Life, hope & everything in between. ...poems from April '21
Hello you! 'Life, hope and everything in between' is a set of poems that I wrote through the month of April 2021 as we underwent a second wave of the pandemic. It has been a strange couple of years, and I have recently finished 30 years of life. I wrote my first book when I was 27 and published it two months shy of turning 28. It does feel like I have lived lifetimes between 27 and 30, an entire year of which has gone staying indoors, in what I call my sanctuary. Perhaps this is something that happens with age, perhaps it is me, perhaps it is the time and the era we live in, or maybe its just a mix of it all; but I truly marvel at the things that I have learnt over the years and I feel that reflect in my writing these poems and making something of these, instead of leaving them on the internet. I do have to thank Rohini Kejriwal and The Alipore Post for the encouragement because to be really honest, writing a poem a day in the middle of it all, felt like the only time for grounding, the only time to be fully present with everything, without the fear of overwhelm endangering my wellbeing. I am writing this essentially to set the tone for the time during which these poems were written - times when death was being spoken of more than birth or what someone made for dinner the night before, times when asking each other if we were okay meant a lot more than what culture was used to before that, times when desperation, frustration, anger, grief, trauma are circling around us all the time, like a murder of crows, overwhelming, darkening, even blinding the line of sight, times when in the thickness of this grief, people shone as the bright light more than one could have ever imagined, rallying to support everyone and anyone, times when we were humbled by our own humanity, or lack of it. I set this context with the hope that whatever state you are in, you find solace, comfort, ease, and some sort of rest in reading these; or perhaps, just a knowing that you are not alone. Before I end this note, here is a link to finding me on the internet. Here is a link to my first book that uses poetry and prose in fabulist fiction, to chart the journey of forming one's identity, in a culture that won't allow that. Lastly, if you read this and have any response, I would love to hear from you so feel free to use the links to write me a message or an email. Enjoy reading! Shivranjana
Between Treading Lightly and Things I Learnt at 30 Take rest more often, dear one. Lay your head for some time, dear one. Un-line your forehead, dear one. Heave a sigh, dear one. Much of life will pass you by. There will always be something to tend to, something right, precious, important worthy, and unworthy, screaming for your time, attention, energy, and life at all times, dear one. You will go and give yourself to them too, and add it to your personal record of 'a life well lived', of time well spent to make things, and to give back for the privilege of existence.
Life will pass you by in these extraordinary moments of necessary ordinariness. But make sure to pause often, dear one. Make sure to do good without abandoning yourself, dear one. Make sure to be kind to yourself, dear one. Make sure to value others too, dear one. For much of life will pass us by, despite and through the upheavals and turmoils. But when we close our eyes for the final time, dear one, we will remember all the moments of significant insignificance, we will remember times when we were soft, when we sang and were sung to, when we danced or at least, tried our best to. In the reckoning with life's fragility, dear one we will only remember the tender feather touches of hands that held us, hands that soothed our furrowed brows and heavy hearts when life was tougher, larger, more menacing, even if it seemed fleeting, that's how powerful tenderness is, dear one. So rest a little, dear one. Unclench your jaw often, dear one. Hold yourself gently, dear one.
Portals of Excess In over a year of virtual living, I slowly find myself descending into my phone more often, disappearing almost. It's not that I was immune to its magical blue light before the year that was, but when everything is on this one medium, what do you do when it develops a whole another life of its own, and with it, you? The last year became the site for this transition - evolution? descent? from occasionally logging into (already logged in) apps, (mostly this one) to sometimes feeding hours to it, working and decompressing in the same place, connecting with others while also disconnecting using the same tool. It's a whole lot of roles for one thing to play. The app was another land altogether - sort of like the special bonus level in a high end game, that you can never get out of because you just don't want to. Each story or post, a portal into another's day, mood, travels, outrage, (sort of like you've stumbled upon mine today, you can't not carry some of mine with you, as I can't not carry some of theirs with me) what even do I speak of ads or occasional friendships found and lost, and found and lost again?
This has been a year of constantly being sucked into a marshland of others' feelings, into a quicksand of humanity's gore out in full display, with occasional sprinkles of good cheer and sickly sweet saviours, a volcano of anger and despair bursting out one moment, transitioning through a layer of ASMR, falling into Alice's wonderland the next moment, where animals speak human language, or wear bonnets and glasses, becoming Public Figures, losing themselves in performance for their masters, becoming more person-like with onesies and taste tests, lost in a world of demand for stimulation by people who have stopped moving, just like me, in the void of the internet, only, my masters are invisible.
Ask for Permission Not everyone has the privilege of having a room of their own. Many of us grow up in a patchwork quilt of relationships, where our beginnings and our ends are unclear, where you start and where they end, unclear, enmeshed, entangled, beautiful, for a while.
Until the day comes that you feel the urge of separation, albeit for a little while, but the hunger for individuation for you to really see you your ends and your beginnings, overtake your being. Not everyone may have the privilege of having a room of their own, but we discover in this detangling, our minds, our bodies, our voices, and our desires to embody are our own.
And then comes a stage of our true embodiment, at the closing end of learning about ourselves, at the time when we reach that stage from where we can finally see clearly our ends and our beginnings our boundaries, and we rejoice in that discovery. And perhaps then we find that the need for a room of our own diminishes, for now we learn that without a tangible door to hide behind, without retreating to our corner, we are still a room of our own in our embodiments, and that despite the invasiveness of culture and digital communication, we get to ask the world to knock before coming in.
Hope for More Lover of Science in school, I first sensed my cautionary self when I read about disease and death. I trusted what I read and heard, and so I believed that all vaccines we ever needed all the armour we ever needed to survive, had already been created. Only, I never learnt from school that science was far from stagnant. Never had I imagined living through a time of viral pandemic, and becoming a spectator on all sizes of rectangular screens, watching the world devolve and evolve, waiting for the creation of a new armour. It's disorienting sometimes, because around me the world never really stopped, but something fundamentally changed, we just couldn't (can't) give a name to it yet. The vaccine is coming coming coming bringer of hope, in a way, bringer of life, despite the different names, different makers, different politics, different valuation of life itself. In managing the precarious balance of coping and survival, imagining a vaccine is almost like finding an oasis in the middle of a very vast desert, a digital desert, a sand box of virtual existence. The vaccine is a ray of hope that I had been immune to until I had to write this, a ray of hope for more life, for living outside boxes, for hugging more, touching more, for more in person laughter replacing solitary screen faced grins of isolation, for really seeing each other, for really looking into each others' eyes and holding each others' gazes, for holding touching kissing loving without a trace of fear.
Earthing Word Association When I think of the earth, I think of cycles. When I think of the earth, I think of beauty. When I think of the earth, I think of magic. When I think of the earth, I think of connection. When I think of the earth, I also think of pain.
I think of cycles when I find the moon shifting, the sun changing angles, seasons bringing rain and heat, dry skin and sweat. And there we were taught that our bodies weren't connected to this planet. I think of beauty when I see sun's light play on the horizon each day, the cloud cover like a meter deciding what shade of orange, pink we will get today. And there we were taught that beauty needs to be flawless, clear, cloud-less. I think of magic when I see the moon defining tides, setting boundaries in the gentlest ways possible. And then we were taught that only walls existed, not boundaries. I think of connection when I communicate with life that doesn't speak English, but tells me more truth than any person has. And then we were taught that connection existed only in language. I think of pain when I imagine her choking in fumes of ignorance and indifference, masking insecure egos of economic development as centres of power. And then we were taught that we were to only trust structures that existed, that the earth was too wild, too unpredictable, too out there, too invaluable.
I think of the earth and I return to my body. I think of the earth and I am home. I think of the earth and I stop thinking.
Habits My habits are the scaffolding upon which days that add up to my life stand tall. If my life becomes a structure of my story, my habits are the fine lines that uphold it, almost like the cement that binds together pillars of life's values. In an effervescent overflow of life and its certain uncertainty, my habits are the little buoys scattered in a pattern along the way, not tying down to drown, but holding down so I don't get blown away with the winds, or swept up in life's tides. My habits are like the rest stops on the never-ending highway of life. They weren't always that they weren't always this nice. More so because either the world told me horror stories of habits chaining and eating you up from inside out, or I didn’t understand what was habit and what was just routine, until I paid attention, decluttered my hours & days off things & ways that weren't mine, & a few that were mine for some time until they metamorphosed upon need or simply died.
I was scared of developing habits because I was worried I was more tied down, and I didn't want to feel the pain of letting go of habits that were my own, for wasn't letting go of shared ones already a lot? But then, I decided to pull in and pay attention, I saw new habits develop without any desire for permanence or control, some stuck some evolved many dissolved with time. My habits now act as anchors that keep me closer to myself, aware awake present so that even when life overtakes me and I feel lost, unmoored, I know where to swim back to and find my feet again.
बेपरवाह ल ज़ मेरे खोये - खोये से ह दल चु पी से घरा आ है ऑख डबडबाती प क के वज़न तले और सूनी- सूनी याद म न जाने या तराशत । न जान या दन रात रात दन याद करती ह, कहाँ है मेरी आवाज़ कहाँ ह सही ल ज़ कुछ ख़बर नह सच क ँ तो अब मुझे परवाह भी नह ।
Time, Held. Thinking about the prompt today, I kept on singing the phrase "stop and stare" in my mind, and I kept on feeling drawn to articulate my love, no, my need for stopping and looking around, grabbing as much life as I can, capturing as many scenes as I possibly can, making sure that I remember everything as it is; the visuals, the moment, the sounds the sensations in my body, my feelings, all of it, as if to ensure that someone remembers this life I've lived, live and will continue to, maintaining a record perhaps for the day when age may interfere with memory. But then, the more I thought I realised that this very act of sitting with a word to write a poem, this process of churning something from the insides to give it some sort of tangible, digital form, isn't this like stopping and diving into everything that a word evokes, creating a narrative uniquely specific to who I am and my life at this precise minute? Sort of like steeping tea leaves in just the perfectly hot water set for the perfect measure of time so that the scent and taste ever possible in that bunch of leaves is all juiced up, taken in, consumed, to its utmost possibility. When I think of stopping now I only think of time.
An Elegy for Dying Imagination Is it a human thing to do, to destroy and kill, everything that held a promise at its conception? If I look around my city, it'll be difficult for me to say its not. Conceived as one thing, this city, a monstrous mess of concrete sprawling and guzzling down village after village, field after field, without even letting a burp out. This city keeps on becoming and in that, slowly unbecoming, creating new structures, distractions away from broken roads & broken backs disappearing shade & with that snatches of breath.
In its projected evolution, you're invited to witness with glazed eyes, all of its shine and splendour, while the old potential and promise disappears just like old houses do, unless they can follow the dress code, and fit the new image. It IS a thing that humans do, to destroy and kill, everything that held a promise at its conception, (when they lose their imagination.) Its like the minute they smell the birth of something - a city, or a child, they're ready with a list of what its got to look like, feel like, think like. Control, control, control. Is this the reason then, that our devalued childhoods became the drivers of us trying to survive trying to live in dying cities?
Child's Eye Sitting inside our boxes with a world increasingly adapting to a new normal, I've often questioned the point of it all, is this really it? Is this what I'm living for? There's a deeper hunger within me, un-satiated, beyond the tangible and visible, and each time the pointlessness of existence strikes, I've started looking at the world through a child's eyes. All through life I've been swinging between adaption and existential angst, until I met this child, all of 7, unaware of most terrible things, but certain that there's life in living because, "isn't the world actually too exhaustively expansive to ever be bored?" For the video art with this poem, head here.
जब भी अपनी बात कहना चाही मने तुमने कहा अभी नह , थोड़ी दे र और| जब भी मने अपने मन को करना चाहा, तुमने कहा अभी नह , अगली बार| करते करते यह अभी- कभी का खेल मेरी पूरी जदगी गुज़र गयी, इंतज़ार म, क शायद तुम सुनोगे, शायद तुम स े थे| अब या क ँ म इस टू टे दल का, गुज़रे व और झूठे वाद का? उ हो चली, व गुज़र गया मगर साथ म मुझे मेरी आवाज़ दे गया| जब इंसान क मन क बात साल साल दबी रहती है, उ मीद म झूठे वाद के तब समय के साथ वालामुखी क तरह घुट , अनसुनी आवाज़ व ोटक लगती है। अपना मुँह बंद करलो अब, जानती ँ अचंभे म हो तुम मेरी आवाज़ सुनके। अगर पहले सुनते तुम मेरी भी, तो मेरे मन का सच नाजायज़ वरोध नह लगता तु ह।
Seeker. What do you seek in people? Do you seek similarities, or common connections? Do you seek shared interests, or do you seek aligning passions? When you seek them, what do you seek in people? Commonalities are the first step. You catch a glimpse of someone, who's a complete stranger, but feels so similar, as if you're of the same mind. You race towards them, you connect, talking, sharing, laughing with each other, you're in awe of this strand of sharing, you're thankful for the chance of connection with someone so much like you, until you realise difference. Suddenly all the passionate similarity, the points of connection and desire disappear in a moment of difference. In a moment, you see them as them, that's not you, and you see yourself, as you that's not them. When you find difference, what do you do? Do you run? Hide? Feel disappointed? Or, do you recognise the thrill at finally seeing them for who they are, as you both see you for who you are? Do you see the potentiality in learning and sharing with their otherness? Do you take notes, observe, learn, ask, love? When you seek people, what do you seek?
Cocoon Ever wondered why sometimes some people feel warm, while others just don't, without making it about them? What makes you feel warm with someone, what doesn't? If you let yourself, maybe you'll find secrets into a world of safety for you. When I think of where I get my warmth, (aside of my part time job as a sunflower) I think of these things: my father's hands, the twinkle in his eyes when he felt proud, my cat's belly, or my dog's entire body, my mother's voice, my brother's hugs, the warm glow of street lamps, my starry blanket from childhood, Jaipur winter afternoons, a cup of chai. Its been a year (and more?) of living in deprivation of touch, of the warmth of human presence, not merely physical, but the presence of a warm body that becomes an escape from the storms of this world, even if for a minute that feels safe, okay, alive for yet another day. Warmth is safety. Warmth is feeling at home. Warmth is care. Warmth is loving & being loved.
Yin and Yang Give me a dark room, turn off anything that makes a sound. Close the door behind you, don't ask when you can come in. Enough has been spoken already about the chaos of this world, to even begin to express the exhaustion of my mind. I'm done with the noise, I'm over the clamour of pretend necessity. If you can give me anything love, give me the gift of stillness, give me a dark room, leave me be, unless you want that too, and I'll give you the same and more. I'm a seeker of stillness, that I am painfully aware remains elusive in its pursuance. I'm more interested in surrendering to its silence, and disappearing into its depths. (Until I emerge into the chaos again.)
'need/want' I need to not just, sit in my needs. I need to give in to my wants too. Don't get me wrong, I've been an ardent pilgrim at their temple of needing, standing on pillars of not wanting. I just don't buy into conditionality anymore. I need my wants now, as I need water to survive. I need my wants now, as I need air to breathe. I need a hug, as much as I need to cook tonight's meal. I need a cup of coffee at a cafe as much as I need to pay the bills. I need music, poetry, and paint as much as I need to finish my chores. I need to cook for someone as much as I need someone to cook for. For visual art for this poem, head to this link.
No One Thing I don't have a favorite anything. I don't have a favorite person, or smell, taste, time, memory. I was, at a point, mistaken enough to consider some things under the label: the smell of roses or lavender, lemon tea, and coffee, a notebook with a specific type of paper, a pen with that particular blue. I also had a favourite book, memory, places I've been and places I'd want to be, I even had favourites among people. Until, I didn't.
I like mornings more than nights now, I like some things better than others, even some people more than others, or maybe some not at all. Some days I love the sunrise, on others I absolutely detest being woken up. My point is that I get it now why my mother would avoid picking one of her two children as her favourite, finding ways to tell us how we both mattered to her equally. While I was never satisfied with that answer alone, I make sense of it in my own way now, of learning that it's ridiculous to assume having the same people, things, parts of you as favorites forever, cause everything keeps changing, and with that my feelings. (So if I do ever have to choose, my only favourite would be the ability to learn things with time, that make living a little easier, a little more liberating, a little more life giving.)
Ageing I was six years old when I learnt that to love, meant to sign up for pain. I didn't quite articulate it this way back then, but I felt it, the soul crushing pain when the object of your love is lost. This made me believe in the irreplaceability of those I love. I was young, and resilient, so that one loss of love wasn't enough to deter me. But then years later, I think I'd had enough. I'd had enough of loving and losing, of crashing to the ground, of having to pick myself up again, of having to mend my heart again, of falling in love again. Noticing this, I dived headfirst into finding a solution, "break my patterns" and see where in my loving could I change something so as to not lose again. I searched and searched, and found nothing. I found my patterns, and attacked them with the same determination with which one defends one's survival. I broke them. I broke out.
But still, I found loving and losing traipsing together as conjoined twins, inseparable, and by then I found myself accepting, that signing up for love comes with the condition of loss, of separation of a moment or a whole lifetime. And in that I see, all my old love flooding back to me, filling my heart after waiting for permission to leap out of the boxes I'd stowed it in after one loss or the other, dead, empty, rotten. And now I learn of the resilience of my love, of its expansiveness, of its timelessness, of its magic that the more I love, the more it comes back to me.
Feline Levity Whenever I think of this word my mind wrestles with its weight. It's hard to articulate sometimes something that once swallowed the heart. I try my best to find neat boxes, and shelves to shove those boxes in, and strips of paper to label each box of a past horror haunting today. But either the boxes fall apart, or the shelves come off loose, tumbling down to the floor, buckling under the weight of time old and new. It took loving my animals, for me to learn the levity of un-burdening, of forgetting and learning, of not needing any definitions or boxes on display. It was loving my cats, in particular, that my life's burdens started dissolving, falling off like snake skin, or a rusty old armour, unwanted.
This, and The world is burning down, there's a sense of doom, a gloomy smoke of fear circling life all around us. There's an eeriness in the silence that I hear, despite the din never having quietened. Doesn't death sound like this? Life moves on at one point, as life gives up at another. In one world, some fly away to safer havens, while others rot in the old. Some people shelter in hoarding this and that, some others lose homes, energy, hope and lie on their backs giving up. The world is burning down, while I write to you today, my love. I can still hope for a better tomorrow, if you're with me love.
Borrowed I'm not a big fan of bucket lists. I want to blame my father's death, but even when he was alive, I was never that person with a whole list. I never had dreams of living abroad, I never had a list of colleges to tick off, I never had countries to travel to at the tip of my tongue, I never had all that stuff. I don't mean to piss you off but I always found it to be a little clichéd, you know, making that list and then running the rat race to tick them off it, breaking pleasure into neat little to-do lists, sucking leisure right out of it. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I've never had a list or things I'd like to do, places I'd like to be, lives I'd like to live. I tried borrowing from lists I was supposed to have or lent. I tried to fit my life into them, or fit them into mine, all not in vain but just something not quite right. Until one day, I found my joy in 'discovery', of my own things, places, people to be. And since then, I've tossed out the templates, zigzagging my way around this world, to be.
Mirages I write to you today, with lesser urgency than I've felt earlier. I write to you today, while someone's playing a song of loss of love next door. I think of you each time I'm lost, maybe cause I find you every time I need an anchor. I am lost one moment, found the next, is there ever a straight line in this world?
Instructions to My Younger Self on How to Bloom Don't let your mind get ahead of you. Pause, let it come to you. Look out for yourself, with joy. Expect more, expect better. But expect from your own knowing. You're made of water, be more of it. But when needed, be fire. On that note, experiment with it, temper it, play with it. Enjoy the power of your fire. Don't be afraid of it. Be like earth, when you want to, but use that for yourself first. Air, well, breathe a lot of it. Inhale. Deeply. Feel it in your belly. Look out the window more, spend more time on those idle imaginations that you run away into. Choose good music, the kind that lifts you. Try to have more tea, less coffee. Corny is okay, sometimes. Frown less. Remember time is immaterial, without a frown. Laugh loudly, and more often. Play, play as much as you can. Sing, without needing to be heard. All in all, listen to your feelings more. They'll be your sign posts, but the deeper ones, not the ones the world gave you & you think are yours.
Her Many Faces I call myself a moon loon. I spend my nights tracking her movements, angles, timing, beauty. Without her, I find my nights barren. With her, there's always something to look forward to. Over time, I've learnt that I'm moony in my temperament too, shining loud and proud one day, disappearing into the shadows, the next. When I was a kid, and I saw death for the first time, seeing a walking, talking, alive person lay so still, to be burned away, I was told that they'd gone and made a home on the moon, that those who die always watch over us from there. My father's father was also named after the moon, he too disappeared too soon for the others. The moon's also been glorified by people with glazed eyes talking about her ability to pull at water. The moon's also the stimulant for howling animals hiding in the thickness of a forests shadow. The moon is a story woven neatly into my life, disrupting one moment, mending the next.
' जान अंजान' इस चाँद म और तुम म या अंतर है? महकती रात क रानी और तुम म या अंतर है? तुम भी कभी पूरे मेरे तो कभी अंजान| तुम भी महकाते सुनसान गली-कूच को तो कभी उनके अंधेरे म गु त, गायब| चाँद हो या रात क रानी तुम से यादा अलग नह ह। ख़ूबसूरत, शांत और ढूँ ढने पे सबसे र|
My heart's broken, my mind's been shut, the world's choking in the tightening grip of greed. We're ruled by false kings 'cause we've always been this ugly, but it took the starkness of mass funerals, for (some of) our illusions to break. I have no nice words to offer, I don't care for fragility right now. All I know is, it takes a heart to look a storm in the eye, & leap to survive.
- Heartless Kings Make Broken Worlds
'Breaking Barriers' Whole homes breaking apart, boring through thickened walls breaking, crumbling, fleeing, from hollow promises of yesterday. Homes built on hopes of faulty foundations of permanence, or haughty ignorance of immortality, of rigidity in a constantly shifting world. Leaving shamed, labelled abandonment, lending a burden of the torture of what could have been, oh what could have been if you'd not seen it. They'd seen it coming, they'd heard the cracks widen, but they can't be blamed till they're freed from the spell.
Sick Illusions In moments of silence that come with the reckoning of the tragedy of existence, the price of living and loving, the heart often looks towards the skies, for some respite, an escape maybe or some grace. Questions of existence lurk heavy like a single dark cloud looming on the horizon, while the moon slinks away westward. Is all of life captured in their dramatics, in their cycles of appearing & disappearing? Opposite poles of two magnets, attracting and repulsive at the same time. Does aliveness them become the reunion of the sun and the moon: to feel but not be able to see, or to see yet not be able to touch, or to come close and then disappear? Is birth and death, the tricks of appearing with great fanfare, and disappearing just as suddenly, an act, a game of separation and reunion? I can only ask.
Dust gathers heavy atop the tree's branches. Summer's heat, or apathy leaves me lounging putting off work for later. I blame it, in part, on monsoon's impending arrival, the air thick with moisture reason behind stagnation and a sense of wistful self loathing that comes with the deal of work. But then, monsoon does arrive; releasing all moisture from the air, all dust from the tree's branches, relieving me of my own burdens. - Monsoon As Relief
Have you even experienced rains if they don't simmer down embers of raging hate? Have you even experienced rains if you haven't felt a chill run down your spine, hearing thunder as clouds gather, right before they let loose? Have you even experienced rains if you've not felt forgiveness, as they purge you of all of summer's sin? - Monsoon as Absolution
'Gold Magic' Hope is going to bed at night, assuming you'll wake up the next morning. Hope is loving places, people, animals knowing there's a chance of separation. Hope is heavy on some days and light as a fickle butterfly on others. Hope is held, hope is elusive. Hope is vicious, cruel, blurry sometimes. Hope is in levity at others. Hope is in light on some days, and in the thick curtain of darkness on others. Hope is surviving while wanting to thrive. Hope is the human condition.
I can hear the sound of the sea. I'm at my favourite bench, the one among many public places I have deemed 'my spot'. You walk like a cat, or maybe I'm so lost that I don't hear you coming. You sit next to me as if you never left, as if it was just an infinite continuum of shared existence between you and I, that even death couldn't come between. It's as if I blinked, and you were there. I ask you to tell me of your travels, you know you have your best audience ready, and you clear your throat, like Mukesh warming up for his performance. You know you have my attention, and you take your time, weaving every little detail, almost like spinning an illusion of memory, where I see you do it all; the trains, the roads, the dust, the food, oh the food of your time. But something's different this time. You're not censoring yourself. I also see the pain, the horrible sorrow and fear, oh, I see your heart break, but here, next to me, you're well, more healed. It's confusing my mind, even though my heart understands. I see you now. I see you whole, you bare your soul. I am listening, and slowly disappearing, losing myself in your landscape, until I feel a splatter of hot liquid from the chai that boiled over.
- I Meet You In The In-Between
Shivranjana Rathore ©
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