Sakhi's Laghukatha

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It was the year 1972. Since Alekhya was neither good at studies nor good looking by general standards, her wealthy family thought best to get her settled in life. She was soon married to Sunil, a young, extremely handsome guy who held a stable job in government, albeit not very rich. Alekhya was all of 18 when she was married off. With the dream of love and fun-filled life in her eyes, she shifted from Hyderabad to Mumbai to be with her new family.

New life was far from what she had imagined. Sunil was a quiet guy; he was not really interested in her, nor was he interested in anybody or anything else. He would keep to himself. Their physical intimacy was few and far between. This frustrated Alekhya to the core. At her maternal home, she would throw tantrums and was used to getting things her way, but her tantrums would not work here, simply because no one really cared. She would look around her tiny matchbox chawl room of Mumbai and compare it with her sprawling home at Hyderabad. She cringed every time she had to stand in queue every morning at not-so-clean community toilets. She would curse her destiny and her family for subjecting her to this torture. At the same time, youthful Alekhya dotted on her husband and tried to find meaning to her new life. A year flew by and one evening, as they were having celebratory family meal Alekhya heard a thud. She saw her young husband sprawled on the floor in front of her, in violent seizures and frothing at mouth, getting soaked in his own urine and faeces. Alekhya was horrified beyond words. She, bewildered, looked at other family members to find them completely nonchalant. After a couple of minutes, the horror stopped, and her husband lied there, lifeless. Her mother-in-law asked Alekhya to pick him up and get him cleaned, as if nothing had happened. 19-year-old Alekhya, sat down with her unconscious husband and cried. She did not know what else to do, so she just cried. After a while, when Sunil groggily came out of his stupor, she supported him to take him to the bathroom. She had many questions, but Sunil avoided to even look at her. On the day of their first anniversary Alekhya was gifted by the news of her husband being a chronic epileptic! She wasn’t sure how was he able to hide this for so long.

Alekhya now became full time care giver to her epileptic husband. She would always be scared when he would go in to seizures. It happened so many times that people would come drop him home as he would have fallen on streets. Having emergency medical card in pocket would come in handy but this did not take away the fear of losing him to accidents. Medical advances in epilepsy in later years would reduce the number and intensity of attacks but not without central nervous system side-effects of long term seizures and medical treatment. Alekhya started brewing from within. She felt cheated, both by her father, whom she loved and revered dearly, and by her husband. Sexual frustration and loveless marriage intensified her dormant manipulative character.

Alekhya had always loved to be in the center of attraction all the time but it cannot be said when she started enjoying her victimhood. Whether due to guilt or out of pity, her father started lavishing money and gifts on her, sometimes even against the wishes of his own son. Alekhya started playing the devil sister-in-law that you would see in Bollywood movies. It was amazing to see how an innocent looking lady can be so devious in her actions and motives. Probably, even she did not understand why and what she was doing as there was no direct gain visible of her petty conduct. She gathered ire of her near and dear ones, including her children (yes, she did have children, whom she abhorred!!). Her children grew up to dislike and love her at the same time. After all she was their mother! She inflicted mental and physical torture on them till they were dependent on her. Sunil never came to their rescue, most of the time he was not aware and other times he just ignored. Maybe he was too dependent on Alekhya for his own survival that he chose to look the other way when his children suffered atrocities by their own mother.

There was another side of Alekhya that was surprisingly opposite to her general behaviour with her family and friends. She loved taking care of people who worked for her as house helps or anyone who was not directly related to her. She would go out of her way to take care of them and they her. Many layers of Alekhya!

Years passes with her mundane, home bound and dormant life. Alekhya tried to make it interesting by taking up hobbies like crocheting, making pickles, jams, mouth fresheners etc. and selling them. This kept her happy and also helped her with little pocket money. Money that she received from her father was spent lavishly on no-body-knew-what! However, nothing gave her more pleasure than scheming, gossiping and lamenting about her own life and that of others.

Over the years, Sunil gradually became more and more dependent on Alekhya as his health deteriorated significantly and she too got used to her dreary life. Children grew up and went their own ways, one of them vouching to never return to the parents-that-were-never-there and the other hanging on the periphery. Alekhya being Alekhya, tried to create wedge between her own children and their spouses too. She made sure that her son and daughter-in-law did not have one peaceful moment till they decided to leave them and start their lives separately. Grand children weren’t spared either.

After a pitiful death of Sunil at the age of 65, Alekhya thought she would finally live her life the way she wanted; watching movies in theaters, eating whatever she liked, dressing up however she wanted! Alas, Karma had something else in store for her. Within a year, she health corroded. Multiple hospitalizations and surgeries left her in vegetative state and at a complete mercy of the very people she had wronged.

On one of the rare occasions that Alekhya gained consciousness, she looked into her daughter-in-law’s eyes, held her hand and said, “I know I have done a lot of mistakes in my life, please forgive me.” Gopi, looked at her, without much emotions and held her mother-in-law’s hands, not giving away the pain and hurt and loathing that she felt at the particular moment. She also felt pity at the elderly, wrinkled mass of skin and bones but not forgiveness.

Life had come full-circle!

****

Disclaimer – Based on true life events. Certain details of Alekhya’s life has been modified taking literary liberty.

To Read About Gopi’s Angst, Click Here

Angst

Posted on: August 24, 2019

Gopi looked at the frail figure lying in bed in front of her. Alekhya was a far cry from the tyrant that she used to be. It was almost pitiable to see her mother-in-law in such a state. Gopi believed strongly in Karma and for her this was what Alekhya had to pay for her deeds.

There was a time when Alekhya had made life of her daughter-in-law hell. Manipulative to the core, Alekhya had not left any stone unturned to harass the newly wedded girl. Well, it was wrong to say that harassment was only reserved for the daughter-in-law; Alekhya was a very bitter woman and her wrath had been bestowed on her own children since they were born. She was a very complex woman; loving and caring for all the house-helps but emotional schemer for the family members. Gopi; a very happy-go-lucky, full of life girl; had come to despise her mother-in-law to the core. It was difficult to forget for Gopi how her own daughter was treated by Alekhya.

Life had come full circle now. Alekhya was in and out of ICU wards for the past two years and was completely at Gopi’s mercy. It was getting tiring for her emotionally, mentally and financially to keep Alekhya out of pain and floating. If she was truthful to herself, there were times when Gopi wanted to strangulate Alekhya with her bare hands but now that Alekhya was at her mercy she was feeling pity instead of hatred.  She saw the journey of this once spiteful woman from being an oppressor to a living vegetable. When she took upon herself to take care of this woman when the first hospitalization happened, she had really thought it was her duty to take care of her home’s elderly. But as soon as the first crisis was over, Alekhya started showing her true colours and the whirlwind of emotions wreaked havoc within Gopi. Was it worth going through the pain again? But within a few weeks, Alekhya was in the hospital again and Gopi did not have a choice but to be by her side. One after another, there were more than 10 critical hospitalizations within a span of one year and slowly Alekhya was reduced to a vegetative painful life of not really living and not dying. During this period Gopi went through the ups and downs of emotions. She did not want to take care of this woman who had made her younger life miserable. At the same time the moral duty pulled her towards what needed to be done. She hated the fact that just because Gopi was legally and socially bound she was expected to take care of her ailing mother-in-law, who had not given any love throughout the time that they knew each other. Forget love, she did everything in her capacity to make sure that Gopi was not happy. It also distraught Gopi that since Alekhya was now old all her previous actions were to be forgotten and she was to nurse her. And yet, here she was, being well taken care by the very person whom she abused. Karma plays both ways!

As Gopi looked at the ailing figure in front of her, she wished Alekhya death again but this time not out of spite but to end the suffering of another human being.

Amen!

*****

Click Here to read Alekhya’s Life Story

 

My dearest Cookie,

You entered your teenage just recently and you were so very excited about it. Looking at you, so happy and chirpy, swelled my heart. I loved you even more (if that is even possible!) when you refused to have a birthday bash for yourself because you had demanded a costly gift. It was amazing to see that dimply smile on your face when your friends unexpectedly came to wish you. All you girls looked so cute and happy. Touch wood! (No, I don’t really believe in this phrase, but it won’t hurt either ;))

I am writing this letter, and might not give it to you till you are 15 years at least, to let you know a few thoughts that I have had since you were born and are getting stronger as you are turning into a fine young lady.

Now that you are growing up it is not going to be possible for me or daddy to protect you all the time or keep you from harm’s way. No longer will it be possible for us to filter out the news and give you only positive or scientific news to read from newspapers. Days are not very far when you will want to go out alone with your friends and we will be fretting at home till you return home safely. You might want to go on your first date real soon. Things are going to change with all the physical and emotional changes that you are going to experience and we realize that you are no longer our little girl.

With increasing intolerance towards woman individuality in our country, we will be worried about your safety, not just physically but emotionally too. You will have your share of hurts and heartaches, and I am not talking about just the romantic ones. People will be mean when you least expect them to be. You will hear adverse comments on your gender or caste or religion or bodyweight. You will soon find out how dirty it feels to be touched inappropriately when you travel in crowded public transport or how uncomfortable you will be made to feel by some lecherous eyes even when you are fully dressed. These thoughts are painful to me, to say the least, but you will have to go through these experiences nonetheless. Consider these as a part of your growing up process.

With all these adversities of growing up in a regressive society that we live in today and with reducing morals, I know it is going to be tough to keep up your morale, but trust me you will be fine. Don’t confuse between being carefree and careless. Do not misunderstand the word “freedom”. Do not do things you are not comfortable doing just to fit in the group. Do not suffer bullying. Don’t give up on your values and never take abuses lying down. Do not get into the fight of gender-equality or superiority as it will never serve any purpose and you will waste your life proving something that is immaterial in the larger schemes of life. Trust yourself. Fight for your rights and be just to others. Learn to forgive and let go.

I want you to know that you are special. And you will meet more good people in life than bad. A loving family, a few best friends and that special person who will always love you for what you are, will make your life complete. You will be valued for your beautiful heart and not just for the looks you carry. You will be treasured for your hard work and fairness to achieve what you desire and not for the fairness (or the lack of it) of your skin colour. You will be respected for balancing your personal and professional life and not for sacrificing things that you value the most to fan someone’s ego. You will be appreciated for the charities you do and what you give back to the society as your social responsibilities and not because of your body size. You will be cherished, the way I have been, for being you.

Be kind, Be generous and Be happy!

God Bless You…

Lots of love,

Mumma

Dream

Posted on: September 22, 2009

fiction_stamp2First day at Leelapur, an interior hamlet in Utter Pradesh, was like a rude shock for Kahan. Till now he had read about hunger and destitute in books, but never was he in such close quarters with either. He was to serve as an intern in this village for three months. He was allotted a room besides the so-called dispensary. The room was almost the size of his bathroom at home. There was a wrought iron bed in the corner and the mattress did not look too inviting. Now he wasn’t even sure of safe drinking water either.

“Sir, would you like to rest today and start seeing patients tomorrow?” Dukhiya, the attendant, asked half expecting Kahan to run away from this place as soon as possible.

Kahan looked around and did not find any incentive to stay back in the room.

“Come, we will see how many patients are there!” replied Kahan.

“Only a couple of them as there is no doctor for about six months now. The nurse is managing with whatever he has.”

Kahan nodded somberly. He was too overwhelmed by his surrounding to say anything else. As they started towards dispensary, Dukhiya started filling him in about the village and its people. But his conversance did not prepare Kahan for what he was to see in the coming three months.

“Tell me something, why is your name “Dukhiya?” asked Kahan to feel a bit lighter.

“I am told that when I was a baby I used to cry a lot and always had a frown on my face, hence the name.” answered Dukhiya with a grin. Kahan noticed missing incisors. Dukhiya was a slight man with a slouch. His face was weather beaten and lined deeply. Later during his stay he observed that most of the adults in this village looked prematurely aged and had deeply lined faces at very young age.

He was reminded of “colour streaked” hair of young ladies of his city when he saw “flag sign” of malnutrition in the kids here. For one it was fashion, for other it was an aftermath of privation! Day after day Kahan saw and felt despair. Basic amenities were luxury here.  He felt helpless when he could not give injection to many of the children because there was no muscle mass to poke needle into. He was a theist but looking around now, his faith in God was quivering.

*****

“Sir, sir….” shouted Dukhiya knocking at Kahan’s door. Kahan got up from his slumber with a start. He heard dread in Dukhiya’s voice.

“What could it be at this hour!” wondered Kahan looking at his watch. It showed 2 am.

“What is it? Why do you look so alarmed?” asked Kahan while still trying to get oriented to his wakeful state.

“Come sir, come fast, Bijuri is bleeding profusely.”

This was not the first emergency since he came to this village two and half months back, but he had never seen Dukhiya dismayed before. They almost ran to the consulting room. He saw a thin young woman sitting on the floor with her head bowed and her chaperone was crying and cursing profusely. He assumed that they were a mother-daughter duo. As it turned out, the daughter, Bijuri, was a widow since she was sixteen and presently she was brought here as she had miscarried. That explained the cursing. Bijuri did not look up nor did she say anything. It was difficult to tell from her demeanour what was she feeling and it was equally difficult to gauge her age, but she looked to be in her twenties.. With the treatment done he was requested to keep the matter to himself. He reassured them as he sent the duo home.

Feeling numb, Kahan dragged himself to his room and tried to sleep.

He dreamt of a young girl wearing floral pink and yellow frock running around in the field with a balloon in her hand, her unruly hair bouncing with each gallop. He hears her laughter. She runs into a boy and they both hold hands and play some more. The boy is called away leaving behind the girl alone. A small tear trickles down her chubby cheek. She looks around to play with somebody but found herself alone. Suddenly the little girl is whisked away by a lot of skinny and ravenous people. The girl starts wailing and the whole universe is filled with her cry. Kahan wants to snatch her away from the mob but his hands can’t reach her. He sees her being dragged away. Then he sees her again at his clinic, with her head bowed and bleeding. He sees the blood all over the floor. He wipes and wipes but the blood won’t go away. She sits there in the pool of blood looking at Kahan. Kahan frantically tries to stop the bleeding. Bleeding stops. She smiles at him, a rueful smile and walks away. Kahan runs behind her, to find her, to protect her, to tell her that life is much more than what she has found it to be. He runs and runs through the narrow lanes and fields to catch her, frantically looking for her. She slips away. Then he sees her again, on the other end of the field standing under a sandalwood tree. He could smell the perfume. He breathes deeply to fill his being with the aroma. He gingerly takes the steps towards the girl. He reaches the sandalwood tree and looks around for her. His head collides with something hanging from the tree. There he finds her finally, hanging by the twine, a small smile playing on her lips. But this is not the same girl who had come to his clinic. This is the girl with the balloons in her hands…the nine year old girl! Suddenly the mob appears and starts pelting the girl’s dead body with stones.

Kahan wakes up drenched in his own sweat!

Posted on: June 20, 2009

fiction_stamp2Aarohi opened her purse to pay for her shopping and found her purse to be empty of cash. It was good that she was carrying credit card. She made a mental note to talk to Mahir about this. “At least he should have informed me if he took the money” she thought, fuming.

Later that evening after dinner she broached the subject up with Mahir.

“Have you taken money from my purse?”

“Nope. Why do you ask?”

“No? This is the third time in last two months that some money is missing from my purse. I thought you might have taken it for some reason. But when I found that $100 was missing again today, I wanted to confirm.”

“WHAT? Are you serious! But why didn’t you tell me this before?Anyway, how much have you lost till now?”

“About $200…”

There was shock on Mahir’s face. There were only three people in their home. They and their seven year old kid!

Now Aarohi was at lost. Who could be taking the money? She thought of baby sitter or the maid who came once a week for cleaning the apartment, but on thinking harder she concluded that they might not be the culprits.

They forgot about the incidence in a couple of days. “

Why are you crying?” Aarohi asked Bittoo when she went to pick him up from school one day. He didn’t reply. She could make out that he was trying to control but failed to stop tears smearing his cute little face. She didn’t probe more. She hugged him and they came home. But Bittoo sulked the rest of the day and refused to go to school the next day. He went finally to school after a lot of cajoling. But his tantrums increased day by day. Aarohi and Mahir noticed the behavioural changes but they attributed it to the new school, new environment and new friends.

As the days passed Bittoo became introvert and hardly talked to them or anybody. He no longer demanded to listen to a story before going to bed. In fact he no longer demanded for anything. Aarohi and Mahir started contemplating to visit his school and talk to his teachers.

Aarohi went to see Bittoo at night once he was fast asleep. Looking at his cherubic face her eyes welled up.

“What has happened to my little boy?” she started crying softly and bent to kiss her son. As she started going out she saw that Bittoo was holding something in his fist. She was shocked to find $50 note crumpled in his tiny hand. She just collapsed on the bed and sat there holding her head in her hands.

“Where had they gone wrong? Was it due to this foreign land and its culture? Was it something else?” She didn’t know how long she sat there holding her child’s hand.

fiction_stamp2

I was stranded at the airport for about five hours. Reaching home looked like a distant dream. I was bored of reading magazines and news papers. I closed my eyes in a hope to catch up on some sleep. I tried to relax, but human mind is fleeting and so was mine (though my subordinates thought of me as one of the most inhuman bosses!!). I was tempted to flick open my laptop and work. I suppressed the idea.

There was one more announcement of further delay in the flight departure.

I closed my eyes again. Suddenly dad’s face flickered in front of my eyes and I almost reached out to touch him. It vanished as soon as it had appeared! I missed him sometimes… only sometimes! I wondered if I was a normal person. Nothing in my life was indispensable! Or was it?

I remembered that day when my favourite doll went missing. One of the servants or kids might have filched it. My mom was worried how I would manage without that doll. I practically took it everywhere I went. Even to the toilet! I proved my mother wrong. One of the other dolls took my fancy and the older one was forgotten as if it never existed. I was all of three years then!

When I grew up a bit, mom went for her further studies to US of A, leaving me and my dad in India. I missed her. Thankfully she came back in a year and I was glad. This one year made me closer to dad. I started doting on him. A few years later, when the family’s financial condition was compromised due to some social reasons, mom went overseas again to make more money. I cried a lot. I didn’t want her to go. She cajoled and tried her level best to make me understand why it was important for her to go. I understood… I cried for her again only a couple of times in another decade to come. Dad hardly had time to be with me! I came to know very late in my life that his office closed at 5:30 pm! Till date I am not sure where he used to be till 9 or 10 pm! I found solace in my friends. They became my family.

Time flew by; I entered into professional course and with that a new chapter began. I had to go to hostel. The idea of going to a new place, a new life, thrilled me. My so called “boyfriend” of two years cried a lot when I told him about my going away.  I should have been happy at this display of emotions, instead I felt nauseated. I tried keeping in touch with him initially, though things didn’t work out after all. I, now, don’t remember who snapped the ties, but we no longer communicated.

I was excited about the new place, meeting new people and the whole idea of becoming a doctor! I remembered my first party. How excited I was! I had never been to a dance party before. My expectations, though, were ill founded. The whole idea of male and female bodies covered in sweat, touching here and there with gyrating movements; repulsed me. I tasted alcohol for the first time on insistence of my friends. I am unable to contemplate how a bitter thing like that can be savoured so much! The whole scene had an anti-climatic effect on me. I rushed out of the hall for some fresh air. Saw Aashish, a classmate, loitering there. We smiled a “hello-we-know-each-other” smile. He too wasn’t enjoying the party, he told me. That was the first time we had talked to each other. I wanted to go back to hostel and he offered to drop me. I accepted. A few days later, he proposed (of course not for marriage, yet!), I declined. He proposed again, stopped eating food and friends started pressuring me. I gave in. I regret that decision of my life even today. He screwed up 5 years of my life or more aptly put, I let him! I still am not sure how I ever told him that I loved hi.We parted our ways and I vowed to myself not to let anybody rein my life again. In spite of turbulent four years, I am indebted to Aashish for one thing – I appreciate a lot of things in life more, which otherwise I would have taken for granted.

In spite of emotional turmoil, I topped university in the final year. Professional life had just begun. Tough working hours and excessive studies greeted me in postgraduate course. I loved it immensely.

At home, mom had started pestering me about marriage. Idea of an arranged marriage was quite queasy to me. But since I wasn’t ‘involved’ with anybody, I was compelled to “at least” see a few prospective beaus. I and Krunal exchanged our notes on those prospects. Somewhere down the line, we decided to get married to each other. I, now, don’t remember who proposed whom; though he maintains that it was me who proposed him. Thoughts of those early days brought smile on my face. He was perfect for me; my best friend!

Professionally I grew well, became one of the youngest corporate doctors of the State. My tenacity, punctuality and no-nonsense attitude earned me respect and money, also a title of “Lady Hitler” from my subordinates. What they don’t know is, I love this image of mine and the title too!

In the course of time, I drifted from my maternal family. Staying without mom for about 10 years in those crucial growing up years and then about 8 years in hostel made me more practical and somewhat emotionally blunt. When dad passed away a couple of years back, I didn’t feel a vacuum a child feels at losing her parent. I loved him because he was my father but we could never become friends. Mom complained about my gruff behaviour; characteristic unemotional, practical decisions I take; but lately she seems to have resigned herself from improving my behaviour. And its time too! She should have done my character building in my younger years. Now, it was too late. I didn’t hate her or resent her for going away. I just became indifferent. I think, I love her, but I am not very sure!

I came back from my reverie when someone tapped on my shoulder. The plane was held up and the crew was searching high and low for me!!

I sighed… it was too much of soul searching for the day or probably for days to come, though I didn’t get the answer to a question I was faced with for quite sometime now. Was I really as emotionally blunt as I was made out to be?

Sigh…

Mom

Posted on: April 20, 2009

fiction_stamp2“Thud…” He was thrown on the bed so hard, he wailed, more from the shock than pain, which irritated his mother even more. And he got a tight slap again. Suddenly the bell rang and he was spared from getting strangulated. He was all of three months then.

 

Though he never had the memories of those incidents of younger years, he distinctly remembered when he wanted to sleep with his parents once. He was of four years. His father would have loved to have him with them but the look on his mother’s face told him otherwise. But a child that he was he tried to pursue her to allow him.

 

“You better sleep down there; else you know what I can do when your father isn’t there!”

 

Oh, he knew it very well. He urinated that night again in his bed. Of course one more punishment was waiting for him for spoiling the bed. He was stripped of his clothes and was made to stand in the balcony facing the road!

 

He never understood why his mother behaved the way she did. His father was always nice to him. And he had noticed that mother was a different woman around him. But he was scared to tell any of these atrocities to his father since he was threatened with more dire consequences if he ever dared to do so.

 

But for him the scenario became a bit more pleasant when his sister came to his world. He was overjoyed to have a little bundle of love. But he was horrified when the little baby was also thrashed the way he was! It was a pure miracle that the brother-sister duo survived.

 

Their love for each other was like a silver lining of the black cloud.

 

“Chinky, I have lost my sweater today at school. I went and tried to find it but I don’t know where I lost it!” He was almost in tears and was scared to go home to face his mother.

 

“Kuchh nahi hoga bhaiya, don’t worry!” Chinky tried to pacify her brother, who was shaking like a dry leaf.

 

Miraculously their mother didn’t say a word about the sweater and they both breathed sigh of relief. But it was indeed a short lived one. The next day when he was tying a knot to his pajama, his mother came and tied it so tight that it was difficult for him to even breathe. He was left that way the whole day and when he couldn’t hold back he peed in his pajama! Thrice, since he was not allowed to change his pajama!

 

He was 11 years then.

 

He always wished that some relative should come and stay with them since that was the only time his mother didn’t met out the “punishments” to the duo. He never understood what irked his mother. Everybody in his family and extended family praised him for his behaviour and he was in good in studies too. He always tried to please his mother. Somehow he never succeeded.

But recently his anger was brewing, especially when he saw his sister also getting the brunt without any fault of her. Yet, he was courteous in his behaviour lest something irked his mother!

 

But today when he came from school he saw his sister standing in balcony, facing the road… without clothes!!! Something snapped inside him.

 

He rushed up and covered his sister! His mother came menacingly. She had forgotten that her son was now no longer a young boy whom she can intimidate physically. But she did not stop and tried to remove the blanket from her daughter. He couldn’t hold himself any longer.

 

“Thud…..” with all the anger brewing for all these years he hit his mother.

 

“Try touching her once more and you can be sure that you will not live to see a new day in your life.” The thunder in his voice conveyed the message loud and clear.

 

He hugged his sister and took her away with tears running down his face. Tears of what, he couldn’t understand!


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Sakhi's Laghukatha by Sakhi (aka Dr. Dhara Shah) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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