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Ashure’ : Noah’s Pudding

Ammi called me early in the morning on Friday, the day of Ashura( 10th Moharram). Ashura commemorates the day of the battle of Karbala for Muslims.
I knew why did she call that early, as it has been a regular practice since years, I have lost count of
“One request beta.”
“Yes Ammi.”

I knew it but still wanted her to say it.
“Please don’t play music today on Ashura.”

This is all she expects from me. But she does a bit more than just not listen to music. One of her routines is to cook a pot of Khichra( Haleem) and not let anyone touch it, or munch any of the ingredients till the Niyaz is done.

South Asians make Haleem on Ashura, a complete food with multiple ingredients in one: whole wheat, lentils, rice, barley, and meat with a host of rich spices in a lengthy procedure.

Along the same lines, the Turks make a sweet Haleem, called Ashure or Noah’s Pudding. The ingredients vary from 7 to 10 to 12 varying from whole wheat, beans ( red and white), chick pea, to dry fruits including figs, peaches and nuts like almonds and raisins.

There are multiple legends associated with it.

It is cooked on the day of Ashura ( 10th Moharram) by all communities in Turkey across different sects: Sunnnis (Balkan Sufis), Shias, Alevis and Kurds.

Ashure is then distributed to all in the neighborhood in small bowls, after performing prayers for health and harmony.

Alevites fast for 12 days, and break it on Ashura with this special dish Ashure. Alevis prepare it with 12 ingredients in their version of the dish. They refrain from killing animals or eating meat in these days of fasting.

There is also a different but popular legend of why it came to be known as Noah’s pudding. According to the legend, it was the day when Noah’s Ark came to the banks of Ararat and Noah’s family cooked a dish from all ingredient leftovers in the Ark.

As I asked a Turk friend to confirm my list of ingredients, she added:
“The most important ingredient is the ‘Intention’ and the ‘Will’ to make this dish. In Turkish we say ‘Niyet Etmek.’

Asure – Noah’s Pudding
(can be found at any Whole Food Markets or Middle Eastern Store) –
• 1 cup of barley whole wheat
• 1 can of chick peas,soaked & boiled
• 1 can of white kidney beans
• 3/4 cup of black dried currants & raisins
• 3/4 cup of almonds/pistachios
• 6 dried Turkish Figs – cut into small quarter
• 6 dried Turkish Apricots – cut into small quarter
• 2 cups of brown sugar ( or plain white sugar)
• 1 lemon zest or orange
9– 12 cups of cold water/4 tsp rosewater(optional)
Condiments: salt/cloves/cinnamon sticks
Garnishing: Fresh pomegranate

One day Before: Soak 1 cup of barley whole wheat in 3 cups of water the night before. This will allow the barley to soften.
Day of:
1. Drain the soaked barley, pour into a deep cooking pot fill with 8-10 cups of cold water leaving about 2-3 inches of the top. At this time add in, sprinkle some salt, add in the cloves and cinnamon sticks.
2. Over a medium to high bring the pot to broil fior 30-40 minutes. The barley will have cracked open and have become white and soft to touch and taste.
3. In the mean time into a small sauce pan, boil the black currants and in a cup of cold water. Once the color of the water turns dark, drain the currants through a sieve.
4. Once the barley has softened, add in the washed chick peas and kidney beans and stir.
5. Add in the rest of the ingredients – the drained currants, raisins, apricots, figs, and almonds, stirring each time you add in an ingredient. Let this mixture boil for 8-10 minutes.
6. To thicken fast, in a cup of cold water mix the 4 tablespoons of corn starch, leaving no lumps. Add the corn starch into the boiling barley mixture and give it a thoroughly stir. *the corn starch will act as a thickening agent.
7. Add brown sugar to your liking, and again stir thoroughly, continue cooking over medium heat and allow the sugar to dissolve.
8. Finally add in the zest of the lemon or orange and the rose water and let cook for a 5-7 minutes.
9. Let cool for about 15 minutes, ladle into serving bowls. Top with cinnamon, nuts and pomegranate seeds.
Ashure can be served warm, at room temperature or cold.

Ashure is a vegan dessert too.

NoahPudding1Noah's Pudding2

Ashure served with a traditional touch:



Negative Stereotypes

Think Norway. What occurs to your mind?
A beautiful country up in the north, where it snows, its all peaceful, no crime. No?

Think Africa. What crops up in the same  head?
Poverty, AIDS, famine, a picture of a starved kid pops up in imagination, and for some well informed perhaps they think of it’s corrupt leaders. Yes?

BTW, don’t  you know Africa is not a country but a second largest continent?
It comprises of  57 countries, each with a distinct culture, language and of course like any other country, each of them have their distinct problems.

So will it  be  justified to summarize all these sovereign states with just  four or five issues, that too very negative.

Why did this stereotyping occur?
The answer is simple. Disinformation.

Of course through the various advertisements from the social sector, that with all their good intentions wish to collect funds for development in the continent. And the media, that through its good intentions tries to highlight to the world the grave  issues they face. However, despite their good intentions, they end up creating a negative stereotype.

Ever thought what must Africans be thinking or feeling of this stereotyping of  them?
It is not that such issues do not exist,  they do, but then this is not all, about Africa.

To highlight this negative stereotyping, without  lashing out in anger, a group  has come out with an extremely creative and cheeky parody called “Africa for Norway” with the message:

“ Imagine if every person in Africa saw the “Africa for Norway” video and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?”

Also imagine if they also used  picture of a Norwegian child shivering in cold, without permission from those concerned?

Here is the parody “Africa for Norway” :

What message do they want to convey through this initiative?
1.Fundraising should not be based on exploiting stereotypes.
2. We want better information about what is going on in the world, in schools, in TV and media.
3.Media: Show respect.
4.Aid must be based on real needs, not “good” intentions.

For more details on the brilliant project click>>  Radi-Aid .

Coming closer to home, who would know more about stereotype than Pakistanis and Muslims with a “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.”  being their holy passport to the outside world.

On a personal note:

Growing up as a minority Muslim in a metropolitan New Delhi, India, I came across some curious stereotypes:

  • How many wives  does your father have?
  • Why doesn’t your mother wear a burqa or why doesn’t your father have a beard?
  • Is you father a professor of Urdu in Delhi University?
  • Do you eat Biryani everyday?

Equally ridiculous questions were asked when I came two decades ago, as a newly married immigrant to the megacity Karachi in Pakistan:

  • Are you a Hindu? (On wearing a saree and bindi together, and being of Indian origin).
  • Did you have Hindu friends?
  • Did you ever eat food in Hindu households?
  • Kya India mein VCR hota hai? (Are there VCRs in India?) ( The last curious query  sounds hilarious 😀 now, but it almost got me crying as a new immigrant. Those were the days when India had only Fiat, Ambassador or Maruti cars,   no Sony TVs and yes, not even StarPlus channels 🙂 ).

Not sure if these stereotypes were also created through media !

Whatever IS will be WAS.

The above heading is a Buddhist saying by Monk Ñanamoli. The  in depth meaning of its essence could not be more powerfully conveyed than by an ancient  Buddhist ritual called dul-tson-kyil-khor ( Mandala of colored powders).

Sometime ago in search for an idea for silk painting I accidentally bumped into a beautiful  handmade creation, which in first hand looked like an intricate colorful geometrical design, called Sand Mandala.

As the name implies, it is a creation made from colored sand. Mandala means a palace. There is much more to it than the eyes can see.

From the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this is not just a creation of a beautiful sand castle, but a spiritual journey, for which requires a great practice and meditation before embarking on it. Even during the creation , which usually requires 4 monks (bhikkus) who keep chanting hymns and focus all their minds and actions into its creation.

The sand mandala for them is a three dimensional Palace of Imagination in which they enter, and each dot, line, shape and color that they create in it stands for a specific aspect of Buddhist Philosophy. There are many types of Mandalas, and each stand for a unique symbol.

The creation has to be accurate, and the work  between the 4 creators, working on each quadrant,  has to be well coordinated.

Billions of grains of colored sand powder are carefully and accurately placed in its specific location, using two copper conical pipes called chapku, which are gently tapped over the other, to release controlled amount of sand.

The colors for the painting are usually made with naturally colored sand, crushed gypsum (white), yellow ochre, red sandstone, charcoal, and a mixture of charcoal and gypsum (blue). Mixing red and black can make brown, red and white make pink. Other coloring agents include corn meal, flower pollen, or powdered roots and bark. In the ancient times they used colored dust from the lapiz lazulli, emerald, ruby, and corals and other precious stones to get colored dust powder.

It takes from few days to few weeks to create a mandala.

However, the most mind boggling part arrives when the whole intricately built sand mandala is undone ( yes, you read it correct) from outside-in in a rotas wheel movement, never to exist again, by the very monks who created it. This metaphorically implies the impermanence of things.

The dust collected is immersed in a flowing water ( river nearby) symbolizing the transference of the energy of goodwill ( imparted to it during its creation)  and compassion, to the rest of the world. {The whole idea gave me shivers and goose bumps}

Hence, when even  at first look it appears to be an end of a creation, but in the real sense, nothing is ever destroyed forever, just that it is returned to the nature, to rejoin elements.

And this does happen to all animate and inanimate objects on earth, be they complicated  humans,  simple plants, soft clouds or  even lofty mountains.

When Buddha passed away, one of his disciples remarked:

Aniccaa vata sa”nkhaaraa — uppaada vaya dhammino
Uppajjitvaa nirujjhanti — tesa.m vuupasamo sukho.

Impermanent are all component things,
They arise and cease, that is their nature:
They come into being and pass away,
Release from them is bliss supreme.

It compels me to be reminded of Kabir’s doha:

Mati kahe kumar se tu kya rondey mohe,
Ik din aisa ayega main rondoonga tohe.
(The clay says to the Potter: What will you maul me, a day shall come, when I shall maul you).

Or yet in another doha he reminds:

Kaya nahin teri nahin teri,
Mat ker meri meri.
(This existence isn’t yours, don’t call it “It’s mine, it’s mine.”)

And of Bulleh Shah’s kaafi:

Na Kar Bandeya  
Meri Meri
Na Teri Na Meri
Char Dinan Da Mela
Duniya Fair Mitti Di Dheri.
(O people, why  be obsessed with me, mine. Its neither yours nor mine. Its for a while, then we all shall be but a pile of dust).

Indeed, “from dust we were born, and to dust we shall return.”.

It’s just a Menopause !

Menopause simply means:
*A woman will not be having periods anymore. Hence she will not be able to get pregnant. It certainly does not mean that she has lost her womanhood or feminity.

Menopause is that point in time when periods stop forever. You can know that you had a menopause, only after a year has passed, and the period has not resumed.
Usual age for menopause is 51 years. (But it can be upto 55 years. Those who have before 40 have early menopause.)
Before the period actually stops, a woman undergoes some change in life symptoms. This period of transition is called PERIMENOPAUSE

Why is it important for you to know about menopause?

The change in menopause can be divided into Short term and Long term.

In the short term:

It is important to know in advance that while approaching menopause a woman undergoes certain physical and psychological symptoms, whose awareness helps her and her family (especially the spouse) to understand her situation and tackle it better.
• Periods start to get more and more irregular about 4-5 years prior to menopause. Some get it scanty, while in some they become heavy due to hormonal imbalance.
• Woman may feel sudden feeling of a heat wave and then sweating, called Hot Flashes. They can come anytime in the day, at night f during sleep, and can be very annoying to the woman. It is mainly because of the fluctuating hormone levels in the body.
• Mood swings may occur, with crying spells and even depression in some.
• Dryness and thinning in the vaginal walls, difficulty in holding capacity of urine,
• Stress, trouble sleeping, forgetfulness and feeling of laziness- if you are not prepared for the menopause mentally and physically.

MYTH 1: That menopause will make a woman less interested in her sexual life. It may happen with some, but for some others, they feel more relaxed as there is no fear of getting pregnant.

MYTH 2: In the late forties when the periods get irregular, many women think they will not get pregnant anymore and get relaxed on using birth control. This often causes them to get pregnant unexpectedly. Hence, do not stop contraception unless periods have completely stopped.

In the long term:

It is very important to  realise that with the present life span of 70+ years now the woman spends at least ( if not more) a third or 40% of their life after menopause. Hence it is important to know how to stay healthy in this period of life.

• A woman becomes as vulnerable to heart disease as any man, as high oestrogens previously protected her from heart attacks or stroke.

• With menopause the bone density goes down rapidly and a woman after some years may develop thinning of bones called Osteoporosis
(Osteoporosis is a serious problem. If not taken care this can have serious after effects. Check for it in the next blog).

What should you do?

Know that menopause is a normal change in a woman’s life and it has to come when you are around 50. Hence better be mentally and physically prepared for it.

What preparations do you need to do?

EASY: If not earlier, when you enter into forties, MAKE A CHANGE IN YOUR LIFESTYLE.

STEP 1: Exercise, exercise, exercise:

Benefits of exercise are too many:
• This make menopausal symptoms less severe
• It will keep heart healthy after menopause
• Prevent bone loss or osteoporosis after the menopause
• Will prevent weight gain after menopause.

STEP 2: Stop smoking, reduce on tea and coffee- as they all increase bone loss, smoking increases risk of heart disease.

STEP 3: Take Vitamin supplements, especially Calcium and Vitamin D. The daily dose required for women around 50 is Calcium 1200 mgs and Vitamin D 800 micrograms.

STEP 4: Keep reminding yourself, menopause hasn’t taken your womanhood away or that you are old. Keep a good sense of humour and consider it a good change.

TIP: It is likely the time when children are older, or may even leave home …so empty nest syndrome can make you feel more depressed. Develop hobbies which will keep you stimulated and stress free. If the children have grown up and you have fewer responsibilities, do think of dedicating some time to public service and giving back to the society.
Hint: teach a poor child, join a social work, etc.

Is there any treatment of menopausal problems?

If tolerable, the symptoms may need no treatment and just reassurance. But if unbearable, you need to SEE A DOCTOR  for advice or medications.
The most immediate problem during the menopause to most women is HOT FLASHES. To minimize them:

• Try to avoid things that may trigger hot flashes, like spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, stress, being in a hot place.
• Dress in layers, and remove some when you feel a flash starting.
• Use a fan in your home or workplace.
• Try taking slow, deep breaths when a hot flash starts
• There are medications too to help in hot flashes, but for that you need to see a doctor.

For vaginal dryness or discomfort there are water based gels or oestrogen creams, which help, and can v be asked from a doctor’s advice.

The main problem is however the long term bones loss. But this can be prevented too.

  • To keep your bones strong, you need weight-bearing exercise, suchas walking, climbing stairs, or using weights.
  • You can also protect bone health by eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, or by taking calcium and vitamin D supplements.
  • Not smoking also helps protect your bones.

Are there Alternative Therapies?  

There are certain herbal and natural remedies too. eg Soy which contain natural phyto oestrogens in foods like Tofu, soya milk, soya beans. There are other names too like black cohosh, Oil of evening primrose etc, but they have not n been well researched. Do talk to your doctor before taking them, in case they clash with your medications.

CAUTION: After you have had a menopause, if ever the period returns, it is not a normal period. It could be something serious causing the bleeding. Hence do not ignore and show to your doctor as soon as possible.

Last of all: Maintain high spirits, and good sense of humor. Do not think this as a negative change in life. Return to your childhood, playfulness is possible. 

Traditional Chinese Wedding vs Desi

Befriending a Chinese colleague closely has busted a lot of myths with which I grew, primarily them being reserved or unfriendly. Going though her wedding pictures ( which took place 27 years ago in Shanghai), I could not with hold my surprise, of the similarity between their wedding and our desi one , in terms of similarity of rituals, elaborate celebrations and expenditure.

“Our weddings are extremely elaborate and interesting.”  remarked my friend.

Exactly like us desis, Chinese believe that marriages are arranged in Heaven, and merely completed on Earth. They believe the predestined couple is tied with red string in the Heaven, long before the marriage occurs on Earth.

For them too, it is a union between two families, not just two individuals.

The traditional Chinese too have elaborate rituals of sending marriage proposals to the girls family. Once decided, it is a must for the two families to consult the fortune teller ( as a Jyotishi in Hindu wedding) about the auspicious date for the wedding.

The invitation cards are as elaborate and showy as ours.


Red color is overwhelmingly predominant in every Chinese wedding, as it represents luck and happiness.

The celebrations begin days before the actual ceremony.

Days before the wedding, the bride is expected to stay away from the eyes of the general public, in isolation.

The groom’s family brings gifts to the bride’s home days before the wedding,  while the bride’s family returns the gifts along with clothes and gifts to the groom, his parents and unmarried siblings.



Like us desis, the bride’s side is also expected to deliver dowry and money to the grooms home, the amount of which  states the dignity and position of the bride’s family.

On the day of the wedding day, as  she gets ready, the bride goes through a hair combing ceremony where a ‘lucky’ woman, mostly a married woman ( = our suhagan) combs her hair 4 times. Each stroke carries a special meaning. The first combing blessed the marriage to last a lifetime; the second, a harmonious marriage; the third, many children and grandchildren ; and the fourth, good health and fortune.

The bride adorns a red gown, red shoes and covers her face with a red veil.

However, the groom, unlike our groom, wears red robe, red sash. A capping ceremony like our ‘sehra bandi’ takes place where his head is covered with cypress leaves by the father.


Amidst the banging of gongs, drums and firecrackers, ( like an Indian baraat),  the groom leaves for the bride’s house in a procession.


As the groom steps in the brides house, the brides sisters & friends stop his way and bargain for entry towards the bride.

The bride leaves her home for the wedding arena under a red umbrella to ward off evil.

However the basic difference between the desi and Chinese wedding is the main ceremony.

They do not have any written contract or chanting of verses.
The couple goes on its knees and bows thrice- for the Heavens, the ancestors and their parents. They even bow to each other in a gesture of promising faithfulness to each other. There are no spoken vows.


Like us desis, the banquet is extremely elaborate, with 9 or 10 course meals.

However unlike us, each meals signifies something. First course is pig which signifies virginity, followed by others eg   fish & seafood for wealth and abundance,  pigeon for peaceful marriage, and whole chicken head for togetherness.

For details in the 10 courses:


The preferred presents like us desis are generally in  cash, which has to be placed  in red envelopes called Hongbao. The amount of money given varies upon the closeness of the giver to the bride-groom.



After the ceremony and the feast, the bride serves her  in laws  tea, holding with both hands, showing a gesture of her service and faithfulness to her new family.


What excited me most was to know that like our old tradition, the Chinese bride also leaves for her husbands home in a hand held  carriage quite like our doli.


Although now only a few girls like this tradition, and now this has largely been been replaced by more posh mode of transport i.e. a car which is mostly extensively decorated with fresh red roses.


Some of the rich who can afford prefer a red car itself.


The ‘bridal bed’ as it is called is arranged quite a few days in advance in an elaborate ceremony, taking care the direction of the bed. The details here too depend upon the affordability of the groom. However all have traditional red bedding and are spread with fruits on it, which signify fertility— red dates, litchis and longans.

In the next morning, the bride gets up early to prepare meals for the new family.

Three days later she visits her parents along with her husband, as a special guest.

The picture that inspired me to write this blog ( Courtesy Tahir Hashmi) was this, which reminded me of the Hindu wedding’s pheras:


“Many of the Chinese youngsters are now  getting more fond of  traditional wedding, after two decades of having had more modern weddings.” added my friend.

(Special thanks to my friend Jenny for the details & helping dish out pictures)

Celebrate the woman inside you !

Published in TheNewsBlog:

While discussing how one should celebrate International Women’s Day this year, a friend said:

“It is not just the abuse outside that we women need to fight, but we have to fight an inside war too.”

I did not quite understand what she really meant, but before I could ask she went on:

“You know what, this Women’s Day I am going to work without make up and jewellery. Just to be with myself.”  

Although I’m not someone who shuns make up and I consider every piece of good jewellery, a work of art, I without getting my friends point completely also agreed with her completely.

Men, women, young or old, who does not want to feel good. But to attach strings to ones external appearance with the feeling of goodness is when the trouble starts.

If the ‘feel good’ feeling is within one’s self esteem, the outer accessories will be for a mere change, not ‘improvement’.

I am often surprised why many agree to Marylyn Monroe’s quote “Every girl should be told that she looks beautiful. I was never told this in the childhood.”  I do not concur.

What every girl should be told is not that her face or pony tail or frock looks pretty but that her mind is beautiful or courage is awesome.

I have never heard someone tell a boy that his shirt or knickers look beautiful, instead they are told that they are strong or courageous. And thus comes the difference in perception of self as one grows up.

Apart from your upbringing, the fault also lies within how a woman is projected in the media as a commodity.  Fairness creams, slimming diets, cosmetic companies, and aesthetic clinics reap profits at the cost of a woman’s battered self esteem.

Is it not ironic that whether we get positive or negative comments on physical appearance, both induce the same anxiety to look better?

I learnt from a teacher who once said, if you compliment someone’s looks, is it not a silent statement to someone who you are not complementing that ‘you are not good looking.”  Hence if you can’t compliment everyone, it is better refrain from complementing at all.

I have a friend’s whose self esteem is so high that she often jokes:

“If anyone ridiculed me saying ‘ugly’ referring to my not so perfect looks I tell them, ‘I wish to hug you; because I know how hard life is for the visually impaired’.”

For many old school feminists wearing makeup and jewellery is anti-feminist and oppressive.  Yes the idea of not being able to leave the house without make up is anti-feminist, and to associate ‘make-up is beauty’ is anti-feminist. What also makes it oppressive is when one’s self worth is tied to one’s looks, hair, skin or size number.

Women who choose to wear or not wear makeup or jewellery are making a decision about how they wish to be perceived. If not conforming to the dictates and demands of society on appearance empowers women, then so be it. A feminist, who goes without make up, is no more or less feminist than a woman who does.

Feminism in my eyes is all about expression of one’s femininity in one’s own unique way. It certainly does not overlap with the standards laid down by someone else.

Adorning jewellery and makeup is an art form of self expression and not a tool to hide one’s flaws in order to look like the model that appears on the cover page of a magazine.

Self image has no bearing on one’s physical appearance. Obsessed with looking better, some women (who may even be extremely beautiful by world’s standards) and even some men get very insecure and suffer from poor self image. In extreme cases it may even be manifested as Body Dimorphic Disorder. The underlying depression and anxiety leads them to resort to dysfunctional eating disorders or unnecessary plastic surgery procedures.

So let people say or think whatever, know that you are beautiful. For beauty isn’t skin deep.

As for me, not just to support my friend, but to support the woman that lives inside me, my external self too will go without   jewellery and make up on International Women’s Day. It is not to show down my good old friends, jewellery or makeup, but to tell them that they may be dear to me but they are not indispensible.

Tip : Celebrate this International Women’s Day in a  way that makes  the inner woman  in you  feel empowered and beautiful.

Abida Parveen, the therapeutic

If music is a mountain range, its Mt Everest is Abida Parveen. A summit of Sufi music, which no soul can surmount.

The Queen not only drowns herself in the music she sings, but she sweeps along her listeners too, in the tides of the overpowering words that flow out her throat. After the plunge, to rise up to the surface banal  isn’t easy.

She is mesmerising, she is addicting, she is tranquillising.

A true flag bearer of Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb, she immortalizes the words of  Bulleh Shah, Kabir and Amir Khusrau with just the same devotion.

Beyond music, pearls of abundant wisdom  she spilled, in this interview (which was taken before she enthralled the Delhi audience by the performance on March 5, 2012) reflected nothing but her rock solid conviction on which her life and music stand – of peace and love. Though thoroughly therapeutic, her words shook me.

In an interview esewhere she said:  “In Sufism there are no barriers, mine or yours, old and new. It belongs to all and connects hearts and souls. It’s power unites the singer and listener in a divine communion with the creator.”

From its very inception till this year’s Jahan e Khusrau Festival, she has been present in each of the ten held so far. “The festival is unique because it has no nationality or religion and is sacred to all of us.”

Overwhelmed, and still shaken by the genuine grief that Ali Zafar expressed over the hatred sweeping across the globe, but more so in our subcontinent, I could not hold back my own tears listening to her firm belief  that there are indeed “no internal barriers”.

The interview itself is a journey to the sublime, I would wish to take again and again. Hence, I have captured it in my blog, to preserve it as a shrine to which I shall keep returning to, in times of deep internal turmoil.

In these times of despair when we keep embracing hopelessness off and on, she lives with her heart, mind and soul steadfast on every word and verse of truth and love  she sings. 

Kudos to Barkha Dutt for immortalising these priceless pearls of wisdom.

(Click to the number below for the must watch interview)

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