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Posts Tagged ‘india’

Saving the Stork

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Photo: Gerrit Vyn at Living Bird.
A conservation army of women has worked hard to revive the population of an odd endangered stork, the Greater Adjutant. The work is tied to Aaranyak, a nonprofit focused on biodiversity in northeast India.

As I was trying to decide if you’d be interested in another initiative that might be on hold because of Covid-19, I read the article more carefully and saw something that confirmed it is merely experiencing a pause. “When the entire nation of India was placed into lockdown in spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, public festivals were canceled, but the hargila army still celebrated the storks by making Greater Adjutant face masks.” 

Hargila? Greater Adjutant? The story of an inspiring Indian conservationist comes from Arundhati Nath at All About Birds.

“Dr. Purnima Devi Barman carefully balances her feet as she clambers down from an 80-foot-tall bamboo platform. She’s been scanning the treetops above the village of Dadara in northeastern India, looking for the giant stick nests of Greater Adjutants — huge storks named for their stiff-legged, almost military gait.

“These tall, majestic birds were once widely distributed in wetlands across India and Southeast Asia. … The Greater Adjutant is now confined to the northeastern state of Assam, their last stronghold. Elsewhere, small populations persist in Cambodia’s northern plains. The species is endan­gered, one of the rarest storks in the world. …

“In study­ing this species, Barman has noticed a change in the storks’ behavior. Greater Adjutants are now increasingly leaving the rural wetlands where they have historically nested and becoming village dwellers.

“Through her tireless work with Aaranyak, Barman has empowered an army of local women to make another big change happen. Once scorned, the storks are now wel­comed and celebrated in the villages — and people who once destroyed Greater Adjutant nests now care for the birds like their own children. …

“Greater Adjutants can be smelly neighbors. They bring rotting flesh to their nests to feed hatchling storks, and they rain smelly droppings down on villagers’ gardens. People in the Assamese villages of Dadara and Pacharia, where the storks are most common, tended to see the huge birds as a bad omen, a plague. They were even willing to chop down magnificent old trees in their backyards to get rid of stork nests.

“One day in 2007, Barman watched in horror as nine baby storks fell to the ground when a villager chopped down a nest tree. When she tried to stop the vil­lager, she was taken aback by his anger. …

“As other villagers gathered around her at the fallen nest tree, she asked for their help in taking the baby storks to a rescue center at a nearby zoo. … They laughed at Barman, ridiculing her and asking if she wanted to eat the baby birds on her way home. It was an inci­dent that could have discouraged her from enlisting locals in an effort to save the storks. But instead, Barman marks it as a turning point that led to a lot of good and necessary change.

‘I realized that it wasn’t the people’s fault,’ she says now. ‘They were com­pletely unaware about the ecological significance of the endangered stork.’ …

“She made a huge personal sacrifice, stepping away from her PhD studies to dedicate herself to shifting people’s attitudes. Barman started by reaching out to several women in the villages, speaking to them about the importance of these birds and their dwindling population.

“She chose women as a first point of contact for her conservation outreach effort, because she felt the women in these villages don’t often get a chance to weigh in on social issues. And within their families, women can serve as the gatekeepers.

“A big part of Barman’s conservation challenge was access to nests, with Greater Adjutants nesting atop trees on private land, in people’s yards. By striking up friendships with the local women, who were mostly homemakers, Barman figured she could gain permis­sion to enter their premises and work to save the storks. She organized activities such as cooking competitions to attract women to her meetings.

“The meetings were a hit, and they gained a big following. Today Barman has organized a group of more than 400 local volunteers in what she calls the ‘hargila army.’ (In Assamese, Greater Adjutants are called ‘hargila,’ which literally translates as ‘bone swallower’ because the storks sometimes swallow whole bones.)” More at All About Birds, here.

adds a bit more on Barnum at the Better India. “Fondly referred to as the ‘Hargila Baideu’ (Stork Sister) by the local community for the work she has been doing for the birds, Purnima has dedicated her life to protect the Greater Adjutant. …

” ‘My grandmother instilled my love and passion for nature. But it was during my Master’s studying ecology and wildlife biology, when my professors spoke of the endangered Greater Adjutant Stork, which were then nowhere to be seen in my grandmother’s paddy fields. I volunteered at Aaranyak, a Guwahati-based non-profit wildlife conservation organisation, but saw that people’s interest was restricted to glamourous species like the rhino or tigers. So, why shouldn’t I work towards protecting the Greater Adjutant Stork,’ says Purnim.” More here.

By the way, this week I’m drinking a vey nice loose-leaf tea from Assam, home of the Greater Adjutant. Upton Teas has a huge selection, and they ship fast.

Map: Jillian Ditner. Greater Adjutant image: Amol Marathe/Macaulay Library.

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Still image from video: BBC Hindi
This is Jyoti Kumari, a 15-year-old who cycled more than 700 miles from New Delhi to her village, transporting her injured father, a migrant laborer, on her bike.

Some kids take on a lot of responsibility really fast. That was the case of a girl from a poor family in India who told her mother she would bring her injured father home even if she had to bike halfway across India. There are many such children who never get a media spotlight, but for those that do, good things may follow.

As Jeffrey Gettleman and Suhasini Raj reported at the New York Times, “She was a 15-year-old with a simple mission: bring papa home. Jyoti Kumari and her dad had nearly no money, no transport, and their village was halfway across India. And her dad, an out-of-work migrant laborer, was injured and could barely walk.

“So Jyoti told her dad: Let me take you home. He thought the idea was crazy but went along with it. She then jumped on a $20 purple bike bought with the last of their savings. With her dad perched on the rear, she pedaled from the outskirts of New Delhi to their home village, 700 miles away.

‘Don’t worry, mummy,’ she reassured her mother along the way, using borrowed cellphones. ‘I will get Papa home good.’

“During the past two months under India’s coronavirus lockdown, millions of migrant laborers and their families have poured out of India’s cities, desperate and penniless, as they try to get back to their native villages where they can rely on family networks to survive. Many haven’t made it. …

“But amid all this pain and sadness now emerges a tale of devotion and straight-up grit. The Indian press has seized upon this feel-good story. … And a few days ago, the story got even better.

“While resting up in her village, Jyoti received a call from the Cycling Federation of India. Convinced she had the right stuff, Onkar Singh, the federation’s chairman, invited her to New Delhi for a tryout with the national team. …

“Reached by phone on Friday in her village of Sirhulli, in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, Jyoti said in a scratchy voice barely above a whisper, because she still sounded exhausted: ‘I’m elated, I really want to go.’ …

“Her father, Mohan Paswan, a rickshaw driver from a lower rung of India’s caste system, was injured in a traffic accident in January and was running out of money even before the lockdown. … Jyoti came out from their village in Bihar to care for Mr. Paswan. She had dropped out of school a year ago because the family didn’t have enough money. Things got even worse after the lockdown, with their landlord threatening to kick them out and then cutting off their electricity.

“When Jyoti came up with the escape plan, her father shook his head.

“ ‘I said, “Look, daughter, it’s not four or five kilometers that you will drag me from here. It’s 12-, 13-hundred kilometers. How will we go?’’ ‘ he said in a video broadcast by the BBC’s Hindi service.

“The two bought a simple girl’s bike for the equivalent of about $20. On May 8, they set off, Jyoti at the handlebars, dad sitting pillion on back. Jyoti was pretty confident on a bike, having ridden a lot in her village.

“Many days they had little food. They slept at gas stations. They lived off the generosity of strangers. Jyoti said that except for one short lift on a truck, she pedaled nearly 100 miles a day. It wasn’t easy. Her father is big, and he was carrying a bag. …

“After they arrived in their village last weekend, her father went into a quarantine center. … Jyoti’s mother convinced village elders to let her quarantine at home. .. Then, a few days later, on Thursday morning, she got The Call.”

Read more at the New York Timeshere.

 

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Photo: Manjunath Kiran / AFP / Getty
A nationwide lockdown has had positive effects on India’s air quality. Says the
New Yorker magazine, “The sky is clearer, rivers are less contaminated, and people have awakened to possible change.”

Will less air travel, commuting, and industrial smoke mean long-term improvement in global warming and pollution? One expert I heard on the radio said no because there has also been a slowdown in work on alternate energy.

But I do think if people see a difference in their skies, they may be more motivated to keep carbon reduction going. When they can see that clear skies are not a hopeless dream, it makes an impression.

In the New Yorker, Raghu Karnad has written about what people in India are seeing.

“On the morning of April 3rd, residents of Jalandhar, an industrial town in the Indian state of Punjab, woke to a startling sight: a panorama of snowcapped mountains across the eastern sky. The peaks and slopes of the Dhauladhars—a range in the lesser Himalayas—were not new, but the visibility was. … On March 24th, as a national lockdown was imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, nearly all of Jalandhar’s road traffic came to a halt, along with its manufacture of auto parts, hand tools, and sports equipment.

“Ten days later, suspended particulates had dispersed from the air, and the Himalayas were unveiled. Residents gathered on their rooftops, posting photos of far, icy elevations towering behind water tanks and clotheslines.

‘Never seen Dhauladhar range from my home rooftop in Jalandhar,’ the international cricketer Harbhajan Singh, who was born there forty years ago, tweeted. ‘Never could imagine that’s possible.’

“The view from my own rooftop, fifteen hundred miles to the south, in Bangalore, has not revealed any equivalent surprises. Instead, there is the birdsong. … I could never have imagined it possible, in an Indian city, to wake up not to the sounds of traffic but to the sovereignty of bulbuls and mynahs over the morning air. …

“The silence on the street may be therapeutic, but it can also feel grim, suspenseful. It suggests the held breath of a country bracing for disaster — not only for the brunt of a pandemic but for empty savings accounts, purses, and pantries. Millions of Indians eat only if they are paid wages each day, which means that when the lockdown was announced, a second epidemic, of hunger, began to unfold. …

“Of the thirty cities with the worst air pollution in the world, twenty-one are in northern India. … The World Health Organization has linked exposure to PM2.5—particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less—to a hundred thousand deaths in India each year, and that’s just among children below the age of five.

“The coronavirus will only compound these morbidities. Studies of viral pandemics such as the 1918 flu, or the 2003 SARS outbreak, found that residents of areas with more polluted air were far more likely to die. … The worst of the smog is seasonal, drifting over the city when the farmers of the Indo-Gangetic plain burn crop stubble after the harvest, in October. …

“The lockdown, whatever its effect on the virus, has given Indian cities the kiss of life. In a week, Delhi’s PM2.5 count dropped by seventy-one per cent. The sky is bluer now, the Yamuna River less black, and my friends say that the stars are out at night. ..

“The lockdown is also improving our understanding of the complex phenomena that contribute to pollution. ‘From a research viewpoint, this is a fantastic experiment,’ Sarath Guttikunda, a founder and director of UrbanEmissions.info, told me over the phone. …

‘What we’re seeing now is unprecedented: drops in commercial activity, industrial activity, and transport, all at the same time — not just in a city but, significantly, across a region,’ he said. The past few weeks have allowed his team to assess, for example, how responsible a given city is for its air quality. …

” ‘Now we don’t have to blindly say, ‘Look, you are responsible for seventy per cent of your pollution. Please do something about it,” Guttikunda said. ‘We have that proof.’ …

“To truly revitalize our air, we need to change how we cook, build, farm, travel, consume, and produce—bearing in mind, through it all, how we breathe.

“Such comprehensive action can seem impossible. Guttikunda’s hopeful analogy is to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, a turning point for Beijing. …

” ‘For two months, people got to see the change possible in the city. … As soon as the Games were over, the restrictions were lifted and the PM2.5 levels shot back up,’ Guttikunda said. ‘But now there was a public outcry saying, “Look, we could have those blue skies for longer. We don’t mind the restrictions.” ‘ ”

More here.

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Photo: Dheeraj Mittal
A lionness with her adopted leopard and her biological son in Gir National Park in Gujarat, India. Although the leopard cub didn’t survive, his story lives on.

Here’s a cute story about interspecies adoption in India.

Writing at the New York Times, Cara Giaimo observes that although it’s rare, one lioness thought her leopard cub fit right in.

“The lions and leopards of Gir National Park, in Gujarat, India, normally do not get along.

“ ‘They compete with each other’ for space and food, said Stotra Chakrabarti, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota who studies animal behavior. ‘They are at perpetual odds.’

“But about a year ago, a young lioness in the park put this enmity aside. She adopted a baby leopard.

“The 2-month-old cub — all fuzzy ears and blue eyes — was adorable, and the lioness spent weeks nursing, feeding and caring for him until he died. She treated him as if one of her own two sons, who were about the same age. This was a rare case of cross-species adoption in the wild, and the only documented example involving animals that are normally strong competitors, Dr. Chakrabarti said. He and others detailed the case [in February] in the ecology journal Ecosphere.

“The paper’s authors, who also included a conservation officer and a park ranger, first spotted the motley crew in late December 2018, hanging out near a freshly killed nilgai antelope.

“Initially, they thought the association would be brief; a lioness in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area had once been observed nursing a leopard cub, but only for a day before the two separated.

“[But] for a month and a half, the team watched the mother lion, her two cubs and the leopard roam Gir National Park. ‘The lioness took care of him like one of her own,’ nursing him and sharing meat that she hunted, Dr. Chakrabarti said.

“His new siblings, too, were welcoming, playing with their spotty new pal and occasionally following him up trees. In one photo, the leopard pounces on the head of one of his adoptive brothers, who is almost twice his size and clearly a good sport. …

“Unlike their counterparts in Africa, Asiatic lions live in small, sex-segregated groups. After they give birth, lionesses often separate from the rest of the pride for a few months to raise their offspring on their own. If the makeshift family had interacted more with other adult lions, the leopard may have been identified as an impostor, Dr. Chakrabarti said.

“But they were never tested in this way. After about 45 days, the research team found the leopard cub’s body near a watering hole. A field necropsy revealed that he had most likely died because of a femoral hernia he had since birth. …

“In 2004, a group of capuchin monkeys took in an infant marmoset. And in 2014, a family of bottlenose dolphins fostered a baby melon-headed whale, who learned to surf and jump like his new peers.

“In all three cases, a lactating mother brought the new baby into the fold, said Patrícia Izar, an associate professor at the University of São Paulo in Brazil and a member of the team that studied the capuchin-marmoset adoption. It’s possible that the hormonal changes associated with motherhood ‘might facilitate bonding with an extraneous infant,’ said Dr. Izar, who was not involved in the new research.

“As puzzling as this adoption was, it also underscores the similarities between cubs of different feline species, Dr. Chakrabarti said. Until they reach young adulthood, when social differences emerge, lions and leopards play, meow and beg for milk in similar ways.

“For this mother lioness, these commonalities may have overridden the cub’s more leopardlike features — his smell, size and speckled appearance.

“ ‘He just blended in,’ Dr. Chakrabarti said.” More here.

Babies are babies. Who doesn’t want to protect them, even those that aren’t our own?

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Photo: Jen Siska
Shreya Ramachandran holds workshops on how to install graywater systems.

I know we shouldn’t be leaving up to kids the solutions to our intractable problems, but sometimes it seems that they’re the only ones showing leadership. At least, they’re the ones who focus their leadership on a single issue. Thanks to their focus, energy, and not knowing what’s impossible, they them seem more likely to succeed than political leaders who must address a million issues at once. I think of David Hogg on the issue of gun violence and Greta Thunberg on climate change.

Here is a Sierra Club story on Shreya Ramachandran, who started very young with big, practical ideas on water conservation.

Wendy Becktold writes at Sierra, the Sierra Club magazine, “When Shreya Ramachandran was in sixth grade, she became obsessed with water scarcity. It was an unusual preoccupation for an 11-year-old, but when visiting California’s Central Valley for an archery competition, she had learned about the historic drought then underway that was devastating the area’s farmers. Not long afterward, she visited her grandparents in India and encountered taxi drivers who’d been forced to abandon their farms when the annual monsoon had failed to arrive.

“Ramachandran began researching water conservation online. She grew fascinated with graywater systems–plumbing designed to reuse household water by redirecting water from washing machines into lawns and yards, for example. ‘It’s water conservation on a whole different level,’ she says.

“But Ramachandran also learned that toxic chemicals in some laundry detergents can render water unsuitable for reuse. She started to experiment with soap nuts – the berry shells of Sapindus mukorossi (a tree in the lychee family), which release a natural cleaning agent and are traditionally used for shampoo in India – and determined that they were safe to use in graywater systems. She presented her findings at various science fairs, and people were intrigued.

“By the time she was in eighth grade, Ramachandran had built her own graywater system; her parents let her drill a hole in the side of their house to install the PVC piping that channels water to the plants and trees in their yard. Shortly after, she started the Grey Water Project (thegreywaterproject.org) to teach others how to install their own systems.” More at Sierra, here.

And in case you want to learn more about soap nuts, the Australia-based environmental group 1 Million Women has a post about them, here.

“They’re really simple to use, you just pop them in a small fabric bag, chuck them in with your load of washing, the berries contain saponin which is a surfactant that can be used like soap. …

“[But] here is one little point that planet friendly women have pointed out and that is that they only work in hot water.

“Most of us self-proclaimed eco-warriors have never washed a load of clothing in hot water in our life, or for at least a very long time. The amount of energy that is takes to heat up a load of washing seems pretty wasteful and pointless, but for without hot water soap nuts don’t turn soapy.

“Some have figured out that by adding the soap nuts to a cup of boiling water and then pouring the water into the wash eliminated the need to waste … However a few have expressed that this step was inconsistent and made switching to soap nuts from their current homemade, planet-friendly laundry detergent not worthwhile.

“While the warm water and make-your-soap-nuts-into-tea step may be a deterrent for some, others have made another valid point, soap nuts are better for your skin. They’re all natural and non-toxic, which makes them especially good for sensitive skin and those prone to allergies. Also, due to the very gentle, mild detergent they produce they’re safe for your delicates. (Excluding dry-clean only items.) Read next: 9 Ways to lower the carbon impact of laundry day.

No perfect answers, I guess.

 

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Photo: Akhil DT
“Censorship is anti-creation” … A quote from a lecture by Salman Rushdie, as seen on a StickLit poster on a Bangalore cement pillar. StickLit brings literature to the people using stickers.

In the New York metro and the T in Boston, I’ve enjoyed the poetry posters that give riders something more meaningful to read and ponder than ads. Now I’m learning about a new poetry-for-the-people effort in India. It uses poetry stickers in both English and a local language in site-specific venues.

Priyanka Sacheti reports at the Guardian, “There are thousands of street food carts in New Delhi. But only one has the opening lines of Riyazat Ullah Khan’s poem ‘Wazoodiyat’ on the side:

Where can the pauper keep his pain of existence?
He has no container but a heart.

“The sticker bearing the couplet is from a campaign called StickLit, which seeks to make literature more accessible by placing quotes in public spaces.

“Nidhin Kundathil and Manoj Pandey had the idea for the project while contemplating the advertisements, posters and billboards that are consumed almost subliminally on Indian streets.

“ ‘We thought of turning this [visual] experience on its head to create a completely new and refreshing alternative for passersby – [one] which was not just selling something, for a change,’ says Pandey, 32, a freelance writer in Darjeeling.

“The idea subsequently evolved: they would make what they call the world’s largest library – ‘the largest repository of good literature in public spaces: a library that’s free for all.’ So they hit the streets, putting up free-format stickers, posters and wall murals. …

“After starting in Bengaluru and Delhi in 2017, the project has spread all over India, with volunteers in various cities taking it up. The stickers are available from the StickLit website and the founders encourage people to download them and use them freely. …

“The founders encourage placement based on context: poems in railway stations, for example, when people have longer to contemplate them; shorter quotes and excerpts for busy streets. They also use place-specific languages – Hindi in Delhi, or Kannada in Bengaluru – alongside English. There are plans to share prison poetry in prisons as well.

“Kundathil, 33, a Bengaluru-based graphic artist, handles the design. He says he deliberately chooses bold, brightly-coloured fonts and minimal design elements in order not just to attract attention but to ensure that attention remains focused on the text.

“The list of authors chosen is inclusive and diverse, from Rushdie and former government minister Shashi Tharoor to newer voices such as Nishita Gill and Nikhil Mhaisne. They have also shared works of Kannada literary greats across Bengaluru. ‘A lot of our material consists of work by aspiring writers as well,’ Pandey says, adding that the project is open to submissions.

“ ‘We like to believe that people, especially the young, are drawn towards StickLit as they are not cynical,’ Pandey says. ‘They still believe that a pen can change the world. And we’d like to foster that.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Furkan Latif Khan/NPR
In wartorn Kashmir, there are Muslims and Hindus who who would rather play soccer than spend their lives fighting. Above, loyal Snow Leopards fans watch a game.

In every part of the world, no matter how troubled, there are always people who would rather play ball.

I have to blame the British colonial empire for leaving behind the seeds of war everywhere it went, chopping up countries without attention to the needs of the people living there. But thank goodness that human nature and the love of peace is strong! There are always some folks who have no interest in fighting.

Kashmir, created by Partition as the British left India, is an example of what I mean. Today, because of the way the country was divided, Kashmir knows constant war between Hindus and Muslims. Despite that, two friends, one Hindu and one Muslim, started something beautiful.

Lauren Frayer writes at National Public Radio (NPR), “They play soccer in a disputed Himalayan valley prone to car bombs, strikes and heavy snow. Soldiers with machine guns patrol their home stadium. Players sometimes have to arrive at practice three hours early to avoid police curfews. Their team is less than three years old, with a budget that’s one-tenth that of some of their competitors.

“[As of February 2019], Real Kashmir Football Club, from Indian-controlled Kashmir, [was] tantalizingly close to winning India’s top professional soccer title. They’ve been flitting back and forth between first, second and third place, and the season ends in early March.

” ‘We’re the only club in India that has sold-out stadiums at almost every game,’ says the team’s co-founder Shamim Mehraj. ‘What we have done is give people some hope in a place that has actually been taken down by conflict and violence for the past 60 years. It’s helping this place heal.’ …

“A natural disaster helped give birth to this soccer team. In 2014, the Kashmir Valley suffered devastating floods. Hundreds of people were killed. Schools were closed, and young people spilled out onto the streets of Mehraj’s hometown Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir and one of the largest cities in the valley.

“One evening, Mehraj and a friend had an idea.

” ‘We used to go for evening walks. We would see a lot of kids hanging around doing nothing, and I had been a footballer myself. That’s when I thought, “Why don’t I get some balls and at least give these kids something to do?” ‘ recalls Mehraj, 38. He had played for his college team in New Delhi, and for his state in amateur soccer tournaments.

“Mehraj, who is Muslim, and his Hindu friend Sandeep Chattoo, 52, got friends and neighbors to pitch in and buy 1,000 soccer balls, which they handed out to flood victims. But why stop there? In March 2016, they started a team.

“They applied for the team to compete in India’s I-League 2nd Division — the pro soccer equivalent of baseball’s minor leagues. Mehraj and Chattoo invested their own money to pay players’ salaries. They also hired a Scottish former player, David Robertson, who had been coaching a professional soccer team in Phoenix, Arizona, to coach Real Kashmir, a.k.a. the ‘Snow Leopards.’

“Robertson had never been to India, and admits he probably couldn’t have placed Kashmir on a map.

” ‘All I ever saw was TV shows that showed it’s 90 degrees — it’s hot in India! But I arrived here and the next day, it was snowing,’ says Robertson, 50, now in his third season as Real Kashmir’s coach. ‘There was no Internet, the electricity was out, and I just thought, “I want to go home.” ‘

“Mehraj invited Robertson over to his family’s house, gave him a hot water bottle and some home-cooked Kashmiri food — and convinced him to stay. Since then, Robertson has recruited his own son, Mason Robertson, 24, to play for Real Kashmir. By the end of the 2017-2018 season, several Robertson relatives were in the stands at the team’s home stadium in Srinagar, to watch Real Kashmir win the 2nd Division title. …

“[By February, the team was] neck-and-neck with Chennai City FC and East Bengal FC for the top title in Indian professional soccer. …

” ‘I never did think we would go this far,’ Mehraj tells NPR, as he looks out over the turf at Real Kashmir’s home stadium. …

“Kashmir’s 21 percent unemployment rate triple that of the rest of India and militant groups recruit from the ranks of young, idle Kashmiri men. Soccer ‘keeps him away from that,’ says Ishfaq Hussain, 52, a former professional cricket player whose son Muhammad Hammad plays center-back for Real Kashmir. ‘He thinks always about when to play, when to practice. He’s got no time to join politics or go shouting or pelleting stones.’ …

“His teammates include fellow Kashmiris and recruits from Africa, Europe and across India — including Muslims, Hindus, Christians and atheists. Mehraj says he can’t manufacture T-shirts, stickers and banners fast enough to keep up with fans’ demand.”

More of the NPR story here. Follow the rankings here.

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Photo: Michael Bradley/AFP/Getty Images
Man Kaur of India celebrates after competing in the 100-meter sprint in the 100+ age category at the World Masters Games in Auckland, New Zealand, in April 2017.

It was Erik who sent the story about a 101-year-old champion runner. He sent it to his mother and my husband, too, in case we want to take up athletic competition at our advanced ages. The woman in the story got a late start on running, and although I am not interested in running, I always like stories about late starts. Especially stories about starting something big after age 90.

As Chhavi Sachdev reported at National Public Radio (NPR) in 2018, “Man Kaur is 101, but her routine could tire most 20-somethings.

“Every day she wakes up at 4 a.m., bathes, washes clothes, makes tea, recites prayers until about 7 a.m. Sometimes she goes to the Gurdwara, the place of worship for Sikhs, other times she prays at home.

“And then she goes to the track for an hour of sprinting practice. And she’s not just doing it for fun. A competitive runner, Kaur is a world record holder in her age group for several categories and is now training for the Asia Pacific Masters Games in Malaysia. …

“She was declared the brand ambassador for a nonprofit organization called Pinkathon, which raises awareness of women’s health issues — and encourages running as a way to improve physical fitness. At the Pinkathon announcement event, Kaur was literally mobbed by gushing women, many of whom started running in their 30s and 40s. …

“The diminutive Kaur hasn’t been a lifetime runner. Far from it. She started running in 2009, when her son, Gurdev Singh, 79, urged her to take up track and field. …

“What made him take his then 93-year-old mother to the track? It was mainly a whim, he explains — but also a desire to keep her fit. ‘She was very well, with no health problems, and she moved fast. So I took her to the university track with me and asked her to run 400 meters. She did it, slowly, and I thought “Yes, She can do it.” ‘

“Kaur enjoyed it enough to want to return. She liked running, she said. And quickly she started to improve. Two years later, given how well she was doing, her son registered her for international events he was participating in. Kaur agreed with no hesitation. And she hasn’t stopped. …

“Since starting her competitive career, Kaur has run in meets in Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan. And she’s nailed 17 gold medals.

“In Auckland, New Zealand [in April, 2017] she won gold for the 100-meter and 200-meter runs as well as two new sports: javelin and shot put. In those two events, she’s sometimes the only contestant in her age bracket, so winning gold is a sure thing. But she doesn’t just show up. In Auckland, Kaur broke the master category world record in javelin with her 16-foot throw. …

“To improve her speed, Kaur tries to go to the track every day. Three days a week, she does shot put and javelin practice; the rest of the week, Singh puts her through her paces on the track. On sprint days she does runs of 30 meters, 40 meters and 50 meters. These are alternated with days when she does 100-meter and 200-meter runs.

” ‘And if the weather is inclement, I go to the gym and lift weights,’ she says.”

Read about her early life and future plans at NPR, here.

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Photos: Sai Sanctuary
In part to preserve the planet’s source of rainwater, this couple bought a sanctuary in India. As it expands, it protects more and more species.

A childhood friend on Facebook often posts interesting links. Her presence on that platform is a major reason I can’t bring myself to get off Facebook even though I feel extremely wary of what the company is doing with my data. But how many people from your nursery school do you connect with on a regular basis?

My friend recently alerted her followers to an animal sanctuary in India that sounded cool, and after a look at the website, I checked around for more information on the two wealthy nature lovers who saved the preserve from neglect.

Panna Munyal wrote this 2016 report at an Abu Dhabi publication called The National, “On most days, Pamela Gale ­Malhotra, co-owner of the Sai Sanctuary private forest in ­India, is fast asleep at 1.30am, after her typically full programme of organising walking safaris and animal feeds, and checking camera traps for signs of poaching.

“But a few years ago, Pamela and her husband, Anil Malhotra, woke up to the sound of trumpeting ­elephants. They assumed – rightly – that a baby elephant must have strayed too close to a partially covered pit and fallen in. As her husband switched on the rarely used floodlights and prepared to call on their neighbours for aid, Pamela stepped out to a magnificent sight.

Dozens of elephants from the Sai ­Sanctuary’s herds, as well as the neighbouring Bandipur, ­Brahmagiri and Nagarhole national parks, had gathered around the pit and were bellowing their assurances to the calf. Pamela describes the next hour as magical, as the enormously graceful creatures banded as one to lift the half-broken lid of the pit with their trunks, enabling the little one to clamber out.

“This show of concerned unity is typical of the environment the Malhotras have cultivated in Sai Sanctuary, which is nestled within southern India’s ­Western Ghats in the Coorg district. ‘Protecting what is left of the world’s forests is the only thing that will ensure our own survival,’ Pamela says. ‘Forests are directly responsible for rainfall, our primary source of water. Water, in turn, is the lifeline for plants, flowers, animals, birds and humans. We have nothing if not for our forests.’ …

” ‘When we bought our first parcel of land in India, it was just the two of us and 55 acres [22 hectares] of forest beside the Poddani River. We learnt from experience that if you want to protect a piece of land, you need to secure both sides of its water source. And here we both are 25 years later, managing 300 acres [121 hectares] on both sides of the river.’

“Pamela, who is part Native American, and her husband, a former banker, … follow a two-pronged approach to safeguard the forest, river and wildlife: purchase-to-protect and payment for environmental services. The first step is to buy private forested lands that border national parks or other reserve forests, and preserve them in their natural state. Next, the Malhotras offer compensation to members of the surrounding communities to, in turn, not harm the trees and animals around them. Compensation may be in the form of money, but it can also be a solution that works for both parties.

“ ‘We gifted all our cattle to some of our neighbours. The milk and dung give them an extra source of income, while for us it means less staff and more food for other grass-eaters,’ says Pamela. ‘Another time, some villagers approached my husband to help relocate a temple from the top of the mountain to the edge of the sanctuary. He agreed, on the condition that they would stop hunting.’ …

“Ingenious solutions and noble intentions aside, it’s undeniable that money – and large sums at that – is needed for a project of this magnitude. … ‘We now have four rooms in two eco-tourism cottages on the property alongside the main house in which we live.’ These cottages are open to visitors, and cost from [$42] per person, per night, which includes the stay, three nutritious vegetarian meals and daily treks. …

” ‘We outsource not only our housekeeping and laundry facilities, but also hire willing neighbours to cook the meals, some of which can be eaten in a local house or with the village priest. This ensures the money spreads through the community, and even our guests can get a feel for the culture,’ Pamela says. …

“Despite its size, Sai Sanctuary doesn’t have any safari vehicles. ‘You are always on foot here. It helps people to slow down and observe the flowers, birds and trees around them. … Guests are never taken to the same area twice during the course of their stay because ‘we want the wildlife to move freely even in the day. This is the purpose of a sanctuary.’

The National article is here. And if you explore the Sai website, here, you will find some beautiful pictures of the species that the sanctuary protects.

Thanks, Carole, for putting this on FB.

Photo: Sai Sanctuary
Anil Malhotra and Pamela Gale Malhotra put their money behind saving an animal sanctuary in India.

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Photo: YouTube
The late Mastanamma shot to fame at the age of 105, after her cooking videos were uploaded to YouTube.

Not long ago I read two interesting obituaries on the same day — one of a 107-year-old YouTube star, the other of a 97-year-old keeper of Cherokee pottery traditions. I thought that seeing them together could teach us all something about human possibility.

At the New York Times, Kai Schulz wrote the obit for the talented chef in India.

“Mastanamma got her big break at age 105.

“After she prepared an especially delicious eggplant curry, her great-grandson suggested that he film her cooking and then post the videos on YouTube.

“No matter that she was more than 100 years old, suffered from cataracts, wore dentures, cooked outside on an open fire, and sometimes roasted chicken inside a steaming watermelon. That was all part of the charm.

” ‘She knew she was famous,’ said Srinath Reddy, who helped start the channel. ‘She loved that.’ … She died at age 107.

“Born in a rural village in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, Karre Mastanamma married at 11 years old. By the time she was 22, her husband was dead. With no education, she was left to care for their five children. …

“To support her children, Mastanamma worked as a laborer, earning a few dollars a day carrying 200-pound rice sacks on her back. Over the years, she would lose four of her children to disease. For much of her life, she lived in a small hut made of palm leaves in the village of Gudiwada. …

“In 2016, her great-grandson, Karre Laxman, and Reddy, a friend, started filming the videos of her cooking and posting them on Country Foods. Her popularity soared: The channel surpassed 200 million views. Hordes of fans from around the world watched Mastanamma’s pared-down cooking tips on making spicy shrimp powder and ‘delicious cabbage.’ Mastanamma peeled ginger with her thumbs, stored bird eggs in her sari and [barked] out orders to subordinates from a squatted position over simmering pots. …

“Mastanamma claimed to be the world’s oldest YouTuber.  Fans loved her salt-of-the-earth sense of humor. In interviews, she joked about breaking her dentures, having given her husband a 15-cent dowry, and the time a pair of brothers teased her when she was a young woman. After one of the brothers touched her hand and long curly hair, she threw him in a river. …

“Wearing off-kilter aviator sunglasses, Mastanamma waves at the camera from a leather-cushioned car in one clip on Country Foods. ‘Hi, kids!’ she says, before blurting out observations. ‘I lost my teeth, naturally. Before, I was so beautiful. My age is above 100 years! It’s in government records.’ ” More about the 107-year-old YouTube star here.

Back in the USA, Ana Fota writes for the New York Times about a revered Cherokee potter. “Amanda Sequoyah Swimmer was born in North Carolina at a time when Native American children were forced to attend boarding schools, as part of a national effort to assimilate them into mainstream culture.

“But as a child in fourth grade she grew tired of being punished for speaking her native Cherokee and forced to use English, and one day she jumped her school’s courtyard fence and ran away. She never returned.

“Instead she fashioned a life devoted to the preservation of Cherokee culture, keeping its language and pottery traditions alive. She was revered in the mountainous tribal lands of western North Carolina — honored there as a ‘Beloved Woman’ — and renowned as one of her people’s most skilled potters.

“Ms. Swimmer’s work has been shown at the Smithsonian in Washington, the North Carolina State Museum, and at local museums across North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. It was also featured in the 2011 book ‘Cherokee Pottery: From the Hands of Our Elders,’ by M. Anna Fariello. And Ms. Swimmer herself was profiled in a 2000 documentary film, ‘Women of These Hills — Three Cultures of Appalachia.’

“In 2005, as an octogenarian, she was awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree by the University of North Carolina, Asheville, for her work in preserving Cherokee heritage and her role in founding the Cherokee Potters’ Guild. …

“Ms. Swimmer died Nov. 24 at her home in the Big Cove community in the federal land trust known as the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. She was 97 and was one of the last fluent speakers of Cherokee. …

“ ‘She was known for her pottery, but she was also known for caring,’ said Richard French, a Big Cove Tribal Council representative. ‘She voted in every tribal election.’ …

“ ‘She had an impact on the whole tribal nation,’ her eldest grandson, Eddie Swimmer, said. ‘Everybody called her grandmother.’ ” More on Amanda Swimmer here.

Photo: Museum of the Cherokee Indian via the New York Times
Ms. Swimmer, a potter, was revered in the tribal lands of western North Carolina.

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Photo: Christy Sommers
People who raise goats in India, Bangladesh, and elsewhere, think it’s obvious you’d put sweaters on your goats in cold weather. It takes an outsider to be surprised — and make a calendar.

Got your 2019 calendar yet? We have way too many at our house because my husband donates to so many nature organizations. I wish that nonprofits would forget about free gifts and just spend donations where the money is most needed.

Today I have a story about a charity calendar that is not a giveaway. You have to buy it. But I hereby make an exception to my grumpiness about charity calendars.

Danielle Preiss writes at National Public Radio (NPR), “When we came across pictures of ‘Sweateredgoats‘ on Instagram, we wanted to know more. …

“The caprine fashionistas are featured on a calendar, the sales of which have benefited local organizations in Varanasi, India, where most of the images were taken.

“Christy Sommers, who takes the photos, first noticed the cuteness that is clothed goats in 2010, while living in a village in northwestern Bangladesh as a Fulbright scholar studying rural primary education. …

” ‘It blends my love of cute things with India and this desire that I have for people to understand the rest of the world better,’ Sommers says.

“Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, Sommers has spent much of the last five years working in northern India as an instructor and administrator for a high school and college travel abroad program called Where There Be Dragons. She started to notice goats, particularly in lower-income urban areas, decked out in winter gear. Varanasi doesn’t actually get too cold — typically not dropping below a January average of 60 degrees.

Sommers says when she asks families why the goats are clothed, they usually tell her it’s because they’re cold — and look surprised that she’s asking something so obvious.

“And it turns out to be a good idea. Jagdip Singh Sohal, assistant professor of microbiology and microbial genomics at Amity University in Jaipur and organizer of the Asian Regional Conference on Goats, confirmed that goats can get cold. …

“Extra insulation, whether from a sweater, a discarded track suit or a burlap sack, allows the goat to divert more energy to productive purposes, like getting meatier and birthing more kids. …

“[Sommers] gives about half the profits to Asha Deep, a school for underprivileged kids in Varanasi. (The rest of the money she views as compensation for her labor.) The $4,500 donation from 2018 calendar sales provided the funds the school needed to operate for one month. Asha Deep is a vetted charity on Global Giving, a U.S.-based nonprofit that crowd funds donations for local NGOs around the world. …

“Meanwhile, the goat owners aren’t that impressed. To them, dressing a goat in a sweater is no big deal. ‘They generally think I’m crazy,’ she says.”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Sunaina Kumar
Women of Jad tribe spinning wool in Dunda village, Uttarakhand. Their language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman group of languages and is one of 780 (possibly 850) in India.

Here is a heretical thought from someone who loves language: if practically everyone speaks a different language from everyone else, maybe we don’t need language? One must at least ponder the question of whether there is a better way to communicate with others. I’ve no idea what it could be. Even gestures have different meanings in different cultures.

There is always a need to communicate, isn’t there? It’s a puzzle. Even English, despite its frequent role as the bridge language Esperanto was meant to be, suffers from so many Orwellian uses of common words today, you can hardly trust it to convey what you mean.

These thoughts came to me because of an article by Sunaina Kumar at Atlas Obscura on the amazing array of languages in India alone.

Kumar writes, “In 1898, George A. Grierson, an Irish civil servant and philologist, undertook the first ever Linguistic Survey of India. It took Grierson 30 years to gather data on 179 languages and 544 dialects. The survey was published in 19 volumes, spanning 8,000 pages, between 1903 and 1928. …

“Ganesh Devy was frustrated by this lack of contemporary data, especially the discrepancies he saw in the existing numbers. Since the government wasn’t likely to start on a new survey in the near future, Devy, a former professor of English from the western state of Gujarat, launched the People’s Linguistic Survey of India in 2010. The name refers to the fact that it was the people of the country, and not the government, that embarked on this project.

“With single-minded ambition, he put together a team of 3,000 volunteers from all parts of the country. Since 2013, the PLSI has published 37 volumes, featuring detailed profiles of each of India’s languages. The project is expected to be completed by 2020 with 50 volumes. In the linguistic landscape of India, the work done by PLSI is not just pathbreaking, it is crucial in recording and thus preserving the languages of the country for future generations. …

“The challenge of putting a disparate team together with a minuscule budget of 8 million rupees ($1,17,000) — provided by a private trust — to map the languages spoken by 1.3 billion people was enormous.

“ ‘My team was not made of linguists, but people who could speak their own language,’ Devy says. ‘We had writers, school teachers, philosophers, social scientists, some linguists. We also had farmers, daily wagers, car drivers, people who had been in and out of jail. They had an intimacy with their language. Even if it was less scientific, it was authentic.’ These volunteers were asked to record data about the languages they spoke, including the history of the language, its grammatical features, and samples of songs and stories. It was chaotic, Devy admits, but he traveled to every corner of the country to train the team and the final product was vetted with academic rigor.

“So far, the PLSI has recorded 780 languages in India and 68 scripts. When Devy embarked on the mammoth project, even he did not expect to unearth that many. He says that the PLSI could not report on nearly 80 languages for various reasons, including accessibility of a given region due to remoteness or conflict, which brings the estimated total number of languages closer to 850.

“Based on data from the survey, Devy estimates that in the last 50 years, India has lost 220 languages, including some within the last decade. …

“ ‘India has some of the oldest surviving languages,’ says Devy. ‘A language like Tamil has been around for 2,500 years. Some of the tribal languages would be even older.

These languages have survived because they have a philosophical context to them and that philosophy is part of the lived lives of the speakers.’ …

“After mapping India’s languages, Devy, whose spirit is unflagging at 67, has turned his attention to the world at large. His next project is the Global Language Status Report. The UNESCO states that nearly half of the over 6,000 languages spoken in the world may disappear by the end of this century. The GLSR proposes to cover the languages of Africa and South America, two regions where languages are fast disappearing without any trace, and where linguistic diversity has not been mapped. …

“ ‘I have been traveling to Africa for a year now and I am not deterred by the scope of mapping 54 countries,’ Devy says. ‘The experience with PLSI was great fun, and I believe if people decide to do something, they actually can.’ ”

More here, at Atlas Obscura.

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Photo: Chhavi Sachdevx/PRI
On weekdays, Afroz Shah (center, in black hat) is a constitutional lawyer. On the weekends, he tries to spend at least four hours picking up trash at the beach in Mumbai.

Here is proof that “one and one and 50” really do make a million. Read about the personal mission of one man in India who put his love for the ocean into action and inspired countless others.

Chhavi Sachdev reports at Public Radio International (PRI), “Mumbai has 72 miles of coastline, some of it covered in mangroves and some of it sandy or rocky — but none of it is clean.

“There isn’t a beach culture here. It’s not a place for gathering and tanning —  more often it’s a public toilet, garbage dump and, sometimes, a free place to hang out. Exercising and running are next to impossible. The litter makes it an obstacle course. There are cows, crows and stray dogs — but there are also a gazillion candy wrappers, chips packages, cookie packages, shoes, bottles, detergent sachets, disposable cups, and thousands and thousands of blue and white plastic bags.

“But when the tide is out, hundreds of volunteers can be seen on their hands and knees — thankfully wearing gloves — and pulling all these things out of sand into a plastic tub. They’re here because of one man who’s basically tackling the trash problem head on.

“Afroz Shah is a constitutional lawyer and a full time ‘ocean lover and a beach cleaner.’ Two years ago, he moved to a beautiful apartment with a view of the ocean near Mumbai’s Versova Jetty. From his windows, he could see the sea, but, also, a disturbing amount of trash.

” ‘There was 5.5 feet of plastic at the northern end of the beach. It had piled up, piled up, piled up. So then I said I must do something,’ he explains. …

“Since Oct. 2015, he’s been clearing trash for four hours every weekend in what the United Nations has called the world’s biggest beach clean up ever. His efforts have inspired others.

“On this weekend, Shah is on the beach with 300 people. He’s in a blue T-shirt and trackpants, muddy sneakers and thick rubber gloves — which were a gift from a Norwegian volunteer. …

“When a TV reporter asks him to stand and answer some questions, he politely asks them to come crouch near him so he can keep working while they film.”

Read more about Shah and the volunteers’ wide variety of motivations, here.

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Art: Sun and Moon
A beautiful book reviewed at Brainpickings and featuring the work of ten of India’s indigenous artists.

Maria Popova, my go-to source for children’s book suggestions, tweeted about the book Sun and Moon in August, around the time of the eclipse.

“In Sun and Moon,” she writes, “ten Indian folk and tribal artists bring to life the solar and lunar myths of their indigenous traditions in stunningly illustrated stories reflecting on the universal themes of life, love, time, harmony, and our eternal search for a completeness of being.

“This uncommon hand-bound treasure of a book, silkscreened on handmade paper with traditional Indian dyes, comes from South Indian independent publisher Tara Books, who for the past decades have been giving voice to marginalized art and literature through a commune of artists, writers, and designers collaborating on books handcrafted by local artisans in a fair-trade workshop in Chennai …

“Among the indigenous traditions represented in the book are Gondi tribal art by Bhajju Shyam (of London Jungle Book fame), Durga Bai (featured in The Night Life of Trees), and Ramsingh Urveti (of I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail); Madhubani folk art by Rhambros Jha (of Waterlife); and Meena tribal art by Sunita (of Gobble You Up).”

Popova links to WorldCat, a library system, for the book’s publishing details and this description: “Part of everyday life, yet rich in symbolic meaning, renderings of the sun and the moon are present in all folk and tribal art traditions of India. Agrarian societies have always kept track of time by referring to markers in the seasonal variations of the sun, moon and planets. They have also woven wonderful stories and myths around them. Here, for the first time, is a collection of unusual stories and exquisite art from some of the finest living artists, on this most universal of themes.”

Be sure to read the Brainpickings post, here, for more art, more of Popova’s insights, and her ever thoughtful suggestions for related reading.

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Photo: Rajanish Kakade/AP
Amiruddin Shah, the son of a welder from a Mumbai slum, won a spot at the American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York.

Even though I know the culture shock can’t be easy for poor but talented kids given opportunities that lift them from slums, I do enjoy these hopeful stories.

Manish Mehta writes for the Associated Press, “The son of a welder from [Mumbai’s] slums had a dream few Indians dared to dream — to dance with the New York City Ballet.

“In a few months, that dream may be a little bit closer as 15-year-old Amiruddin Shah begins four years of training at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. …

“Shah began studying ballet less than three years ago when Israeli-American instructor Yehuda Maor was invited by the Danceworx Academy to teach in India — a country with no special ballet academies.

“Maor happened to catch Shah doing cartwheels and backflips as part of the Danceworx jazz and contemporary dance program for underprivileged students.

“ ‘I had no idea about ballet,’ Shah recalled. He had been dancing freestyle whenever he got the chance — sometimes he was invited to weddings to perform, sometimes he just goofed around with friends. …

“Within 2 ½ years, Shah had nailed his pointe, pirouette and arabesque, ‘which is unheard of,’ Maor said. …

“Maor bought Shah ballet shoes and dance clothes and helped him and another young dancer, 21-year-old Manish Chauhan, win scholarships in June to New York’s Joffrey Ballet School. But they could not secure U.S. visas in time. …

“Now, Shah is trying to raise funds for four years of travel and tuition with the American Ballet Theatre in New York. They have enough for his first year, beginning in August, but have set up a website to accept donations for three more years in the U.S. …

“ ‘I am so excited, but slightly scared, too,’ said Shah, who speaks basic English but used Hindi in an interview with The Associated Press. ‘How would I interact with people? New York is very crowded.’

“One day, he hopes to be a principal dancer in the New York Ballet. And eventually, he said, ‘I want to teach other children who cannot afford to pay for dance.’ ” More here.

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