaining the nation’s sympathy as the hit show’s most loved underdog contestant. In my opinion, Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) was by far, the best choice: her understated performance as an undersexed deaf-mute teenager, especially when juxtaposed against the alienation of contemporary Tokyo, powerfully epitomizes the angst of youth everywhere. Mr. Alan Arkin's role in Little Miss Sunshine, as an over-the-top nymphomaniac Vietnam war veteran heroin-addict 'Grandpa', fits well with the edgy-humour style perfected by him at the Second City Comedy troupe at Chicago. It is well worthy of the Best Actor in a Supporting Role award.

As far as Ms. Ellen DeGeneres’ performance as the show’s hostess went, I think it was just a tad too edgy: vacuuming the red carpet in the middle of the ceremony might make for good slapstick; but it also hints at an unwarranted desperation for getting laughs out of an equally desperate 'we're-here-to-enjoy-the-evening' audience that is only too willing to oblige. Hopefully, she should have several more Oscar nights lined up to hone her comical craft.

AJ Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Monday, February 26, 2007


SNT turns 42 today (although I overheard him tell someone that he's hit the half-century mark). I surprised him last night- at the precise stroke of the midnight hour- with an impromptu cake (courtesy: Mr. Monty) the moment we returned home after attending a wedding at Pallari, some sixty kilometres away.

The first photograph shows SNT cutting the cake, with a little help from Papa and me.

In the next one, the birthday baby is force-feeding the first slice- and a very large slice at that- to Papa. I can be seen trying to save Papa from an otherwise inevitable bout of indigestion. (SNT's rather skewed version is that I was trying to steal a piece for myself before Papa could eat it!) Manoj, Papa's attendant, can be seen beaming in the background.

The following evening witnessed heavy-duty partying at SNT's hideout by a very select gathering. While photographs were taken by the incorrigible Girish, it's for the best if they are not displayed here for fear of evoking the censor board's- not to mention, the ever-trusting Mrs. SNT's- wrath!

In any event, I wish SNT all the very best.


Picture (dis-)credit: Pammu Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Friday, February 23, 2007

Obituary: Shyama Charan Shukla: End of An Era

Note: This article was published in the Daily Chhattisgarh newspaper on 25.02.2007, on the eve of Mr. Shyama Charan's teravi (thirteenth-day ceremony). Its Hindi translation, done with assistance from Mr. SNT, was printed in Haribhoomi on 02.03.2007.

The Absent Writer
As a rule, all statesmen upon turning 65, more so those who have borne witness to, or participated in, what Arjun Singh once described as “the cavalcade of History”, should document- in most cases, this would simply mean, dictating to their longtime secretaries- their memoirs, both as a Testament to a bygone Era and as a Beacon for Posterity. Never before in the five-year young history of Chhattisgarh has the breach of this normative-rule been felt more acutely than in the passing away of Shyama Charan Shukla, thrice chief minister of the erstwhile state of (undivided) Madhya Pradesh. The fact that it was not uncommon for his contemporaries to do so- D.P. Mishra, his sometime adversary and R.P. Noronha, his first chief secretary, to name two, did indeed pen riveting, even brutally honest, accounts of their ‘Days under the Sun’ (in the latter’s case, this was titled ‘A Tale told by an Idiot’)- makes the paucity of Mr. Shukla’s would-be memoir even more unfortunate.

The most obvious question then is this: why did Mr. Shukla not leave behind his memoir, not even a diary? The answer, in my opinion, cuts to the core- the sine qua non- of his life and politics: to the very end, he remained a never-say-die fighter. “I shall return,” he told his grandson, Bhavani, some four days before he was finally airlifted back to Raipur, “walking on my feet.” In retrospect, that sounds overtly optimistic, even naïve. The carcinoma of prostrate had been detected some four years ago; back then, it was in its early- curable- stage. However, discounting allopathic treatment for fear of its ‘side-effects’, he opted for a regimen of ayurvedic herbal remedies. This is in sharp contrast to my father, who would gladly become a guinea pig for an as-yet-untested therapy in order to be able to walk again.

To me, this signifies the major difference in their respective approaches to statecraft: for Mr. Shukla’s generation of khadi-clad Gandhi-topi politicians, principles, even discredited ones, prevailed over pragmatic considerations. (Why else refuse treatment against sound medical advise?) After a late-night meeting with ‘Shyam Bhaiya’ to discuss the blueprint for Raipur’s master plan, Papa came out fuming: “he wants to me to bulldoze every building from the airport to Shankar Nagar (the place of his residence) to make a road!” Indeed, Mr. Shukla’s proposed roadway would have been the shortest one but it also meant uprooting thousands of citizens from their homes.

Bhagirathi, the Giver of Water
Yet, it was this same sense of impracticability, when fused with his remarkable Vision, which led him to propose the construction of Madhya Pradesh’s largest irrigation projects that were, in the words of his close associate and a former irrigation minister, Ram Charan Singh Deo, “to forever transform the rural economy of central India.” Anybody visiting the site of the Gangrel dam near Dhamtari would know exactly what this means: Gangrel has become the single most important lifeline of Dhamtari, Kurud, Rajim, Raipur and Bhilai. In this respect, he was no different from Pandit Nehru.

Not too long ago, I remember sitting next to him on a flight to Delhi. He said that it was regrettable that of the two projects he had proposed- Sardar Sarovar (involving as it does the displacement of tens of thousands of tribals) and Bodhghat Hydel- the latter was shelved by the Planning Commission of India because it was felt that it would ‘endanger the environment and anthropology of the Bastar tribes’. What this really did, was to ensure that Bastar remains frozen in time, as a perpetual human-zoo. In his opinion, the cost-benefit analysis of both the projects is such that while the main beneficiary of the former is Gujarat- with all the submergence area falling in M.P. even as canals pump water into the dried bed of Sabarmati, paving, among other things, the way for a Narendra Modi victory in 2002- in the case of Bodhghat, the principal beneficiary would have been Bastar. In fact, without Bodhghat, there is every chance that Bastar, what with the shifting of the Indravati’s course, might well turn into an arid zone. If at all good sense prevails, and the project is revived, then it is only fitting to name it after Mr. Shukla.

The other, even more telling, aspect is that he had decided to keep his illness a closely guarded secret. “It wasn’t as if medical science didn’t have a cure for his illness,” opines a family doctor who happened to accidentally stumble upon Mr. Shukla’s test-reports while treating him for what he thought was a simple case of benign enlargement of prostrate (which happens with age), “it’s just that Bhaiya didn’t give us a chance to cure him.” The reason for the shroud of secrecy was to ensure that ‘leaks’ about his medical condition did not hinder his political career. Till at least one year before his death, he could be seen in Delhi, lobbying for a gubernatorial assignment (something which my father wholeheartedly supported). For a man who had never tired of electoral politics, why the sudden fascination with ‘the politics of dole-outs’?

Warrior against Time
The answer probably lies in Mr. Shukla’s post-Chhattisgarh politics. It cannot be denied that at the time of his death, all the three members of his family in active politics, including him, had recently been ousted in elections with unprecedented margins: both he and his younger brother, Vidya Charan Shukla, lost their respective last Lok Sabha elections by over 100,000 votes each from Raipur and Mahasamund (2004) even though they contested from opposing parties; his son, Amitesh Shukla, lost his paternal assembly seat, Rajim, by almost 30,000 votes (2003).

Mr. V.C. Shukla is quick to explain these multiple losses in terms of ‘a breach of understanding’ that was reached between the two brothers during the lifetime of their father, Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla. “During Kakka ji’s time,” he once told me, “it was decided that Shyam bhaiya would be in state politics while I remained in central politics.” That agreement was broken at the fin de siècle (1999) when Mr. Shukla contested from his younger brother’s parliamentary seat, Mahasamund, and gave his assembly seat, Rajim, to his son, Mr. Amitesh Shukla. In short, Mr. V.C. Shukla was left ‘high and dry’, and with no option but to leave the Congress. I, for one, cannot subscribe to such an exclusively dynastic- feudal-interpretation. The reason has got to be deeper, more fundamental, than that. Here, I will quote from my ‘brief history of Chhattisgarh’ (a candid work-in-progress):
“Historically, they (the Shukla Family) had been opposed to the very idea of Chhattisgarh, and it was not until the very end- when Mr. VC Shukla had been totally marginalized under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership (he had been denied a party-ticket in the previous Lok Sabha), and Chhattisgarh had become an inevitability- that that family finally succumbed to the demand for separate statehood: typically, he decided to grab the mantle of its leadership. With not more than seven MLAs (the rest were with the Raja of Raghogarh) he floated his ‘Chhattisgarh Sangarsh Morcha’, and declared himself the Founder of the new state. The only other person who saw him as that was Charan Das Mahant- a one-time Raja loyalist who had served as his Home Minister, and when he had become too big for his boots, was booted out of state politics, to Parliament, where he was a small-fish in a very big ocean. Mr. Mahant, as possibly the only Congress speaker from Chhattisgarh, gave him full credit for the creation of the state, during the debate on the Bill.”

The association of the Shukla family, therefore, isn’t so much with Chhattisgarh as it is with the erstwhile (undivided) state of Madhya Pradesh. To put it bluntly, most Chhattisgarhis do not- cannot- identify with them. The reasons are obvious: our ways of life have very little in common; they do not speak our language, eat our food, or participate in our festivals; their sons and daughters do not marry into families here; what is more, in the over seventy years that they have been our rulers, they have never made efforts to do so. In short, it is clear that they have not been able to adapt to the changing times.

It can always be argued that at Mr. Shukla’s age- he was already touching 80 when the state was formed- it would have been unreasonable to expect him to change. Yet, there are reports, unconfirmed of course, to suggest that he did in fact endeavour to do precisely that. It is said that a Chhattisgarhi-dialectician was engaged to teach him the nuances of the vernacular. But linguistic obstacle wasn’t the sole impediment. When finalizing the list for NSUI (National Students’ Union of India) district presidents, he was asked to name his choice for Mahasamund. The name he suggested created quite a scandal in the press: the ‘student’ in question was well past 50. It would appear that just as the tide of History over-swept his family, the Ravages of Age had finally overtaken Mr. Shukla.

However to his credit, I believe that Mr. Shukla, unlike his younger brother, conducted himself with remarkable dignity, grace and poise even in the face of humiliating losses. That, in my opinion, proves his true mettle: that he was indeed ‘made of sterner stuff’.

Unfortunately, the Time of such men is past, and in the absence of memoirs, even echoes of their voices shall be heard no more.

Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Thursday, February 22, 2007

And this year’s Oscar goes to…

Very recently, my namesake and I made a bet: Amit Tiwari, donning his soothsayer’s cap, has predicted that Little Miss Sunshine will walk away with this year’s golden statuette; I have my hopes pinned on Babel, the intertwined cross-cultural yarn filmed by the Mexican auteur, Alejandro González Iñárritu. The prize: dinner at the Delhi Dublin (inclusive of airfare, and at least, two shots of Pink Breast). In the event that neither wins, and the Oscar goes to one of the other three contenders- The Queen, Letters from Iwo Jima and Departed- then the bet’s off, and we go Dutch.

We do, however, agree on one thing: Helen Mirren’s portrayal of QE is a sure-shot winner for the Best Actress’s trophy. For the record, we are familiar with only two of the other nominees’ works: Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada) and Penelope Cruz (Volver). Be that as it may, the Academy’s penchant for rewarding reel-life portrayals of real-life figures- remember Geoffrey Rush’s David Helfgott (Shine, 1996), Russell Crowe’s John Nash (A Beautiful Mind, 2001) and Julia Roberts’ Erin Brockowich (2000)- together with Ms. Mirren’s meticulous study of her character, right down to Her Majesty’s penguinesque walk, and the Americans’ underlying Anglophilia makes her the top contender. As far as Best Actor goes, I am quite sure that the young and talented Leonardo di Caprio (Blood Diamond) shall have to wait: although his character isn’t quite black & white- something that should work to his advantage- action heroes, as a rule, don’t get rewarded. Personally, my vote’s for Peter o’ Toole: he should have got one long ago, and it’s about time the Academy made amends.

This weekend, a billion cinema-aficionados shall undoubtedly be burning the midnight oil. For my namesake and I, that will mean staying awake till early Monday morning to figure out just who’s going to buy those tickets…

AJ Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Deux Videos: In flagrante delicto!

I. While you were Snoring

'le enfant terrible' saurav secretly video-recorded me while i was sleeping at SNT's: definitive proof that i am a polyphonic if somewhat loud snorer. the really astute observer, however, will notice an ever-so-slight dis-sync between the audio and video components of the recording. cfsl, i.e., the central forensic and scientific laboratory, has recently confirmed that the voiceover matches saurav's ;)

II. SNT's Challenge

yesterday, shailesh nitin trivedi put up a challenge: he said he could climb down a waterfall (tamraguda, about ten kilometres upstream from chitrakote) and come back in less than twenty minutes. in less than five, he returned- having covered less than 1% of his expected-itinerary. age, it seems, finally caught up with fancy. still, snt's joie de vivre is more than commendable: it's positively heroic.

this recording shows a footage of "the wannable-bastaria dr. livingstone's expedition"! no points for guessing that the white figure moving at the speed of light is none other than mr. trivedi.
Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Portrait: Tushar Waghela

The Artist and his Portrait: 2.2.2007
Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Friday, February 02, 2007


In this post, I would like to talk about two incidents that happened to me this past week: they shed some light on the problems concerning the urban areas of Chhattisgarh. My participation in both cases was quite by accident.

The first one took place while my friend Mr. Abhay Goyal was driving me to my father’s political secretary, Mr. Shailesh Nitin Trivedi’s house (where I am currently in self-imposed exile, studying for my law exam due next month). Enroute, an angry crowd had blocked passage: one of them saw me sitting in the front seat and soon, they were shouting “Amit Jogi Zindabad’. I had no idea what this was about. In any case, I had no option but to get out of the car. The activist NSUI state president, Mr. Vikas Upadhyay, and the local corporator, Mr. Anand Kukreja, were also there. I asked them what the matter was.

I was led to an empty plot, which had been dug up at various places. Earth moving vehicles were parked nearby. This was the site for an upcoming Housing Board shopping plaza. At first glance, there seemed nothing wrong with this scene. Except that it is the local burial ground: it has been so for the past fifty years at least, as documented in the patwari’s register. I saw at least four prominent cemented tombs. The paucity of cemented tombs can be explained as being due to the poverty of those brought to be buried here. In fact, the sole marker of recent gravesites is a jute rope tied around bamboo poles circumnavigating a rectangular burial enclosure. On closer inspection, I saw a sari dangling out from the cross-section of one of the dug-up pits. The deceased lady had been buried only three months before. Skeletal remains could be seen jutting out from mounds of dug-up earth. The whole scene was ghastly.

The corporator informed me that the PWD Minister, Mr. Rajesh Munat, had come there, and had a bitter altercation with the crowds, telling them that they were ‘enemies of development’. I was asked to do an impromptu ‘bhoomi pujan’- the laying of the foundation stone ceremony- right then and there for the construction of a proper, enclosed graveyard, which I did. On the next day, I was happy to discover that the earth moving vehicles had gone, and the earth was put back into the dug-up pits. The dead were finally resting in peace.

The second incident occurred at Abhanpur while we were driving with Papa from Rajim to Charama. Once again, we were caught in a two kilometer-long chakka jam. Then I received a telephone call from one Mr. Sanjay Yadav, a youth leader from Abhanpur. What follows is a text of the conversation:

Sanjay: Bhaiya, we have caught a truck loaded with LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) cylinders. They were being taken to Raipur, to be sold in the black market. It belongs to (the local minister) Ajay Chandrakar’s personal assistant (PA).

Me: What are you doing about it?

Sanjay: We have gheraoed the truck. The driver has run away. The police refuses to register an FIR. What shall we do?

Me: Have you done a chakka jam (stopped vehicular traffic) also?

Sanjay: Yes. How do you know?

Me: Because I am stuck in it!

Sanjay: Arey Wah! Where are you?

Nothing could have made Sanjay happier. Next thing I know, there were about fifty boys, all led by Sanjay, surrounding my vehicle. I decided to go with them. After having walked the two-kilometer stretch jam-packed with honking vehicles, I finally saw the truck. About five hundred people had surrounded it. The police was also there, huddled in one corner. The crowd was positively belligerent. Among them were members of the local press. I asked them for the facts. They told me that despite a severe shortage of cooking cylinders in Abhanpur, the local gas agency (run by the minister’s PA) was selling cylinders allotted to them in the Raipur black market. The TI (thanedar) came to see me. I asked him why he wasn’t writing the FIR, which in any case was simply a formality; after all, he was free to investigate the matter in whatever way he liked. The crowds continued to grow around me, as did the vitriolic of the anti-government sloganeering. Following is the conversation that took place between the TI and someone else who was at the other end of his walkie-talkie (mike):

TI: Sir, the crowd is becoming uncontrollable. Roger.

Other voice: Use force to clear chakka jam. Roger.

TI: But Sir, Amit Jogi has also come. Roger.

Other voice: Who? Roger.

TI: Amit Jogi. Roger.


Other voice: Prepare a seizure report of the vehicle and register FIR. Clear chakka jam. Roger.

TI: Roger.

Subsequently, the seizure report was prepared in my presence, and two witnesses- Sanjay Yadav and the local Dainik Bhaskar correspondent- signed it. I left the spot, wondering what it was that I did to make the police change its mind about registering the FIR.

The lesson I learnt from becoming ‘an accidental agitator’ on not one but two occasions in the past week is this: Greed is the greatest enemy of Governance. It was greed- profit to be got from illegal hoarding and black marketing- that prevented handpicked allottees of fair-price shops in Kota from distributing essential food grains and cooking oil to their intended recipients: hapless, needy villagers; it was greed again that prompted the PWD minister to sanction the construction of a shopping plaza over a cemetery that happened to be on prime land; and it was greed that lured a minister’s PA to try to sell cooking cylinders in the black market. In each case, what emboldened them in their misadventures was not only the sense of impunity- that they could get away with it- that comes from being close to the powers-that-be but also the fact that their ‘victims’ were all poor, and therefore, expected to take things lying down, without uttering a word in protest. Thankfully that didn’t happen.

Almost suddenly, the People of Chhattisgarh are no longer silent. The sooner this government realizes this, the better for all of us.

AJ Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......


Sometime back- January 20th, to be precise- I participated in a panel discussion on ‘Salwa Judum (SJ)’ organized at the Jamia Milia Islamia University, Delhi. The discussion- Reconciling Aspirations- was chaired by the noted Gandhian, Mrs. Nirmala Deshpande, MP, while my co-panelists included Mr. KPS Gill, Advisor to the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Prof. Yugandhar, Member, Planning Commission of India, and Mr. BKS Ray, the then ACS (Additional Chief Secretary) to the Government of Chhattisgarh (GOC). We were all allotted fifteen minutes each to speak. At the end of the discussion, the first and last named panelists extended invitations to me to ‘visit Salwa Judum camps’.

Just a day before, Ms. Arundhati Roy, the noted author and social activist, released a Report by the Committee Against Violence on Women (CAVOW) documenting the condition of women in SJ camps. She termed it: ‘very, very disturbing’. Late last year, a two-member team of the National Commission for Women (NCW) had arrived at a similar estimation of the situation after touring SJ camps. Mr. Gill termed the CAVOW report as ‘one-sided and propagandist’: he felt, perhaps rightly, that the GOC’s version should have been obtained. The CAVOW representative said that she had sought comments from GOC representatives, including Mr. Ray, but there was ‘no response’. As such, they had to go ahead with the publication of the Report without GOC’s version.

Meanwhile, two incidents have taken place, which should shed some light on the way SJ, the self-proclaimed ‘spontaneous people’s movement against Naxalism’, is running. The first involves the surrender of 79 ‘Naxalites’ from Keshkal at the state PHQ (Police Head Quarter) at Raipur. Subsequently, three dailies- Indian Express, Dainik Bhaskar and Chhattisgarh- reported that the surrendered ‘Naxalites’ weren’t Naxalites at all: in fact, most of them were innocent tribals who hadn’t the faintest idea why they were being paraded before the press with masks put on their faces. The political response to this exposé was typically skewed: both the Leader of Opposition (LOP) and the PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) President congratulated the state police on this ‘commendable feat’; when 28 Congress MLAs and 2 Congress MPs issued a joint statement condemning the ‘fake surrenders’ and demanding a White Paper from the CM, the LOP told them squarely that they shouldn’t talk about things that don’t concern their constituencies.

Unhappily for the LOP, the elected representatives from Keshkal- Mr. Mahesh Baghel, who is Parliamentary Secretary in the GOC, Mr. Devlal Dugga, MLA from adjoining Bhanupratapur, and Mr. Sohan Potai, the local MP, all of whom belong to the ruling BJP- did issue detailed statements condemning the ‘fake surrenders’. Not only that, they met the CM and demanded strict action against the police officers that engineered the ‘fake surrenders’. Mr. Baghel went on to say on record that he personally knows many of the people who ‘surrendered’, and that many of them were in fact BJP workers. In the end, the CM relented to an IG-level inquiry. Two days ago, most of those who had surrendered were recruited as ‘SPOs’ (Special Police Officers) in the presence of this same IG conducting the inquiry. As SPOs, they will be given arms, a monthly salary of Rs. 1500/-, and a license to kill. I guess that is the price one has to pay to buy their silence?

The second incident involves the ‘encounter’ of two young men at Bandé in Kanker during ‘a joint-operation conducted by the Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh police departments’. Both were described as ‘dreaded Naxalites’. Yet again, the local political representatives of the district from both the major parties, the Congress and the BJP, launched a full-scale movement against these killings. The movement had two demands: an ex-gratia payment of Rs. 500,000/- each to the families of those killed; and registration of FIR (First Information Report) under section 302 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) against concerned policemen. The Chhattisgarh police was quick to disassociate itself from these fake encounters, saying that it was a Maharashtra police operation.

Not surprisingly then, Prof. Yugandhar went on record to state that "the Planning Commission of India does not support [this] SJ."

It is clear to me from the above mentioned incidents that there is considerable desperation on the part of the GOC, particularly the state police department, to show ‘positive results’: both the fake encounters and fake surrenders are an outcome of enormous political pressure, which must most certainly have intensified after the GOC’s thrashing at the Kota bye-election.

And as with everything else about SJ, it is the tribal who must ultimately suffer.

AJ Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

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CONTACT ME. मुझसे संपर्क करें

Amit Aishwarya Jogi
Anugrah, Civil Lines
Raipur- 492001
Chhattisgarh, INDIA
Telephone/ Fascimile: +91 771 4068703
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