Thursday, December 24, 2015

Ladakhi Singers

"Ladakhi girls dancing at Nemu Camp, 18 miles before Leh. They have visited Punjab and hence their style of dress." July 1949. Enaskshi Bhavnani for Photo Division India.

After the show
 Hunder Nubra valley
I asked them to sing a "Bodhi" song. They laughed and said,"Aap nay toh humay Bodh bana diya!
They were Muslim, they sang love songs.

Cannons in Kashmir

In July, I read about the origins of cannon in Kashmir.

Cannons were first imported in Kashmir in A.D. 1464 on the order of Budshah Zain-ul-Abidin using Turkish knowhow. Srivara, the court poet of Budshah called it 'Top'. A year later the cannons were getting manufactured in Kashmir. The man credited for doing this was a Turkish pyrotechnician named Habib.

Image: "Guards at old fort in Srinagar demonstrate how ancient cannon was loaded to be fired. Srinagar, Kashmir, 1945." [2010 post on 1945]
Source: Medieval Kashmir and the science of history (2004) by Walter Slaje.

Shikaris, 1938

In April, I grabbed an old album featuring the Shikaris.

Shikaris. 1938. Naubagh. Kashmir.

'Paris Lingerie House', Residency Road

In January, I discovered this rare shop in Srinagar.

'Paris Lingerie House', Residency Road. From Louise Weiss's Cachemire (1955).

In 1920s, products from the shop were popular among expat British.

The trigger was the story of tailor named Butterfly given in 'Travels in Kashmir' (1989) by Brigid Keenan.

"And on other end we have the story of a Kashmiri tailor named Butterfly, maker of finest lingerie for British in India, who accidentally embarrassed his Memsahib clients when he brought out a catalogue carrying neatly sketched details of his comfy products and the names of the elite clients who had bought them."


Mar in Journal des Voyages, 1892

In April, I acquired this piece of Kashmir from France

Scene at Mar Canal, Srinagar.
Journal des Voyages. May, 1892.

Maut Ka Kua

In January, I finally saw "Maut Ka Kua".

In winters the population of Jammu increases as people from Kashmir and Ladakh move in. A good time for fairs. Seen here 'Maut ka Kua' (Well of death), at a fair held in a ground that in early 90s was a ' migrant camp' in Muthi. 

Earlier such fairs were common in Srinagar where performers would come from all over India to perform. Most awaited feat used to be 'Jump' in which a man, ablaze, would jump from a great height into a small pool of water [the act was called "'Naarevoth"].

Tikkoo to Graham

And interesting addition to the archive this year:

A postcard sent by one S. K. Tikkoo of Zaina Kadal to one Captain R. C. Graham of England in 1940. It wasn't easy to read the handwriting but from the understandable bits it seems the two had met in Tangmarg. Sometime after that Captain who was placed in Peshawar moved to England due to World War 2. The two lost touch. But Tikkoo managed to find his England address. Along with new year greetings, Tikkoo wishes a sooner end to Nazism in Europe. That's about it. After much searching I was able to find that one Sarvanand Tikkoo was postmaster of Gulmarg.


'Kah-Kah' Pal

For centuries, no old chronicle of Kashmir, not even the later Persian ones, was complete without having a section on the 'supernatural' things witnessed at various places in Kashmir. In the photograph from 1970s (via Huntington Archive of Buddhist and Asian Art at The Ohio State University) can be seen the famous 'Kah-Kah' Pal (Eleven-Eleven Stone) of Vijeshwer Shiv Temple, Bijbehara. The green coloured conch shaped stone weighing roughly 60 kilograms, it was claimed could be lifted by eleven people using their index finger chanting 'Kah' (Eleven). The stone went missing in the 90s.

'Kah-Kah' Pal (Eleven-Eleven Stone) of Vijeshwer Shiv Temple, Bijbehara. Extract from a docu made in August 1977 on Gopi Krishna.


Similar stone lifting practice among South-Asian Muslims and Tibetans:

Dargah of Qamar Ali Shah Dervish in Shivapur near Pune.

Old Banihal Cart Road

A photograph of old Banihal pass (at 9,200 feet) by A. Hodgson for National Geographic magazine 1921.

'A guide for visitors to Kashmir' (1898) by W. Newman mentions Banihal route to Kashmir but adds that it was meant only for the royal family. In addition, Walter Rooper Lawrence, the Land settlement officer in Kashmir from 1889 to 1895 in his book 'Valley of Kashmir' (1895) regrets that valley in not connect to plains via Banihal pass which was something achievable and desirable. The route linking Srinagar to Rawalpindi railhead, Jehlum Valley Cart road was already operational by 1890 using help of Spedding & Co, a private army of civil engineers maintained by Charles Spedding. The modern route via Banihal must have first come up in between those years. The road called 'new' Banihal route  [BC Road, Banihal Cart Road] was finally completed in 1915 at a cost of about 40 lakh and opened to public in around 1922. The main Kashmiri engineer for the Banihal project was Pt. Laxman Joo Tickoo. With the opening of the motor-able all weather road, the dreaded 'Begar' system, in which people would be forceful made to act like coolies for people crossing the treacherous passes, died

Jawahar Tunnel,
the present route

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Leh Polo Ground by Radha Krishna Kaul

The famous Polo Ground in Leh was commissioned in 1885 by Wazir Pandit Radha Krishna Kaul.

I travelled to walk on it
no trace of his name
Leh Polo Ground, September 2015
At the museum of Hemis monastery, I found a gift by Radha Krishna Kaul to the monastery, a huge silk thangka. They wouldn't let anyone photograph. 


state emblem of Jammu and Kashmir

The state emblem of Jammu and Kashmir designed by artist Mohan Raina (1928-1983 ) in 1952.

Sketches by Mohan Raina can be seen in the book, 'Folk tales from Kashmir' by S.L. Sadhu, 1962.


Portrait of Abhinavagupta

The iconic representational image of Shaiva philosopher Abhinavagupta (10th century). If you Google search now, this is the origin of most Abhinavagupta images that now flood the internet. This image first appeared in the book 'Guru Nath Paramarsha of Madhuraj - Ed. P.N. Pushp' (1960). Artist: Unknown.

The image is based on pen-portrait of Abhinavagupta by his Tamil student Madhuraj:

"Out of his deep compassion, [Śiva] has taken a new bodily form as Abhinava Gupta and come to Kashmīr. He sits in the middle of a garden of grapes, inside a pavilion [adorned with] crystal and filled with beautiful paintings. The room smells wonderful because of flower garlands, incense sticks, and oil lamps. It is constantly resounding with musical instruments, with songs, and with dancing. There are crowds of yogīs and yoginīs, realized beings, and siddhas. . . . In the center of the room there is a golden seat from which pearls are hanging. It has a soft awning stretched over it as a canopy. Here sits Abhinava Gupta attended by all his numerous students, with Kṣemarāja at their head, who are writing down everything he says. . . . Abhinava Gupta’s eyes are trembling in ecstasy. In the middle of his forehead is a conspicuous tilaka made of sacred ashes. He has a rudrākṣa bead hanging from his ear. His long hair is held by a garland of flowers. He has a long beard and reddish-brown skin. His neck is dark and glistening with musk and sandalwood paste. Two dūtīs stand at his side holding refreshments [wine etc.]. . . . He wears a silken cloth as a dhoti, white as moonbeams, and he sits in the yogic posture known as vīrāsana. One hand is held on his knee holding a japa-mālā and his fingers make the mudrā that signifies his knowledge of the highest Śiva. He plays on a resonating lute (ektār) with the tips of his quivering fingers of his lotus-like left hand."

[From Paul Muller-Ortega’s translation of Guru Nath Paramarsha of Madhuraj, 

"1000 years ago today, Abhinava Gupta sent pen to paper for the last time, completing his last great work, a multivolume commentary on the most profound and erudite philosophical text in Indian history (the Stanzas on the Recognition of the Divine [ Isvara Pratyabhijna Karika of Utpaladeva (c 900-950)]). We know the date because he wrote it at the end of his manuscript: the end of the month of Mārgaśīrṣa, in the year 4090 of the Saptarṣi calendar (corresponding to 1015 CE)."


आज़ादी की चिलम का एक कश और ले
माल वही पुराना है
आ एक पीढ़ी और फूक दे

Thursday, December 17, 2015

One more Prophecy

Parit tah buzit Brahman tshetan;
Agar ghatan tihindi Veda satiy;
Pattanach san nit thavan Mattan;
Mohit man gayshek ahankariy.

~ Lal Ded

Read and heard
only religion,
he was polluted;
Recited Vedas,
Rivers Shrank;
Stole stones from Pattan,
Placed at Mattan;
A beguiled heart,
it only goes khootspah.

Read and heard
only religion,
he was polluted;
Recited Koran,
Rivers Shrank;
Stole stones from Mattan,
built homes at Pattan;
A beguiled heart,
it only goes chutzpah.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sati Stones of Kashmir

The colonnade of Buniyar Temple, situated along the Baramula-Uri road on way to Mohra, housed something that caught my eye: ancient sculptured stone slabs. In traditional Kashmiri architecture for temples suggests that colonnades surrounding a temple housed images of deities. Now, these empty colonnades at Buniyar house these stone slabs.

I need to find out what they are. These stone slabs are found all over Kashmir. A lot of them now placed in temples and worshipped. As usual, Kashmiris haven't documented much, the stones are simply called 'memorial stones', I know a discovery awaits.

One of the stone slabs at Buniyar depicted a horse man with the upper panel of the slab depicting a woman. It is an iconography associated with 'Sati-Stones' of India. In ancient times when a woman burned for her husband had died, at the spot where she died, a stone memorial was put. 

Rajatarangini mentions Sati was practiced in Kashmir, yet there is not memory of it in the Pandit community. However, a more modern history tells us 'Sati' was almost revived by Pandits in around 1830s. * Still no memory of it.

Kashmir is know as 'Satidesh' (County of Sati). The mythical origins of the valley come from the story of Sati, the first wife of Shiva who immolated herself. Yet, no memory of 'Sati' practice. 

Still, these stone memorial stand testimony to a time when women were burnt alive and then worshipped.

I am not the first person to notice the 'sati-stones' of Kashmir. One of the first archaeological reports on ancient monuments of Kashmir did mention the probability that these were 'sati-stones'.

Rai Sahib Daya Ram during his survey of monuments of Kashmir in around 1915 wrote:

"Another class of antiquities of this late period which are very common  everywhere in Kashmir, are a kind of memorial spans which might have been sati stones. […]The face of the slab is divided into two compartments, the upper one containing a standing figure of Bhairava with this usual emblems, and the lower a female figure seated between a bird and a dog, the vehicle of the diety referred to. In some examples, the female is represented as seated by the side of her deceased husband."

Daya Ram in 'Pre-Muhammadan Monuments of Kashmir' ascribes the stone slabs to 14th century, the late part of Kashmir History, towards the end of Hindu rule when no big shrines were anymore constructed.

To understand these memorial stones (as with understanding the ancient architecture of Kashmir), we have to look at our Hindu neighbours.

Near Kashmir, Mandi in Himachal is famous for 'Sati-Stones'. They would put up memorials for dead warriors and their burnt wives. 

In a paper on tombs at Hinidan in the Las Bela, on right bank of Hab river, about 73 miles from Karachi. The tombs were interesting because they belong to an era when Islam was new to the region and the rituals for the dead were a mix of native belief and Islamic rules. On some of the tombs, there were human figures drawn. Jean Philippe Vogel in Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Report 1902-1903 writes:

"In Kangra and other Himalayan tracts such slabs are commonly found in the courtyards of temples, near tanks and under banyan and pipal trees. That in many instances the stone exhibits more than one figure, is explained by the fact that women, who became Sati, were represented on the same slab with their husband. Curious examples of this kind is the so-called Sati slabs of the Rajas of Mandi. here they are called barselas, because they are worshipped for one year (bars), but the general name by which they are known in the Kangra valley is muhra. Near nagar, the ancient capital of Kullu, there is a collection of muhras, several of which have a figure said to represent either a Rani who died before here husband, or a Raja who became an ascetic. On some of them the effigy of a horse will be seen at the bottom of the slab as is always the case with the Mandi stones. "

It's interesting that the place called Mohra in Kashmir is not far from Buniyar. Such memorial stones were more common in Lar Pargana of Kashmir. 

Rajatarangini tells us 14th century was a turbulent time as the local powers where constantly at war with each other and Islam was introduced in Kashmir. Men were dying in wars and women were getting burnt. 

 This brings us to the other kind of memorial stones found in Kashmir: the 'Hero-Stones'

Two more slabs housed at Buniyar

These stone slabs were put up where a great warrior fell in war.

Sati Stone

Some memorial slabs kept at SPS Museum, Srinagar

Hero Stone

These stones are essentially dead men and their dead wives, tales of war and bloodshed, reminders of gruesome ancient customs and traditions. These are episodes from Rajatarangini, our past.


"During the administration of Dewan Kirpa Ram [(1826-1830)] Kashmiri Pandits resumed the ancient practice of Sati in all likelihood persuaded by the Sikhs and the Punjabi Hindus." [A History of Sikh Rule in Kashmir, 1819-1846, R. K. Parmu]


At Verinag.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Birth place of mentalist Kuda Bux

Bazighar Basti, village of magicians, Akhnoor [Light of Eye]. Birth place of famous 'Kashmiri Firewalker,' mentalist buried in Hollywood, Kuda Bux/Professor K. B. Duke (1905 –1981). His most famous trick was ability to see things blindfolded, he was 'Man With X Ray Eye'. In his later life, he lost his eyesight to glaucoma.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A study of Kashmiri love for Tea

Chaytmo chini pyalen chai hato
kael marun chum
Payemo roup badnaes haay chamno 
maay mashaeni 
Karyo manz jigras jaay chamno 
maay mashaeni

~ Mahmood Gami (1750-1855)

A woman offers tea to his lover in a bone china cup, a replacement for her body, for her body is withering and her heart, it aches.


As a child, the cup would often slip from my hand and tea would spill on a kaleen. The tea would sink into the thick dark fabric, tea would just vanish, all that would remain - a trail of stream, on the cloth and in the cup, some green leaves, some cinnamon, some cardamom and some crushed pieces of almonds. I would pick the pieces and eat. I was in love with Kehwa.

The Arabic word 'Kahwa' means 'exiting the spirit', in Turkish it becomes 'kahveh', from which we get the English word 'Coffee'. In Pandit households, Kehwa was known as Moghul chai, probably in honor of the Mughals who introduced it to Kashmir. In Kashmir, besides the normal Dalcheen Kehwa (cinnamon Kehwa),  there is Zaffran Kehwa, the saffron one usually served to tourists, then there is Damm Tueth Kehwa, one with a pinch of lemon, it would be served if one is not feeling too well, somedays milk would be added to it and it would become Dod Chai, somedays Sattu (ground toasted pulses and cereals) would added to get a heavy breakfast of Kahwa, and for sour throats: a pinch of black pepper would be added.

There was always something regal about it, right from its rich ingredients and to the way it was served. At weddings, pipping hot Kehwa was served in copper Samavars, the import from Russian 'Samovar', which means 'self-cook'-  the tea would go bagg bagg on its own. In old days, the tea cups in Hindu households would be of bronze alloy and called 'Khos', while among Muslims, bone china cups were the norm and called 'Chinipyala'. When I was young, our house still had a few as the old ladies preferred the old brass ones. Last year, in Jammu, I had a tough time finding a Khos. It seems Khos in no longer manufactured by traditional metalworkers.

In Kashmir, bone china is still popular. In Muslim households, a reddish salty concoction known as 'Noon Chai' (Salt tea) was always more popular. The peculiar color coming from baking soda, in Kashmiri called 'Phul'. This tea is somewhat similar to the 'Gur-Gur' chai of Ladakh, only in Ladakh they add butter. In old days, the soda 'Phul' came from Nubra valley and the salt from Punjab salt mines (once a monopoly of Gulab Singh, and now in Pakistan). In Kashmiri Pandit households, 'Noon Chai' was known as 'Sheer Chai', 'Sheer' being the Persian for 'Milk'. It was particularly popular among old Pandit ladies as a post-lunch drink. The nommer for someone addicted to all these teas was Chai Shoda.

Charles von Hügel on visiting Kashmir in around 1835 noticed the peculiar drink and Kashmir and the elaborate way in which Sheer/Noon chai was authentically made:

One begins this process by keeping an iron kettle over the fire and pour 5 cups of water in it. Then one cup full of tea leaf is added to the pit and in addition one table spoon full of backing soda is also added to the pot and then the mixture is thoroughly shaken by stirring. The entire thing is thrown into the water when it comes to simmer. One allows the mixture to brew for about 10 minutes. Then one pours two cups of cold water into the pot and allows the mixture to brew for another 10 minutes at a lower temperature and once again 5 cups of cold water is added to the kettle. Then the brew is made to draw the decoction for another half an hour of boiling, it is filtered though a cloth piece into a large kettle and a small bit of rock salt is added. The whole mass is then bubbled for a while, like one does the chocolet. A teaspoon full of water is added to the mixture. It is then that the actual cocktail of tea is ready for preparation. Now the iron kettle mentioned previously is taken and 4-5 cups of boiling milk is added to the vessel and the brew prepared already is added to the kettle and stirred well at last it is poured out into the drinking cups. It looks completely like chacolet.
Hügel arrived in Kashmir when Chai mania was probably at peak in Kashmir. It around this time
Persian poet of Shahabad in Kashmir, Mulla Hamidullah 'Hamid' (d.1848), came up with Chanama ("A Tea Poem"):

Give me tea, O Saqi, and let there be no delay;
let me have it bitter, if milk and sugar are not at hand.
Had Jamshid taken a draught from this pot,
his slow-beating pulse would have run like deer.
Have you heard the boiling kettle of tea cry bagg bagg?
Verily you would say it was Mansur shouting ana al-haqq.
There is a reference in the Book of God
Bread to eat and tea to drink

However, tea was not a new import to Kashmir. The discoverers of tea were our neighbours. The word 'te' and 'Cha' come from China, and from them comes the Persian 'Chai' and English 'Tea'. The tradition of tea in all probability came to Kashmir from Chinese Turkestan. So, Kashmiri are probably one of the earliest  lover of tea. It was because of this love that most Kashmiris, unknowingly, or knowingly, irrespective of religion, were tasting Ox blood.

Hügel mentions that Tea used to reach Kashmir from Ladakh. And in Ladakh it used to arrive either from Lasa (Tibet) or from Yarkand. It must be mentioned here that one of the outcome of Battle of Basgo, and the subsequent treaty of 1684 between Ladakh and Tibet was regulation of tea trade: Dalai Lama had a monopoly over the brick tea trade with Ladakh. By the time Sikhs and Dogras arrived in the region, monopoly was lost. Hügel mentions the best tea (at least 30 different varieties) used to arrive in Kashmir from across Chinese borders via Yarkand. The variety of Black tea from Lasa was trading at Rs. 6 a pound and tea was generally a luxury, something that would make a great gift. Despite the popularity of tea in Kashmir, Hügel pegged its import at mere 500 pounds.

Baden Henry Baden-Powel in his 'Hand-book of the Economic Products of the Punjab' (1868) gives more details about this tea trade.  He was surveying Punjab where he noticed luxury of tea was known only to Kashmiris: the shawl-weavers/traders and Pandit Munshis/ writers. It arrived in Punjab from Calcutta. In 1852, 25,000 maunds of tea came to Amritsar of which 2000 passed to Kashmir. It was the secondary route for tea in Kashmir. Primarily, tea from China in form of cakes would arrive in Kashmir from across Changthan pass via Leh. Black and green tea in cakes, called "dhamun" was imported to Leh, and valued around Rs. 30,000. The name of the China Green teas were "karakokla", "khushbo" [scented] and "salad" [sabaz, Green]. The China black brick tea was know as "takhta siya".

Over the next few decades, the tea trade from land started decreasing and tea started arriving primarily from sea as British started monopolizing the trade routes.

J. H. Knowles in his 'A Dictionary Of Kashmiri Proverbs and Sayings' (1885) writes:

"Two kinds of tea, and two ways of preparing it, are met with in the valley. There is the Surati Chai, something like our English tea, which is imported from the Panjab and Ladak ; and the Sabz Chai, the celebrated brick tea, which reaches Kashmir via Ladak. The first way of preparation is called the Mughal method, Mugul Chai. Here is the receipt:- For every tola or rupee's weight of tea in the pot put five cups of cold water, boil for half-an-hour, then add more cold water together with sugar and condiments, and allow to boil for another half-an-hour. Then add milk,stir well, and serve round hot to the guests ad libitum . The second modus preparation is called Shiri chai, of which this is the recipe:- Place the required quantity in the tea-pot together with a little soda and cold water and boil for half-an-hour. Then add milk, salt, and butter, and allow to boil for another half -an-hour, when it is ready for drinking. The salt used in the infusion of tea is called phul. It is found in the Nubra valley in Ladak, and contains the carbonate and sulphate of soda, and a little of the chloride of sodium."

The Mughal chai mentioned here reads more like Dod Chai or Kashmiri Milk tea. It is important to note that Surat was one of the first major trade port for East India Company beginning 17th century. Surati Chai was the tea that reached Kashmir via Surat. Interestingly, in contrast, at later time, Kahwa tea leaves were known as Bombay Chai because its leaves came from Bombay port. With addition of milk it was known as Dabal Chai (Double Tea). [Later in the world of packaged it became, Liptan Chai (Lipton tea).]

If all this time, for all these centuries, the tea was coming from China in form of bricks, it is then true that Kashmiris, like most tea drinkers of the time, were probably tasting Ox blood. What most people don't remember now is that the traditional Chinese method for making tea into bricks involved using flour, dung and ox blood as binding agent.

So, there you have it Kashmiri lovers of tea, your ancestors were drinkers of Ox blood. Rise a cup to that!


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

There is hope.
I bet there is still
one person in Kashmir.
Who still dreams
India will go Pakistan way
or better still
Pakistan will go India way
Before having these dreams he sings:
'Either way Mouji Batt'e Sher! Kashmir will still be here.'


कश्मीर बरबाद नहीं अलाहबाद हुआ 
हिन्द की लाल गंगा 
पाक काली यमुना से मिली 
अदृश्य सरस्वती हुई 
यहाँ पापो का हिसाब चल रहा है 
पितरो का बोझ ढोया जा रहा है


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

some photos from Mahatta Studio exhibition

P.K. Mattoo shares some interesting images from the exhibition held in Delhi in August titled "Picturing a Century: Mahatta Studio and history of Photography in India, 1915-2015" [link]

Gandhi at the hospital of Dr. Shamboo Nath Peshin
3rd August, 1947

Nehru in Srinagar with Sheikh Mohd Abdullah (members of NC) and Abdul Ghaffar Khan

Habba Kadal
Hari Singh with trout.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Broadway cinema, 1976

The Godfather and the Kid. 
Broadway cinema, Srinagar. 
Photo by Hartej Singh (1976), formerly a cameraman at Doordarshan
Shared generously by P.K. Mattoo of Doordarshan

Friday, October 9, 2015

Submerged Brokpa village of Bima

Bima is one of the famous Dardic Brokpa villages where tourists are allowed. In the tourist circles it is famous as 'Aryan Village'. 'Brokpa' is the word used in Ladakh for the Dardic people. In fact, Tibetan word Brokpa means Highlanders (herdsmen or shepherds). This community has its own distinct culture and language. The villagers even like to claim that they are decedents of Greek soldiers of Alexander's army. There are also stories that German women would come to Brokpa villages secretively just to get 'Aryan' progenies.

In the beginning of August, a flash flood triggered by torrential rain and cloudburst caused a stream to send heavy boulders and rocks to fall into Indus river at Bima village. The resulting blockage caused the river to swell into a lake and submerge the village.

In September, the waters had receded a bit but I found the village almost empty and under water. After the flood, the only motorable access to the village remained from Kargil side. I was arriving from Leh side and at a point the road just simply vanished into the lake.

To  get into the village had to climb a 15 feet cliff face.

During peak tourist season, you can find around fifty tourists roaming in the village. I found even most of the villagers missing. They have been provided temporary shelter by Army where they get breakfast, and then they leave for towns to work as porters and do other menial work. With their farms under water, there's not much they can do. I was told it would still take couple of months before any form of measure to remove the blockage in Indus can be tried.

The stream that rolled boulders into the Indus
The blockage point. The river here roars like a waterfall.

A Brokpa working in one of the only farms still functional

A Brokpa brewer of 'Arrak'
The village might be under river, but the river of Arrak must continue flowing.
Distilling 'Chang' (local Barley Ale) to get Arrak (Barley wine)

Brokpa woman


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