December 2010 Archives

Remembering Dad

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When I was a baby,
Tiny and frail,
You were a mighty mountain
My protector.

When I was a child,
Eager and inquisitive,
You were my Daddy
Who answered every question.

When I was a blossoming girl,
Bright eyes, shiny red hair,
You were the father
Who took me proudly
On your arm.

When I was a passionate seeker
Traveling the world
You were the wise greybeard
Who listened to my tales.

At the last it was you
Who were weak and frail
And I was your protector
Giving you safe passage
To another world.

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A Poem for my Father

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To Dad with Love

There are so many wonderful things I've learnt from you.

I want to remind you of a few.

You taught me that reading didn't end with Jack and Jill

And that books would open a world of wonder for me.

I got the message....and you made me a bookworm costume

For the carnival.

You traced my ancestry back to Ur of the Chaldees

With a bit of a detour in Poland.

You taught me to be kind to tramps

And to give a penny to the RNLI.

I went door to door with you

Raising money for Hungarian émigrés

(One of whom later became my surgery boss.)

You taught me to let dogs smell my hand before I patted them

And that circuses were cruel to animals.

You gave me 'thinkabouts' before bedtime

To keep the nightmares away

And that's the first time I heard of Fleming

And the discovery of penicillin.

You made swords of rolled up newspaper

For back garden jousting events

And a local post office from a cardboard box.

You saw the scientist underneath the Romantic

And together we looked for badgers at night

Gazed at stars

Watched a total eclipse through photographic film

Made copper sulphate crystals in the cellar.

I helped you construct a nine foot pram dinghy

To ferry a family of six--

Developing a permanent aversion to linseed oil.

You made me a long jump and a high jump

Built an igloo and brought cocoa to sip

In my warm snow cave.

You taught me to aspire

Like the fairy atop the Christmas tree

To have an enquiring mind

And be an independent thinker.

You taught me to live life as an adventure

Borrowing courage and faith from Colum Kiel.

You taught me that the love of the Lord

Is a lamp for my steps

A light for my path.

You taught me to brave the elements

To add a stone to the cairn

And never to set off down an untracked hillside

In the late afternoon.

You taught me to belay and to cast off

To read the winds and the tides

To pitch a tent

And not to forget my anorak.

(I still don't forget my anorak).

You instructed me in the political philosophy

Of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky,

Gave me a banned book by Prince Kropotkin

Imparted to me a thirst for justice

Nurtured my prophetic spirit.

You taught me not to lie

To stay out of debt

And that swearing is more effective

If you hardly ever swear.

You said that the true meaning of "God provides"

Is that everything you need is right at hand

If you just know how to look:

And that it doesn't matter if there aren't many

Of whatever it is you're looking for

Because you only need one--

And you will find it.

You showed me that privilege and responsibility

Are two sides of same coin

And that I, like little Hans

Can make a big difference.

Most of all, as good Dads do

You believed in me

And taught me to believe in myself.

That lesson, like the anorak, has stuck.

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Ma's New Year's Letter

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Greetings dear ones! As I write this, I look back on a week of extreme weather phenomena--floods in Queensland Australia, a heat wave in Argentina, the New York blizzard and Britain's coldest winter on record. And I look back too, on a year of weather catastrophes, above all, the Pakistan floods, one of the worst natural disasters in history. Many Pakistani villagers face a mountain winter without food supplies, blankets or housing. Oxfam is still supplying one and a half million Pakistanis with water, while admitting they are meeting only a fraction of the need. Many of us by now are getting the message that human-caused climate change implies more than warmer weather.

Looking forward, I see a year in which the human population is expected to top the seven billion mark. Seven billion humans wreaking havoc on the environment and competing for scarce resources! Seven billion human beings, each one infinitely precious, each unique, each a potential gift of hope to the future! I contemplate the essential paradox of these two sentences. Population is a complex topic, not susceptible to pat answers. Wealthy nations have a larger environmental impact due to greater consumption, whereas people in poor nations impact endangered species as a direct result of hunger and lack of education. The carbon footprint of an average American is much greater that that of an average Indian, yet the poor of the world are suffering the effects of climate change today, without ever having reaped the benefits of life in the developed world.

If there are 'too many' of us, why give our time and money to lengthen lives by improving healthcare and nutrition? From the pragmatic perspective, the answer is that the Malthusian checks of war, famine and epidemics wreak social havoc, and social havoc is dangerous for the human and natural environment. Improved education and lower infant mortality naturally lead to lower birthrates, in turn causing population to plateau and then fall, in a more harmonious way. From the spiritual perspective, the answer is simple. As I cherish my own life, health and wellbeing, so I cherish the life, health and wellbeing of each one of the seven billion humans who are not separate from myself. A hungry child in Pakistan is my own hungry child. A cold and desperate street person is my very self. If one of us is suffering, all of us suffer. We are all one.

It is so inherent to see ourselves as the centre of our own universe. Yet the child going to bed hungry tonight, the mother in the refugee camp with no clean drinking water, the person dying of AIDS alone in a hut with nothing to eat but UN rations--each one is as special as we are, as precious as we are, each one has the same dreams, the same hopes, the same potential as we do. Take a moment to think of your greatest heroes or heroines. Where would we be without these great souls? And now remember that today, a child with the potential to be the next Alexander Fleming, the next Mahatma Gandhi, the next Rosa Parks, the next Vanadana Shiva, may die from malnutrition or preventable disease.

The unique needs of the poor, whether in our own city or developing nations on the other side of the world, will never be met adequately by governments or large NGOs. Private philanthropy, people helping people, working through grassroots organizations, has the greatest potential to provide the poor of the world with a decent human life. Following the financial debacle of 2008, many of us have seen our retirement savings dwindle, our benefits cut, our incomes reduced. Some of us live from paycheck to paycheck while others of us no longer have a paycheck at all. Some have had to put off retirement; some have been laid off when we still need to work. Many in the US, myself included, have no protection from catastrophic illness. Facing these altered circumstances, it may be hard to recognize how immensely privileged we are compared to the rest of the world. However hard-up we may feel ourselves to be, we can spare something for those who have nothing. As citizens of our municipality, we have a duty to the hungry and homeless in our midst. As citizens of the world, we have great responsibility for the poorest members of our global community. Food for others, like food for ourselves, must be a non-negotiable expenditure.

As one of the soon-to-be Seven Billion, I am a part of the problem. As a resident of the developed world, I am a disproportionally large part of the problem. And as a visionary and philanthropist, I am a part of the solution, and hope that my positive influence will be much greater than a seven-billionth part. Please join us in our efforts at private philanthropy by participating in Alandi Ashram's Peace Push for Pakistan, in collaboration with Global Greengrants, an organization that unites donors and activists across the globe in their shared passion for social and environmental justice. To help Pakistan's victims of climate change catastrophe, please visit

Dear friends, I wish each and every one of you a peaceful, healthy and blessed New Year. Let's make 2011 the year we take our world back through compassionate action!

With my love and blessings always,

Alakananda Ma

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Winter sun sets on East Anglian salt marshes
Sodium lamps pool golden on the snow
Candles glow in ancient chapel
As childish treble intones
'Once in royal David's city.'
I listen
While morning light breaks in crisp cold air
Setting foothills aflame
And squirrels wake and scurry on the roof.

Memories of sixty Christmases
Are layered like tissue paper
Each holding its gift of sorrow or joy.
The tiny babe lying in incubator
Seeking life's wondrous star
The one year old gazing in awe
At her first Christmas tree
The nativity play where I was Mary
And baby sister Katy was Jesus
Helping Dad stretch paper chains
Across the sitting room

Setting out sherry and mince pies for Santa
Hanging up my stocking
And pretending to be asleep
When Dad came in to fill it

The year Mum was in intensive care
And I shed tears into the mince pie mix,
And the time I wrapped everything
In pink and purple tissue paper.
Indian Christmas at Ramakrishna mission
Doing puja to Christ

Desert Christmas, eating with the homeless
In Tuscon Arizona
Ipswich Christmases with Mum and Dad
Around log fire

And candlelight service
At Mary le Tower church
Boulder Christmases
Walking in a foot of snow
To Thomas Aquinas on the Hill

For Midnight Mass
Where Netanya took communion
Thinking it was kiddish
Lighting a candle for Dad
At Methodist carol service
And praying he would live
Until we said farewell.

Today I unwrap these memories
As choir sings Ding dong merrily,
Thinking of those long gone
Grandpa's secular Home Office cards

Nutcracker ballet
with Granny
And Nanny listening to Queen's speech.
One day I too will be a Christmas memory
Wrapped in gold tissue paper
And somebody perhaps will shed a tear
Remembering a little babe
who found her wondrous star
And let her light shine forth.

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The Winter Solstice eclipse was a dramatic event in terms of my own chart, by Western Astrology at least. The eclipse, on the Galactic anti-centre, was opposite my Mercury, which is right on Galactic Centre. Meanwhile, Uranus, planet of erratic events, surprises and sudden changes, innovation and individuation, was square (challenging 90 degree aspect) to both the eclipse and my natal mercury, setting off a T-cross. Suffice it to say that this event offered challenge, change and innovation within my consciousness and mind.

So there was the somewhat nervous anticipation of the event, the actual lived event, and now the event seen in the rear-view mirror, as I share it with you. With the eclipse conveniently occurring on Monday night, we enjoyed our usual weekly Vedic fire ceremony and bathing of the Shiva lingam. Our Naropa crowd was gone for the holidays and it was just the three Pujaris, Katherine, Sadananda and myself. After meditation we took delicious South Indian prasadam. I was quite surprised to find myself rather peaceful and not getting into any erratic Uranian moods!

Later that night, Sadananda and I went back in the temple and chanted Om namah shivayah for an hour, into the time of the eclipse. However, we didn't stay up past twelve thirty. The interesting part happened next. I took Madhav Nidhan, a classical Ayurvedic text, to bed with me! While Sadananda was brushing his teeth, I was reading Ayurvedic pathology. And as I look in the rear-view mirror, I see that this was in fact the great and anticipated Event--just sitting in bed in my brushed cotton nightgown reading a book that I would never have seen as bed-time reading. Indeed, Uranus was illumining my mind with insights into the ancient text. In this darkest of dark nights, the light of Ayurvedic wisdom was flooding my consciousness. During an aspect, Uranus square natal mercury, when I was challenged to individuate my consciousness, I received a clear message that I was individuating as a vessel of Ayurvedic wisdom in twenty- first century America.

Sometimes a seemingly trivial event can be of great significance when we reflect upon it.
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The Tallest Statue of Lord Shani in the World ...

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Looking back on this year of my second Saturn return, I see that events unfolded in quite an unexpected way. Nothing I had learned prepared me for these developments.

Astrologically, I had come to see the cycles of Saturn as markers of the Four Ashramas or Vedic stages of life. During the first Saturn cycle we are learning, studying and developing our skills, so this stage of life is somewhat similar to the brahmacharya stage of life. From our first Saturn Return, around age twenty nine, we begin to engage fully in our householder life, raising children and contributing to society. This corresponds to grihast ashrama.
As we come to our second Saturn Return, at age fifty eight, we are confronted by the journey of aging. With children grown, it's time to look towards retirement, which for the Vedas does not mean golf and cruises but rather a life of contemplation, vanprasth ashrama. And if we live until our third Saturn return at age eighty seven it is surely time to leave the world behind as we look to eternal realities: final renunciation or sannyas beckons.
My studies of Spriritual Eldering with Reb Zalman Schachter only served to re-inforce this perspective. The elder years are for contemplation and the cultivation of the inner life.

Of course, in my own case, cultivation of the inner life began from as early as I can remember. I do recall 'inventing' meditation as a teenager, and I say inventing because there was nobody in my provincial East Anglian town to point the way, so I came up with my own methods, later to find they were Zen meditation! And during my first Saturn Return, I committed to the Vanprastha life!

So what did Lord Shani have up his sleeve for the second Saturn Return? The first surprise came when our second year students in Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula refused to leave school. These dedicated students, with no financial aid and a very demanding programme, wouldn't leave school because they did not see fifteen hundred hours as enough education to be a 'real doctor'! As a result, the year of Saturn Return found me creating and inaugurating a four year Ayurveda programme with depth of training similar to that of Doctors in other health fields. This of course led to more credit hours for me to teach each week and more new classes to prepare. And just in case I didn't get the message, this year also saw me elected to the Board of NAMA, the National Ayurvedic Medical Association. And on a reassuring note, I had a heart scan which showed, unusually at my age, no calcification at all in the coronary arteries. A new definition of 'young at heart' and a vindication of Ayurvedic diet!

At the very age when one might expect that I would be looking forward to retirement, second Saturn Return brought much greater levels of engagement that I have known before. I'm committing to spend this third trip around Saturn's orbit fully involved in teaching and developing Ayurveda. Of course, life brings many unexpected twists and turns. I might become too physically or cognitively impaired, or too involved in care-giving, to continue this course of action for whole Saturn Cycle. I might any time, for nobody knows when Death will come. Or climate-change-related chaos might throw all plans into disarray. I do not know what actors wait in the wings to thicken the plot of my life. But this I do know: Saturn has invited me to an ever-deeper commitment to teaching and passing on the wisdom of Ayurveda--and I have heeded the call.

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I Embrace Change

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I embrace change.

I embrace my changing body
Contours growing more generous
Face more lined
The silver in the hair

The names I can't recall
Words that just won't come
And with the curiosity of a twelve year old schoolgirl
Staring at the bigger girls
Wondering if I too will have such shapely legs
Instead of little sticks
I look today at elders
Thinking, "Will this be me?"
I embrace my changing body
With joy, for it is mine
And I am fortunate
To live so long.

And I embrace our changing world
The emptying villages
Shrinking forests
Shifting coastlines
shoals of fish
In sorrow for these human imprints
I embrace our changing world
With courage, for it is mine
To heal and to protect.

I embrace our changing culture
All that attends the fall of civilizations
Nuclear weapons at the ready

Armies occupying cradle of civilization

Tanks in slums
Riot police fighting protesters
Governments shoring up banks.
Pledging to walk in peace
I embrace change with dread and yet conviction
May the phoenix rise from the flames!

Impermanent, this body, these cultures and this earth
For all must pass!
I embrace change with equanimity
Rooted in the Changeless

My Year in Review

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Hanukkah candles beside log fire in Wales
And birthday cake made by nieces
Shed rays of light into year
Made sombre by Dad's anniversary.
We scatter his ashes in River Aeron
And travel next day to Aberaeron
Where his mortal remains met the sea.

Home just in time to be snowbound for days
In tiny village.

In Mum's new Kesgrave home
We light Sabbath candles
With elderly Jewish neighbour

Who won't believe in G-d
Because she's angry with Him.
Snowed up at Gatwick airport
We watch B movies in Hotel room
As hares hop round manor grounds.
Treasures in our backpacks
Two Ipswich snowscapes by Dad
To adorn our Boulder ashram.

Sadananda, so lately covered with Dad's ashes
Like baker with fine flour,
Undergoes metamorphosis,
Develops photographer wings
Takes on Dad's artist mantle.
Inspired, I reawaken
Skills learnt at father's knee
After unwrapping Baby Brownie
On my sixth birthday.

In this year of Saturn Return
I connect with ancestral guides
Discovering the Dark Lady

My great-great grandmother
And realize I truly am a child of Abraham
My great-grandfather's name.
Seeking the dead, I find the living
Meet newly-discovered cousins.
My sense of family grows in Saturn's arms.

There are other ancestral journeys
To a land Abraham never knew
A walled town beneath the Dolomites
And the sleepy village of Familglia Rech.
Here in the parocchia
My beloved's bloodline
Revealed in elegant script.

Spiritual ancestors too
Are met anew this year
I rededicate to love, simplicity and oneness
At tombs of Francis and Clare.

Gatwick again, no delays this time
Just a very excited niece
On her first trip to America.

A whirl of swimming, ice cream, hiking
Navajo reservation Gourd dance
And dusty desert pilgrimage
To Shiprock, pillar of light.

Back at Alandi Ashram
A dozen goddesses dressed in white
Offer rose petals to Sarasvati
Studies begin in earnest
As Ayurvedic mysteries unfold
To depths rarely plumbed in Western lands.

Autumn brings harvest
Golden gourds and pumpkins
And flames of sacred fire
Arising for the Mother.
Sorrow, tears and prayers
For floods in Pakistan
Patience and frustration interweaving
As we seek ways to help.

Hanukkah lights twinkle again
We pray shehekhianu
Blessed are you, Most High one
Who has preserved me
To see another birthday
Gratitude for a year when no loved ones died
No limbs were broken,
Held safe in Saturn's arms
Commitments renewed and deepened
I go forward in joy and equanimity
To meet afresh the unknown moments.

Winter Moment

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Willow trees are bare
Dry leaves underfoot
Sedges ochre  and umber.
In icy stream
Emerald watercress flourishes.

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Season of Dark

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This season of dark nourishes me.
Creativity germinates beneath rotting leaves
Poems sprout in frosty soil
Inner journeys unfold.
Driven within
By chilly nights
I seek the inner spark.

In this time of waiting
Birth of Divine child
I nourish Him, the Prince of Peace
With heart's warm blood.

Honour the dark
For it is only in the darkness
That the candle shines.

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Have Mercy

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Allah the merciful the compassionate,
Have mercy on us!

Have mercy on us who live in refugee camps
Caught between two armies.

Have mercy on us whose villages are flooded
Whose crops are lost
Who shiver under canvas
Who return home to wreckage

Have mercy on us
In the forest fire
Charred homes and lost possessions.
Have mercy on us in the slums of Rio and Mumbai
And have mercy on us too,
In billion dollar mansions,
Beset by arrogance and family feuds.

Have mercy on us whose livestock starve,
Whose fields are parched
Whose bellies are empty.
Have mercy on us who pick through refuse dumps
Who sell our bodies and are sold
Who toil in sweatshops
And have mercy on us too in the boardroom
And the chauffeured Rolls Royce.

O God of mercy and compassion
You know our fears, our despair,
You know our greed and arrogance
Our headstrong ways.
Have mercy on us
For we have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.
As we endure the earthquake, flood and fire
Speak to us, O still small voice
Bring us back to the heart.

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A Hanukkah Poem

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Today I'm posting a poem I wrote some years back and which is published in my anthology From My Heart to Yours.


The menorah is lost

The elders are dead

Wooden synagogue burned

Torah scrolls burned

Village burned

Sanctuary desolate

The light of the covenant

Lost to our house.

It is solstice

The time of rekindling.

Fire hidden in dry cistern

Forgotten for generations

Liquid fire

Hidden in Jewish heart

Blazes forth anew.

Ancient fire

Lost and reborn

Light of all the peoples

Glints on brass lampstand

Sparkles in the window

Shines on faces of ecstatic Sufis

Streams into hearts awake with love

For Krishna, Rama, Kali, Christ, Mohammed,

Illumining, illumining.

Baruch atah adonai elohenu!

Rachel, Perel, Daniel,

On this, the birthday of your first born child

The light of Hanukkah,

Light of the menorah

Light of Torah

Returns to your house.

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The Gaze

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Can I look you in the eye?

Can I look you in the eye
And listen without interrupting?
Can I look you in the eye
Without judgment
Can I look you in the eye
And not say, "Yes, I know" ?

Can I look you in the eye
Steadily, without nodding?
Can I look you in the eye
Without trying to fix you?
Can I look you in the eye
And receive your pain?
Can I look you in the eye
Can I look you in the eye
In naked presence
Heart meeting heart.
Can I offer you my silent hospitality,
The gaze of empathy?

Hanukkah Reflections

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Miracles upon miracles,
Miracles reflecting miracles.

This is the day
When the eyes of the blind are opened
The ears of the deaf unstopped,
When the lame man runs like a deer
And the tongue of the dumb sings for joy.

Miracles upon miracles
Miracles reflecting miracles.
The light in your heart brightening mine
The light in my heart igniting yours
Miracles upon miracles
Miracles reflecting miracles

Miracle seen
Only in darkness
Miracle heard
Only in howling wind
Miracle felt
Only in biting cold
Miracle of joy
Known within despair
Behold, the dry land shall blossom!

Miracles upon miracles
Miracles reflecting miracles

Light in our hearts
Brightening hearts of all
Flame of our radiant lives
Setting all lives afire
Miracles of love and healing
Gushing streams in the desert!

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Hanukkah is about rekindling, reconsecration, bringing back the light. In devastation, light returns. Without destruction, without desecration, there would be no Hanukkah miracle. It is our desolate places that call out for warmth and radiance, the darkness of our despair that invites the light of the menorah.

It is a dark time for our planet, our ecosystems and our civilization. Catastrophic climate change is underway and escalating, yet our response as a species is weak and hesitant. We are like a patient with a life-threatening illness refusing to take our medicine because it tastes bitter. Can we find our Hanukkah miracle of global cooperation, respecting the earth and the future of our children? It lies within our soul, we have only to awaken.Will light emerge from this time of unprecedented darkness?

The Hanukkah lights are warrior lights, celebrating victory and freedom. The Maccabees had only one resource, faith, as they took on the might of empire and warlords. In our time, can we break free of the imperial power sway of our military-industrial carbon based economy and come together as one people? Can we take our earth back as the Maccabees took their homeland back?

I pray it may be so, Amen, Amen.

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A red dawn welcomes me to the month of my birth.
December, time of leafless trees and frozen soil,
Month of darkness
Month of candles.

Month of expectancy
Of gathering round the Advent candle
Telling stories and opening tiny glittered doors
For the people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light.

Month of birthday candles
Rich iced fruitcake
Blowing and making a wish
Tearing tissue paper to reveal the gift.

Month of wandering twilit streets
Each lace curtained bay window
Aglow with Christmas tree lights
And sparkling tinsel.

Month of holly and candles
Reflecting in stained glass windows
As tremulous boy soprano
Sings of lowly cattle shed.

Month of blazing yule log
Teacakes speared on toasting fork
Biting into crumpet
Butter running down chin.

Month of deepening darkness
Of growing Hanukkah lights
Reflecting on brass menorah
Shiny chocolate gelt
Melting in sticky palm.

Month of yartzheit candles
Of waiting at bedside
Holding frail hand
Daughter midwifing father
Into another world.

December, month of my birth
Month of my father's death
Month of darkness
Month of hope
Season of candles
As the sun dies
And the light is reborn.

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    About this Archive

    This page is an archive of entries from December 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

    November 2010 is the previous archive.

    January 2011 is the next archive.

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