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  DEVOTIONAL  
 
   
Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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  COUNSELING
 
Back to infancy -- they n
 
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
     
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  ACHIEVER  
     
 
True to calling
   
 
  By Archana Sudheer Gayen  
  JOSHUA NEWTONN is an international award-winning writer based in the southern Indian port-town, Kochi. His non-fiction and journalism have appeared in over 60 publications around the world. He's the winner of 2005 Evangelical Press Association award (second) for the feature story on Gladys Staines (She Chose to Forgive) published in Charisma & Christian Life, USA.

He also won the Luis Valtuena VII International Humanitarian Photography Award (Special Prize) from Medicos Del Mundo in Spain. Joshua is the first Asian to win these honours. Joshua also wrote the screenplay for National Award- winning filmmaker Shyamaprasad's Ritu, which was released in August last. In an exclusive interview to The Herald of India, he talks about his life and work.

Question: Your father was a painter-sculptor. How did this impact your creative self? What was your childhood like?

Ans: A son is a seed, isn't he? I hadn't realised for long how much my father's wish for an aesthetic design of life had endowed within myself, how much his artistic aspirations had passed on to me -- the angst, the passion for a perfect line, a beautiful font, a stroke of a brush, a frame of a shot, a line of substance and serenity; it all had come from that man who was an eccentric to many of his contemporaries and relatives, of course. My creative self was formed within the cocoon of my father's unfulfilled dreams as an artist. My childhood isn't one I'd be happy talking about. Being the only child (my brother had died young) and getting caught between a temperamental artist dad and a stubborn, illiterate mom doesn't work in your favour when you are tiny. I think I got too tamed by the financial and emotional tensions at home. I got turned into a meek boy. It would not be a pleasant destination for a revisit.

Q: How did you decide to become a writer?

A: The decision came way later. In the small town insufficient of anything related to arts and letters (especially writing in English), and proud about its trade status and rising concrete structures, I found myself at odds. The desire given to me by my father was an ideal job as a creative director in a top-level advertising agency. I joined the Press Academy's journalism course since it had a paper in advertising. It all looks like a joke now. But soon, I found myself writing decent prose in Malayalam, my native tongue. Getting a job was hard. Yet, I somehow managed to resign and reenter in different beats or positions or survive as a freelance for quite a while. Eighteen years to be precise. Since the 'death of journalism' and the birth of media business, I had no zest left in me to be a pawn. I had found a passion in going deeper into lives, be it real or made up. Then, I thought the tools of fiction might help. Since then, I've written two films in Malayalam and a handful of stories in English, which I'm putting together as a novel.

Q: You won the 2005 Evangelical Press Association award (second) for the feature story on Gladys Staines. Can you tell us something about it?

A: It came as an ordinary assignment. I went to Ooty first, where Staines' daughter was studying and then to Baripada in Orissa where the missionary widow lived. It was tough breaking into her shell of silence, her distrust in reporters, her staunch numbness towards anything being reported at all, her pent up agony. It took me two days doing that. I stayed over and kept talking and visiting her. When I confessed that I was not able to get to the core of her life, she relented mercifully. The story was sent for the award by the editors of the magazine. It's an American award usually given to reporters there. I was told that I was the first Asian to win that award.

Q: Photography is one of your interests and you even won an international award in Spain. How did you get into this stream and what inspires you to do so?

A: I guess photography came natural to me. I could have longed to go beyond the content of the frames of paintings my father created. Maybe I had what some call a 'natural eye'. Award and contests weren't on my mind at all. I got the shot of a Chamar Dalit woman throwing herself around in a frenzy of faith at a religious fair in Uttar Pradesh. Later, an e-mail offered me to participate in the contest and the subject was 'women and new slavery' and I thought my picture suited the topic. I couldn't go to Madrid to receive the award. But the prize money helped, of course. Later, when I realised the sheer quality of photographs produced by men and women around the world through sites like Flickr, I put down my camera. I thought I should stick to writing.

Q: What has been your biggest achievement?

A: It has dawned on in my mind and it's growing in my laptop. It's in the making, what I'd consider anything close to a true achievement. It's my first novel, not considering how others would consider it. I'm not bothered about that. As of now, the achievement is finding out my true calling, which would define the shape of the rest of my life: writing fiction.

Q: Tell us about your film Beyond, where you coaxed your friends and family to act.

A: Beyond is a 27-minute digital film about a Catholic priest who gets bogged down by 10 parish members who tell him why they broke each of the Commandments and how he finally finds the Truth. It's an experimental video essay, which lacks technical finesse, made on a shoestring budget (my entire savings, which eventually put me in debt). I'm proud of having made it. Utterly proud. I haven't seen anyone in the country having made anything like that. I'm quite happy.

Q: You wrote the screenplay for Ritu, a movie by National award-winning filmmaker Shyamaprasad. How was the experience?

A: Shyamaprasad, who just won a national award this year, saw Beyond and invited me to write a film for him. Ritu was a learning experience in the sense that I learned a lot about writing screenplays, which I hadn't done earlier, and also that cinema is not a medium of self-expression for a writer, and that your writing stays pure only till it remains on your desk. It can get polluted when it's handed over to others, whoever it may be. Only a writer, one who's worthy to be called so, understands the nuances of a sentence, the positioning of words -- that a written line is not just a written line, but also a well-thought out arrangement to produce a certain effect intentionally. Our societies are yet to grow out of their lethargy, their wooly thinking to sit up and realise that a written line is a product of years of wishes and deep thought.

Q: You have plenty of experience in international journalism. What is you opinion of mass media in India and what are the issues that need to be tackled here?

A: Mass media anywhere is pure business. You should not be fooled by the barons who tell you that you should buy their papers and watch their channels so that the pillar of democracy would stay erect and your life would be safe. Makers of media have sold their souls like Faustus. Journalism is a source of power for its owners and mere means of living for the practitioners. I've been inside enough to see the-shit-in-making so close. I don't read papers anymore. Journalism is dead. Each will write his or her own piece of news and his or her circle of readers will read and each will formulate opinions according to convenience. There's no greater truth to remain alive for. You only live for your own ideals and you show the world your faculties and capacities. And then you pay the bills. Period.

Q: What project are you working on at the moment?

A: I'm putting together the best of my blog posts and selections from e-mails and my old diaries plus Twitter posts and some SMS messages into a book. Since our publishers would not know what to do with it, I'm not approaching anyone. Someone owes me some money. If I get it on time, I'll publish the book by the end of the year or early next year. It's a strange and sublime book in the making.

Q: Tell us about your family.

A: My wife Bini, with whom I fell in love in our journalism classroom, has kindly stayed on with me for so many years and now is a radio journalist in the UAE. Our children Gautam (10), Daya (18 months) and I stay in Kochi. No, we don't have any cats or dogs.
 
   
Super(man) 30
   
 
  By Anuja Sipre  
  ANAND of the Super 30 fame is really living up to his name by bringing 'anand' (happiness) to the IIT aspirants of Bihar. Conferred the 'Real Hero' award by the Dhirubhai Ambani Foundation, his name has now figured in the Limca Book of Records too.

Besides, the Discovery Channel aired a special documentary on his life and Aamir Khan honoured him at the special show of the movie, 'Rang De Basanti'. In an exclusive interview to The Herald of India, he talks about his life and work:

Question: What is Super 30?

Answer: Super 30 is a highly ambitious and innovative educational programme under the banner of 'Ramanujam School of Mathematics'. It hunts for 30 meritorious students from among the economically backward sections of society and shapes them for India's most prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT).

In the last seven years, it has produced hundreds of IITians from extremely poor background. During this programme, the students are provided absolutely free coaching, lodging and food. 'Super 30' targets students from extremely poor families. It is reflected in the group, which comprises wards of brick kiln workers, rickshaw pullers, landless farmers, roadside vendors and the likes.

Q: What made you start 'Super 30'?

A: If 'Super 30' has become an architect for the budding poor talents it is not without reason. Fascinated by mathematics since early childhood, I always dreamt of becoming a mathematician. My love for mathematics came to the fore in 1992, when I formed a Mathematics Club, 'Ramanujam School of Mathematics', while I was a graduate student. Under the guidance of my mentor and guru, Devi Prasad Verma, then Head of the Department of Mathematics, Patna Science College, I started a training programme for Mathematics lovers. It was a free programme, which anybody with interest in Mathematics could join. As months rolled by, I contributed several problems and papers on Mathematics to various national and international journals, magazines and newspapers. In 1994, I got an opportunity to pursue higher education in Cambridge University, but my poor financial condition came in the way. Having witnessed extreme financial hardship since childhood, I felt the pangs of poverty so much that I decided to do something for the poor students. This led to the beginning of a new form of 'Ramanujam School of Mathematics' where I trained a small group of students for various competitive examinations at a very nominal fee. But those who were extremely poor just did not have to pay anything. After some time, I decided to shape my programme seriously to cater to the poor, but meritorious students more significantly. So I called my brother Pranav Kumar, a talented violinist, from Mumbai and planned to start the innovative Super 30 programme.

Q: Did you face any problems in carrying out this programme?

A: Initially, making all arrangements for 30 students was not so easy, but my family -- my brother Pranav, wife and mother -- have been fully with me in my endeavour. It would not have been possible without them. I generated finances by tutoring students of other schools, while my mother, Jayanti Devi, cooked food for the students. What followed next was rigorous training of the students, and the results came as a big surprise in the very first year. In the last seven years, 182 students out of 210 have made it to different IITs of the country. In 2003, when 'Super 30' started its journey, 18 out of 30 students competed. The very next year, the number jumped to 22. In 2005, it improved to 26. Continuing the trend, 28 students made it in 2006 and 2007. In 2008 the result was an astonishing 30 out of 30. 'Super 30' has done it again in 2009. It has been 30 out of 30 for the second year in succession. The role of a group of old students of Super 30 was also vital in making this come true.

Q: Why did you choose this path of helping others and did not get tempted by the opportunity of making a lot of money?

A: I took to teaching, as I was passionate about it. Since I faced a lot of hardship right since my childhood, it made me feel that I should do something for many others like me who invariably fail to blossom due to lack of opportunities or resources. I missed the opportunity to go to Cambridge, as my father -- the lone bread earner for the family -- passed away and I had to shoulder the responsibility of the family from a tender age. As far as temptation for money is considered, it is there, but not to the extent to make me blind. I run evening classes for Class XII students. I earn enough from there for myself as well as 'Super 30'. The kick that I get out of my work and from the smiles of the faces of students and their parents is my biggest inspiration. I pray to God to give me more strength to work for more of them. In view of the growing demand, I have decided to expand 'Super 30' into 'Super 90'.

Q: Are your successful students also doing their bit by helping others?

A: They are still pursuing their career. But during summer break, when they return to their native places, they do come to me and volunteer to teach students of 'Super 30'. I don't know how they will ultimately shape up, but I have the confidence that most of them will not forget their hardships and definitely contribute for the welfare of many others like them, who are waiting for a helping hand. Success, after all, has little meaning if it is only for self.

Q: What is your message for the youth of today?

A: The only message that I want to give the youth of today is that they should all contribute at least something for the society. They must look beyond self. Success is sweeter when it is shared. To achieve success, they must have self-confidence and do some planning. Today there are two kinds of youth -- one who want shortcuts to success and the other who give up too easily. There are no shortcuts to success, nor does it come through doles. It has to be achieved, through hard, sustained and planned work.
 
   
The Sailors' Helpline
   
 
  By Archana Sudheer  
 
V. M. JOY'S name has come to be closely connected with seafarers' rights in India. With 18 years of sailing experience, he is an expert on maritime issues. After quitting active sailing, Joy worked with an international maritime law firm for five years, before starting Sailors' Helpline, a civil society organisation dedicated to helping seafarers in distress. In an exclusive interview with The Herald of India, he puts forth his views on his work, difficulties sailors face, and why he toils for their cause.

Question: You were in the Merchant Navy for a long period. Did you find the career conforming to your expectations?

Answer: I sailed for nearly 18 years. The career at sea exceeded my expectations. At a very young age, I got to see the world and draw a handsome salary. However, I realised that it's only when you live isolated at sea and away from your loved ones that you understand the real value of human life. The experience made me a better human being. What I witnessed in poor and war-torn nations like Somalia opened my eyes to the harsh realities of life. When I saw such sadness, I thanked God for blessing me abundantly. I realised I had no right to ask for anything more.

Q. Why did you start Sailors' Helpline?

A: Personal experiences prompted me to start Sailors' Helpline. During my sailing days, I came across several stranded seafarers, including Indian ones. Abandoned by ship owners, several sailors are left in the lurch without food or money. They do not even have money to return home.
I remember my bitter experience while on board a foreign vessel in the late 1990s. During a voyage from an African port to Mumbai, we ran out of food and water. Complaints by the crew were met with threats. We bore the brunt till the vessel docked in Mumbai. There, I saw to it that the ship was detained. After quitting active sailing, I joined an international maritime law firm as their advisor and worked there for more than five years. While at the firm, I got the opportunity to handle cases pertaining to seafarers' issues. The knowledge I gained there helped me assist and advise seafarers on legal issues.

Q. Please tell us how the Helpline helps sailors and their families.

A: The Sailors' Helpline is an assistance facility. The helpline panel consists of senior merchant mariners, lawyers practising in the High Court and the Supreme Court, a Port Chaplain, and seafarers' welfare workers. Most of the cases that come to us are from seafarers sailing on Flag of Convenience (FoC) ships or those operated by fly-by-night operators. A major case I am handling at the moment is that of ship Jupiter 6 that has been missing since August 2004. It had 10 Indians and three Ukrainians on board. Family members of the missing crew requested my assistance in the matter when the Directorate General of Shipping authorities failed to help them. This case has complex legal issues. Jupiter 6 went missing in international waters. The ship was registered in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, was manned by an Indian company and is owned by someone else in some other country. The Sailors' Helpline worked aggressively on the case for more than six months. We did extensive research on similar missing ship theories, maritime fraud and criminal conspiracy. We then assisted the family members in moving the Supreme Court. The SC admitted their writ petition and issued a notice to the Central Government. As of now, the case is pending before the court. The Sailors' Helpline also assists accident victims (seafarers) who have been deprived of their rightful compensation. We have also assisted family members of seafarers who have gone missing or have mysteriously died. We offer our services free of charge. Sailors or their families who desire our services can contact us at: 09884140950 or sailorshelpline@yahoo.com.

Q. What is the progress of the Jupiter 6 case?

A: Taking a serious view of the Centre's indifference to trace Jupiter 6, the Supreme Court has directed the government to disclose details of marine casualties involving Indian vessels or crew members since October 2002. A Bench, consisting of Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice L.S. Panta, passed this interim order on a writ petition filed by the family members of the missing crew. The Bench also ordered payment of compensation stating that the pendency of this petition or any further investigation in the matter by any agency should not come in the way of the insurers, owners or managers of the tug paying compensation to the family members. The Bench said, "The grievance and complaint made in this petition is that if the Indian Government and managers of the tug had acted with necessary care and expedition, in all probability, the lives of the crew could have been saved."

Q. You were physically attacked by some hired goondas. Can you tell us how it happened?

A: Most of the fly-by-night ship operators have clandestine backgrounds. Some of them have links in the mafia as well. Ship operation, crew recruitment and management are done by these shady operators. They will go to any extent to safeguard their criminal interests, and, if required, kill persons trying to expose them.
In 2007, a seven-member criminal gang, armed with steel pipes and beer bottles, barged into my residence-cum-office in broad daylight and beat me up. I sustained serious head injuries in the attack. The local police initially refused to visit the scene of crime for reasons best known to them and came to the spot only after some of my friends in the media intervened. It has been two years now and the police have still not apprehended the criminals. Instead, they tried their best to bury the case. Our lawyers have brought this matter to the knowledge of the Supreme Court.

Q. Litigation is very expensive. How do you support yourself?

A: Yes, litigation is very costly and it is not easy for a common man to fight legal battles without money. My five-year stint in an international law firm helped me build a close rapport with several lawyers practising in High Courts and the Supreme Court. Moreover, several like-minded lawyers have come forward to help families of the seafarers and do not take any fees from them.
Many of the seafarers' family members are poor and cannot afford to pay the exorbitant legal fees. Sailors' Helpline, without any corpus fund of its own, has managed to unite people to fight for seafarers' rights. At times, we also spend money from our own pockets. But, that is alright, as it is for a good cause. Organisations or individuals who want to help these families are welcome.

Q. Are you affiliated to any international organisation? How do you coordinate with them?

A: We work in close coordination with various organisations. Depending on the nature of the case, we also correspond with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). The IMO and ILO render us advice, and, in some cases, give us details of organisations that could assist us better. We are also in touch with international seafarers' welfare organisations, such as the Apostleship of the Seas, the International Committee on Seafarers Welfare and the Center for Seafarers Rights.
In 2008, when a ship named Rezzak went missing in the Black Seas, we were in touch with Turkish authorities to get first hand information on the search-and-rescue operation. Sadly, the 25 Indian nationals who went missing on that ship have not been traced.

Q. How did you come to know about the Mangalore sailor who is in Taiwan jail?

A: I came to know about Captain Glen Patrick Aroza's detention only when Captain A.K. Bansal, a senior master mariner and international maritime law expert, informed me of this case three weeks ago. Captain Bansal has been assisting Captain Glen's family from the beginning itself. Not many seafarers in India were aware that Capt. Glen is being illegally detained by the Taiwanese government. In order to help, I decided to create awareness among the Indian seafaring community regarding his detention and the agony his wife and children are undergoing. Captain Glen's case was published in detail in WAVES, a seafarers journal published by us. The Herald of India also published a detailed report on the case.

Q. Can you give us an idea of the problems sailors face? Are there any other agencies they can turn to in distress situations?

A: The problem most seafarers face today is 'criminalisation of the seafarer'. The US sketched a very clear path for this, and it appears to have finally found its way to other countries. The imprisonment of several seafarers, including the masters of ill-fated ships like Erika and Prestige in Europe, the master and crew of the Tasman Spirit in Pakistan and two Indian nationals of ship Hebei Spirit in South Korea, is evidence of such barbarism. Piracy is another threat faced by seafarers. Somali Pirates armed with machine guns and rocket launchers have been attacking innocent and unarmed sailors. They are often held captive for months, and are released only after ransom is paid. In some cases, seafarers have been killed. Other issues are mostly confined to sub-standard or fly-by-night ship operators and pertain to the abandonment of seafarers, non-payment of wages, and non-payment of compensation in the event of accident or death.

Q. Do you think the government is receptive when you take up such cases?

A: Not really. If the government were receptive, the families of crew members of Jupiter 6 would not have sought help from the Supreme Court. The families are forced to move the courts for justice. I know of two seafarers from Kerala who met with a major accident while on board a ship four years ago. They were then mentally harassed by their employer. Finally the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) intervened and directed the government to settle the issue. The seafarers are still awaiting compensation.

Q. Please tell us about your family.

A: My family consists of my wife Bernadette, who is a teacher, our son Cyril who is in Class XII and 12-year-old daughter Christelle Maria. I decided to quit active sailing to devote more time to my family. My presence at home became very essential because of our children's health issues. Cyril has undergone a major open heart surgery and my daughter has mild cerebral palsy and mild mental retardation, for which she is undergoing treatment. When it comes to helping distressed seafarers, my family is very supportive.
 
   
Man behind ADRI
   
 
  By By Anuja Sipre  
  Shaibal Gupta is a well-known name in Bihar. He started his academic career as a doctoral fellow at A N Sinha Institute of Social Sciences, Patna, in economics and, later on, he was absorbed in the faculty there. He completed his PhD thesis under Prof Pradhan H Prasad. He is the founder member-secretary of the Asian Research Development Institute (ADRI), Patna. Apart from his research engagements, he writes occasionally in the popular journals. In an exclusive interview with The Herald of India, he puts forth his views on ADRI, Nobel-laureate Amartya Sen, Bihar and development in general:

Question: What made you leave A N Sinha Institute?

Answer: It was one of the most important social science research institutes in the country. Late Professor A K Dasgupta, its founding Director, laid down the basic foundation of the institute in the present form. But with his exit, stagnation set in the realm of ideas and agenda. Later Directors were selected not on the basis of their academic credentials but to serve political ends. Even its symbolic autonomous functioning ended with the induction of Principal Secretary, HRD, Government of Bihar, as its ex-officio Director.

Q: How was ADRI started?

A: I along with a group of professionals started ADRI in the early nineties. After a careful study of the current research trends, five broad themes were chosen as thrust areas: (a) Rural Development, (b) Human Resource Development, (c) Regional Economics and Planning, (d) Organisation of Development Information and (e) Public Finance.

In the beginning, the Asian Development Research Institute Society (ADRI Society) was registered with the sole objective of gradually building a research institute having the same name. During the last 15 years, the society has pursued that goal in right earnest. However, at present, running the institute is not my only engagement. In 1995, the ADRI Society was requested to host a State Resource Centre (SRC) on adult education by the National Literacy Mission (NLM).

Q: How has ADRI expanded over the years?

A: For the last two years, the ADRI Society has also been running a SRC at Ranchi in Jharkhand. It has also established a regional centre of its Research Institute at Ranchi to focus on the development issues of Jharkhand. In 2000 the society was further requested to host a Jan Shikshan Sansthan (JSS) by the NLM.

Q: What has been your experience of working in Bihar?

A: Working in Bihar was not an easy proposition earlier. With low opportunity and absence of work culture, one has to incessantly make efforts to convert disadvantage into an advantage. However, with the change of government, the spectrum of work culture has been changing very fast in the state.

Q: What is the present scenario?

A: When Mr Nitish Kumar took over the reigns of the state three years ago, he inherited a ramshackle state structure, which had no history of work, coherence and dynamism, not just during the previous regime, but also during the last century. Seen against this backdrop, his most outstanding achievement has been with regard to the task of state building in Bihar. It entailed administrative reforms and creation of new institutions to serve the development agenda. Such strengthening of the state and the consequent economic development would have led to a growing market structure. This important gap is now being filled under the leadership of Mr Nitish Kumar.

Q: How do you view development in Bihar?

A: An analysis of the Bihar economy indicates that during the last three years, it has shown considerable improvement, thanks to improved quality of governance and law and order situation in the state. It has shown impressive growth rates in three sectors -- construction, communications and trade, hotels and restaurants. The growth rate of Net State Domestic Product (NSDP) is estimated to be 5.57 per cent. On the industrial front, small and medium scale enterprises are predominant in Bihar. But, after declaration of the new liberalized industrial policy by the state government in 2006, a number of proposals for setting up medium and large industries have been received which are likely to materialise in the near future. Efforts are also being made to tap into the food processing and agro-based industries that carry a great potential in the state and can become a major source of income and employment generation. The functioning of the banking sector, again, has shown improvement, resulting in higher commercial activities and increased credit-deposit ratio. There are major achievements in social sectors as well, especially education and health. In the arena of public finance, the fiscal performance has improved through rationalisation of expenditure, effective debt management and improvement in the quality of expenditure. Bihar is poised for turnaround.

Q: What about the industrial and agricultural scene in Bihar?

A: For the fundamental economic development of Bihar, the market of the state should be increased. The development of market will depend on the growth of agriculture, which, in turn, will depend on land and other related reforms. Only with a developed market, can an authentic beginning of industrialisation happen.

Q: What has been the impact of Prof Amartya Sen's visit to Patna?

A: Prof Amartya Sen's visit to Patna was a memorable event. He had literally taken Patna by storm. Under his mentoring, an international effort is on the anvil, to establish a Nalanda University, at the same site where the ancient university was located. In Patna he gave a public lecture on 'Bihar: Past, Present and Future'.

Q: Are you planning to hold a seminar on development in Hindi Heartland states?

A: Yes, an International Seminar on development challenges in the Hindi heartland is being planned with Pratichi (India) Trust in February. Admittedly, the issue is too big to be covered in one seminar. Hopefully, the proposed seminar will trigger similar exercises in the region in the subsequent period.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: My future plan is to strengthen ADRI and equip it with more intellectual endowment.

 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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