Wednesday, October 6, 2021

कशाचा कशाचा मला राग आहे

 कशाचा कशाचा मला राग आहे 

धरावे सदा का तुझे हात दोन्ही 

तुझ्या कंकणांचा मला राग आहे

कसा रोज न्याहाळतो हा तुला गं 

तुझ्या आरशाचा मला राग आहे 

कटी भोवती मेखला घट्ट का ही 

तिच्या ह्या मिठीचा मला राग आहे

तुझे ओठ स्पर्शून जातो कितीदा 

चहाच्या कपाचा मला राग आहे 

- अभय अवचट 

October 6, 2021

Saturday, September 18, 2021

We Have No Idea

Book Review : We Have No Idea
Authors: Jorge Cham, Daniel Whiteson My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is “We Have No Idea : A Guide To The Unknown Universe”.

I love reading books on Science and Math, and within Science especially Physics. I have written many reviews of popular science books, and have highly recommended quite a few of them. I can unequivocally say that “We Have No Idea” is the most readable book of all of them. If you have read many popular science books, you should still read this. If you have avoided reading any science related books so far, please do yourself a favor and read this one.

In the early part of the 20th century, new advances and discoveries in physics revolutionized our understanding of the universe, both at the atomic scale as well as the galactic scale. These discoveries, quantum mechanics and theory of relativity, are counter-intuitive to say the least. It takes time to understand them even at the superficial level. Still it’s worth spending the time, because the universe is mind bogglingly weird. Even a glimpse of this knowledge is enough to make you philosophical about everything. Since the topic is really hard, a large number of books have been written to explain these concepts to laypersons. Many are good. Of all the ones I have read, none is as easy to read and as fun to read as this book “We Have No Idea”, by the duo Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson.

As the title says, the book emphasizes what we don’t know, even after so many advances in the last nearly 100 years or so. That’s what makes the book so accessible and non-intimidating. Let me explain what I mean by examples.

I have read books that try to explain the Theory Of Multiverse or the latest advances in String Theory and so on. The thing is, many such topics are speculative, as in, these have not been proven. There is a good chance that these theories might turn out to be true, but we really don’t know that. That’s precisely the point of this book. Instead of advertising how cool a theory is, the book honestly admits that we have no idea.

For example, we know that the universe contains many times more “dark matter” than regular matter that we can see as stars and galaxies. What is dark matter? We have no idea. The universe contains something else in even more quantity - what we call “dark energy”. What the heck is that, we have no idea. And to even more basic questions - what is really “space” and what is “time” at a fundamental level? We have no idea.

Of course, just the admission of lack of complete knowledge is not a reason to read this book. The book is organized into many chapters which can be read independently of each other. Each chapter tackles a topic, explaining what we know and then explaining what questions remain unanswered and why. So you can pick up the book, just read one chapter and then later come back to read some other chapter. 

That organization, the diagrams and the lucidity of the language makes it an easy read. What makes it fun is the quirky humor. Many puns and jokes (admittedly geeky) are sprinkled throughout the book. I decided to not give any examples, because I don’t like to include even a tiny spoiler in my reviews.

The topics are very advanced but you will come out with an understanding of the questions the scientists are trying to answer. This is really a book about the questions and not the answers. Sometimes I wonder, are we even equipped with brains smart enough to comprehend the universe? Well, even if we are not, the quest is still a lot of fun for laypersons like us, because of books like these.

I cannot recommend this book enough, and including it in my "Must Read" recommendations. Especially for those who have not tried reading any popular science non-fiction. Read it, you will thank me.

Friday, September 3, 2021

भारतीय संगीताची अरबी/फ़ारसी परिभाषा

शास्त्रीय संगीत हे माझ्या दृष्टीने भारतीय संस्कृतीचा सर्वोच्च ठेवा आहे. काही लोकांचा अशा विधानाला आक्षेप असेल, काहींना राग येण्याचीही संभावना आहे. गणित, तत्वज्ञान अशा इतर विषयांपेक्षा संगीत मोठं कसं, हा प्रश्न योग्य आहे. पण हे केवळ माझं मत आहे, अजून कोणाचं असावं असा माझा मुळीच आग्रह नाही. मला तरी भारतीय शास्त्रीय संगीत अद्वितीय वाटतं. 

सगळ्यात आधी एक स्पष्टीकरण - ह्या लेखात मी केवळ “उत्तर भारतीय” शास्त्रीय संगीताबद्दल लिहिणार आहे. प्रत्येक वेळी “उत्तर भारतीय शास्त्रीय संगीत” असं म्हणायच्या ऐवजी “शास्त्रीय संगीत” असे लिहिणार आहे ते केवळ त्याच्या संक्षिप्त आणि सुटसुटीतपणा मुळे. ह्यात “कर्नाटक संगीत” आणि इतर प्रकार ह्यांना कमी लेखण्याचा हेतू अजिबात नाही.

आज मराठीमध्ये आपण जेंव्हा शास्त्रीय संगीताबद्दल बोलतो, तेंव्हा आपल्या वापरातले बहुतेक शब्द हे मूळचे अरबी किंवा फ़ारसी मधून आलेले असतात. अगदी “बेमालूम” पणे आपण ते वापरतो. जर शास्त्रीय संगीत इतके प्राचीन असेल, तर असं का? म्हणजे धृपद शैली चं नातं जर थेट सामवेदाशी असेल तर हे सगळे अरबी/फ़ारसी शब्द कसे काय रुजले?

हे समजण्यासाठी इतिहासाकडे बघावं लागेल. पृथ्वीराज चौहानचा ११९२ सालचा पराभव हे भारताच्या इतिहासातील एक प्रमुख वळण. त्यानंतर दिल्ली वर मुस्लिम राज्यकर्त्यांची शृंखला सुरु झाली. सुरुवातीचे राजे जरी अफगाणिस्तान (आणि आताचं उझबेकिस्तान) मधल्या प्रदेशातून आले असले, तरी त्यांची भाषा फ़ारसी (किंवा फ़ारसी वरून आलेली) होती. ह्यातले बरेच राजे क्रूरकर्मा असूनही काव्य आणि संगीत कलांचे आश्रयदाते होते. 

अमीर ख़ुसरो हा विद्वान आणि “हरफ़न मौला” (polymath) त्याच्या हयातीत दिल्लीच्या बऱ्याच सुलतानांच्या दरबारात होता, अल्लाउद्दीन खिलजी च्या दरबारात सुद्धा.  खुसरो संगीत आणि काव्य ह्या दोन्ही कलात अतिशय निपुण होता. प्राचीन काळापासून असलेल्या “वीणा” वाद्यात त्याने काही बदल केले, आणि तीन तारा वापरून एक नवीन वाद्य बनवले. फ़ारसी मध्ये तीन म्हणजे “सेह” - त्यावरून त्याने नाव ठेवले “सेहतार”, (سہ تار) ज्याचा पुढे अपभ्रंश झाला “सितार”. (आधुनिक सितार मध्ये ३ पेक्षा जास्त तारा असतात.) तार (تار) हा शब्द ही फ़ारसी आहे. जरतारीची पैठणी मराठमोळी असेल, पण ज़र (زر) - अर्थ सोने - सुद्धा फ़ारसी आहे. तसंच सरोद हा शब्दही फ़ारसी आहे (سرود) - अर्थ “मधुर गाणं”.  

अमीर ख़ुसरोच्या नावाने बऱ्याच आख्यायिका आहेत. तबला ह्या वाद्याच्या निर्मितीचे श्रेय जे काही ठिकाणी त्याला दिले आहे, ते चूक आहे असे जाणकारांचं मत दिसून येतं. तबला ह्या शब्दाची व्युत्पत्ती मात्र अरबी मधील तब्ल ( طبل म्हणजे drum) ह्या वरून आहे. तसेच क्वचित प्रसंगी खयाल (अरबी ख़याल خیال - विचार) शैलीचे श्रेय त्याला दिलं जाते ते बहुतेक पूर्णपणे चूक आहे. पण आज “तराणा” म्हणून जो गायन प्रकार आहे, तो नक्कीच अमीर खुसरो मुळे जन्मला. तो शब्द आला फ़ारसी मधल्या “तरान:” (ترانہ म्हणजे गाणं) वरून. “तरन्नुम” (म्हणजे चालीवर म्हणणे) हा त्याच्याशी निगडित असलेला शब्द. आणि आज ज्या तऱ्हेने कव्वाली गायली जाते, ती त्याच्यामुळे.

अमीर खुसरो ने फ़ारसी आणि प्राकृत ह्या दोन्ही भाषांतील शब्दांचा एकत्र वापर अगदी जाणूनबुजून सुरु केला - दोन संस्कृतींना जवळ आणण्यासाठी. त्याने लिहिलेली एक सुप्रसिद्ध ग़ज़ल, ज्यातल्या अर्ध्या ओळी फ़ारसी आणि अर्ध्या ओळी प्राकृत (हिंदवी) भाषेत आहेत, तिचा वापर गुलज़ारनी “ग़ुलामी” चित्रपटातील गाण्यात केला आहे. 

ज़े-हाल-ए-मिस्कीं मकुन तग़ाफ़ुल, दुराय नैनाँ बनाए बतियाँ

कि ताब-ए-हिज्राँ नदारम ऐ जाँ, न लेहू काहे लगाए छतियाँ

(Do not ignore my plight, by looking away and making up tales

I don’t have the patience to suffer separation, why don’t you give me a hug?)

आणि एक गंमत म्हणून माहिती. वरील गज़लेचं फारसी मधून आलेले वृत्त (मुतक़ारिब मुसम्मन मुज़ाअफ़ मक़बूज़ असलम) आजही खूप वापरात आहे. उदा. एक प्रसिद्ध गाणं “न जाओ सैंया, छुड़ा के बैंया, क़सम तुम्हारी मैं रो पड़ूँगी, रो पड़ूँगी”. त्या गाण्याच्या चालीवर वरील शेर म्हणून बघा :-) 

अरबी/फ़ारसी मधले शब्द भारतीय भाषांमध्ये येण्यामध्ये अमीर ख़ुसरो चा मोठा हातभार आहे असं म्हणता येईल.

नंतर मुगलांची सत्ता सुरु झाली आणि ही महत्वाची सांस्कृतिक कला जोपासली गेली आणि विकसित होत गेली. अकबराच्या दरबारी तानसेन होता हे आपण जाणतोच. तानसेन धृपद गायचा, त्याच्या उपलब्ध रचना धृपद मध्ये आहेत. त्यावरून असे अनुमान बांधता येतं की खयाल गायकी त्यावेळी खूप प्रचलित नसावी. 

मुगल राज्यकर्त्यांची संगीताला आश्रय देण्याची परंपरा सुरु राहिली. औरंगझेबाच्या काळात खंड पडला पण त्याचा पणतू मुहम्मद शाह “रंगीला” हा संगीताचा मोठा आश्रयदाता होता. एक राजा म्हणून तो फार निष्प्रभ ठरला. आधी थोरले बाजीराव पेशवे, नंतर इराणचा नादिरशहा (जो मयूर सिंहासन घेऊन गेला) ह्या दोघांकडून त्याला मोठे पराभव पत्करायला लागले. पण त्याच्याच काळात खयाल गायकी प्रतिष्ठित आणि नंतर प्रमाण झाली. 

त्याचं मुख्य कारण म्हणजे त्याच्या दरबारातील राज-गायक  “मियाँ नेअमत अली खान साहेब” ज्यांनी खयाल गायकीला आजचं स्वरूप दिलं. “सदारंग” ह्या टोपण नावानी लिहिलेल्या त्यांच्या “चीजा” (फ़ारसी चीज़ چیز) आजही गायल्या जातात - अगदी नवशिक्या विद्यार्थ्या पासून ते भारतरत्न पंडित भीमसेन जोशीं सारख्या महान गायकापर्यंत. ते आणि त्यांचे पुतणे अदारंग ह्यांच्या चीजा अनेक रागांचे प्रमाण बनल्या आहेत. 

ह्याच काळात उर्दूला सुद्धा एका प्रतिष्ठित भाषेचा दर्जा मिळाला. नंतर खयाल गायकीची घराणी बनली. जवळपास सर्व घराण्यांचे संस्थापक मुस्लिम असल्यामुळे उर्दू / फ़ारसी / अरबी शब्द शास्त्रीय संगीताच्या परिभाषेत शिरले आणि आज ही तेच शब्द प्रचलित आहेत.

ह्या शब्दांची यादी खूप मोठी आहे. मैफिल (अरबी महफिल محفل), उस्ताद (अरबी استاد), रियाज (अरबी ریاض), तयारी (अरबी تیّر), तालिम (अरबी त’अलीम تعلیم), वजन (अरबी وزن) अशा शब्दांच्या व्युत्पत्ती बद्दल आश्चर्य वाटायचं काहीच कारण नाही. पण संगीतातला मूलभूत शब्द, आवाज (फ़ारसी آواز) सुद्धा अर्थासकट आला आहे. हरकत बद्दल तर मी आधी लिहिलंच आहे. कदाचित आश्चर्य वाटेल वाचून - दाद (داد) आणि वाह (واہ) शब्ददेखील फ़ारसी मधून अर्थासकट आले आहेत. 

काही व्युत्पत्ती गमतीदार आहेत. “समा बांधला” असा एक प्रयोग केला जातो, तो समा “यह समाँ, समाँ है यह प्यार का” मधला समाँ (अरबी سماں) नाही - त्याचा अर्थ दृश्य. समा (سما) असा अरबीत एक शब्द आहे पण त्याचा अर्थ आहे आकाश. इथे जो शब्द आला आहे त्याचा उगम अरबी मधील “समा’अ” (سماع श्रवण) मध्ये आहे. उर्दू मेहफिलीत श्रोत्यांकरता “सामईन” असं संबोधन तुम्ही ऐकलं असेल. आणि “दर्दी श्रोते” म्हणजे “दुःखी श्रोते” नव्हेत हे सांगायला नकोच. 

संस्कृत मधील स्वर चा अपभ्रंश सूर होण्यास सुद्धा उर्दू / फ़ारसी लिपी कारणीभूत असावी. हा केवळ माझा तर्क आहे. उर्दू मध्ये स्वर लिहिला जाईल سور असा. पण त्या प्रकारे लिहिल्याने उच्चार सूर सुद्धा होऊ शकतो - कारण उर्दू मध्ये लिहिताना बऱ्याच वेळा स्वरचिन्ह गाळली जातात. 

मला आवडणारा एक जोडशब्द आहे - हमनवा - म्हणजे आपल्या बरोबर एका सुरात गाणारा. एका प्रसिद्ध पाकिस्तानी मालिकेचे शीर्षक गीत आहे 

वह हमसफ़र था मगर उस से हमनवाई न थी

(तो सहप्रवासी होता, पण आमचे सूर जुळले नाहीत)

नवा (फ़ारसी نوا) म्हणजे आवाज/स्वर/गाणे. त्यावरून शब्द आला नवाज़. म्हणजे वादक. म्हणून सोबतीला (अरबी सुहबत صحبت) “तबला नवाज़” असतात. नवाज़ शब्दाचा दुसरा अर्थ आहे - कृपा करणारा. जो सेवकांवर कृपा करतो तो “बंद:नवाज़”.


ह्यातल्या बंद: चा मूळ फारसी शब्द आहे बंद, त्या वरून बनलेला फ़ारसीतला दुसरा शब्द बंदिश - हा आता शास्त्रीय संगीतातला अतिशय महत्वाचा शब्द बनला आहे. पण ह्या फारसी शब्दाचा मूळ उगम अतिप्राचीन “Proto-Indo-Iranian” भाषेत असू शकेल कारण संस्कृत मधला “बंधन” हा त्याच्याशी खूप मिळताजुळता शब्द आहे. हा ही केवळ माझा कयास आहे, भाषाशास्त्रज्ञांचं मत वेगळं असू शकेल. 

असो. बराच मोठा लेख झाला आहे. ह्या ही पेक्षा अधिक किती तरी शब्द असतील. पण जे शब्द मला पटकन आठवले त्याबद्दल ही थोडी माहिती. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Dark Matter

Book Review : Dark Matter
Author : Blake Crouch
My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars

It’s been a while since I have read any science fiction. The name of the book, and the praise it received got me curious. Blake Crouch has multiple books on New York Times Bestseller list, and his trilogy has been made into a TV Series on Fox. I haven’t watched it, but this is enough to get me to read one of his books.

The story is told from the point of view of Jason Dessen, a quantum physicist who is happily married to Daniela.  As the story begins, Jason gets out of his cozy home in a nice Chicago suburb to have a drink with his friend. On his way back, he is kidnapped by a person who seems to know a lot about him, a bit too much to seem possible. His attempts to get out of this situation fail completely. When he wakes up, he finds himself surrounded by total strangers, who on the other hand seem to know him very well, but what they know about him is not at all familiar to him. It takes a while for him (and the readers) to figure out what’s going on.

This is just the first half of the book, but it would be inappropriate for me as a reviewer to give any more details about the plot devices used by the author. Unfortunately, many other reviews on the web clearly spell them out. Now, it’s possible that many readers, especially SciFi readers, may easily guess what the underlying scientific premise is. Still, I would prefer to not spell it out.

The first half of the book is very captivating. It’s written very well, and draws the reader in. The suspense builds up, and we can feel what Jason feels. The characters are well developed and their interactions are authentic. A good science fiction also needs to be a good fiction and the first few chapters start with a great promise.

That promise is kept all the way till the end as far as writing is concerned. Along the way, difficulties arise in the plot because the author boxes himself in a situation from which there is really no convincing way out. It remains an engaging and mind-bending story, but fails to wow us. 

Most science fiction has to transcend existing laws and knowledge. For example, without hyper-space how can authors make their protagonists travel at a speed faster than light? This book takes such liberties with the speculative theories that are in fashion currently. That’s perfectly fine, in spite of a few logical holes in the plot. The liberties taken with the laws of physics is not the real issue, rather how they are used to construct a plot, a plot that has no satisfying resolution.

I enjoyed this book. It's good fiction and good science fiction. Although it’s not completely satisfying, it’s a page turner of sorts. In spite of the concerns I outlined above, it still gets my recommendation.

Sunday, July 11, 2021


 रुबाईसी क्रमांक १६

Wrote something after a long time. It’s Rubaai in spirit and in the rhyming scheme. But Rubai in Farsi and Urdu demand only a few very specific meters. I don’t see a reason to be restricted by them and would prefer to use whatever meter works better. So I am going to call this रुबाईसी (रुबाई जैसी). 

गीतांत कोकिळेच्या आवाज तूच आहेस 

मोरास नर्तनाचा जो बाज तूच आहेस 

सृष्टीत चालणाऱ्या सगळ्या अखंड नाट्यांस 

तालात बांधणारा पखवाज तूच आहेस 

(Inspired by a Meer Anees rubaai :

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Aamhi Doghi

Movie Review: Aamhi Doghi
Director: Pratima Joshi

Genre: Drama

Language: Marathi

Starring: Priya Bapat, Mukta Barve

Released: 2018 My Rating: 7 out of 10

Gauri Deshpande (1942-2003) is one of the best Marathi authors ever. In my opinion, she is the most underrated literary figure and deserves much wider fame. I haven’t read all her stories, but whatever I have read is phenomenal. Her stories, that I have read, are very character focused, and all those characters are interesting and off the beaten path. Even in short stories, she could paint a multi-dimensional character in just a few strokes. Her stories, almost always, eschew any melodrama and still have the power to affect you. Once you read them, it’s impossible to forget them. One reason is her language that can be shocking in its honesty and outspokenness.

Yes, I know I am writing a movie review and not a book review. But this is perhaps the only screen adaptation of her work. So giving the background is necessary.

I haven't read the original story “Paus aalaa mothaa”, so I cannot comment on the differences between the story and the movie. Of course there are some changes as the story in the movie happens in the present time, but they are cosmetic. There could be other changes, but the characters and the story, both are still in Gauri Deshpande’s signature style.

As the movie title suggests, this is the story of Savitri or Savi (Priya Bapat) and Amala or Ammi (Mukta Barve). Actually, it’s more a story about Savi, often narrated in her own voice. Savi has lost her mother when she was very young. Her father, a wealthy lawyer, Jagdish Sardesai (Kiran Karmarkar) raises her to be a strong minded person. “We are practical, not emotional fools”, is their mantra. Savi’s life takes a very unexpected turn when one day her father comes home from a trip with a woman, and unceremoniously announces that she is his new wife. The woman, Ammi, is only a few years older than Savi. They are very different individuals. Savi is an extraordinarily bright student, always at the top of her class, winning gold medals. Ammi, on the other hand, is completely uneducated and can barely read or write.

After a few days, Savi warms up to Ammi. As a teenager she is rebellious. Her and her father’s curtness eventually ruins the father-daughter relationship. Savi moves away from home for education with the intention of never returning back. The rest of the movie shows her personal development, and evolution of her past and future relationships.

This is a character study, like most of Gauri Dshpande’s work. Presentation of such movies depends on the script and the acting. The direction by Pratima Joshi is competent. This is her debut, and I am looking forward to more movies from her. The script is good, but the dialogues are average, not great. The strength of the movies is the actors and every single actor has done justice to their roles.

The main actors deserve special praise. Both Priya Bapat and Mukta Barve have many well known and successful movies on their resume. Mukta Barve is a seasoned actress and perhaps with the best acting skills of the Marathi actresses today. She is also a fantastic stage actress, I have watched one of her plays. Priya Bapat was amazing in Kaksparsh, an unforgettable movie. There she didn’t have a lot of dialogues, here she does most of the talking. She also has to play the character as a teenager as well as a grown up young woman. She doesn’t really look like any teenager, in spite of the makeup. The period of her growing up also feels much more in the past, so there are some weak points in an otherwise good movie.

I highly recommend this movie. I missed it when it came out. Thankfully it’s available on Amazon Prime. It may not be a typical family movie, but it is safe to watch with your kids, like most Marathi movies are. I think even people who cannot understand Marathi might enjoy it.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

आपका क्या होगा जनाब ए आली

 Once in a while, Hindi movie songs can throw an expected pleasant surprise.

On, Riya’s Retro podcast was playing a song from Amitabh Bachchan’s “लावारिस”, a movie I remember not liking much. “मेरे अंगने में” was a huge hit then. This particular song, Kishore Kumar’s “आपका क्या होगा जनाब ए आली” became a hit too, but I really did not care for it. I have never played any of these songs on my own. Lyrics of this one are by the producer-director Prakash Mehra.

Now Prakash Mehra, one of the most commercially successful directors, being a lyricist is not a big surprise. He has written a few songs, and some were hits. For example, “सलाम-ए-इश्क़” from “मुक़द्दर का सिकंदर”, or “मंज़िलें अपनी जगह हैं ” from “शराबी”. What took me by surprise was the lyrics of the antara.

आप भी मेरी तरह इन्सान की औलाद हैं

आप मुँह माँगी दुआ हम अनसुनी फ़रियाद है

वो जिन्हें सारा ज़माना समझे लावारिस यहाँ

आप जैसे ज़ालिमों के ज़ुल्म की ईजाद हैं

(ईजाद == creation)

Now, that’s a Rubaai structure for the antara! Something Sahir has done on many occasions. And Prakash Mehra’s effort is not bad at all. Nothing great. But ok enough. Just like his other songs. The second antara also has a Rubaai. Having noticed the Rubaai structure, I decided to check if it is in any meter. 

And it is indeed metrically correct. Now that’s a pleasant surprise! It’s not a meter prescribed for Rubaai, but it’s a very common meter used in Urdu for ghazal and Hindi movie songs. It’s called रमल मुसम्मन महज़ूफ. It goes 2 1 2 2 / 2 1 2 2 / 2 1 2 2 / 2 1 2. The Marathi version of a metrically equivalent वृत्त is named कालगंगा. 

In Urdu the most famous example would be the very first ghazal of Ghalib’s Deewaan - “नक़्श फरियादी है”. And, one example of a famous Hindi movie in this same meter is “आप की आँखों में कुछ महके हुए से  ख़्वाब हैं” by Gulzar.

Finding a Rubaai like antara with a correct meter in a song written by Prakash Mehra, a small and nice surprise for a weekend.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Knives Out

Movie Review : Knives Out

Released : 2019

Director: Rian Johnson

Genre: Mystery

Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Christopher Plummer

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Knives Out” is a recent movie that feels like such a welcome blast from the past. A movie that singularly fits the “Mystery” genre and will remind you of none other than Agatha Christie. I had nearly forgotten how enjoyable such stories are.

The mystery here is about the death of a rich and famous author, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). It seems like he killed himself by slicing his own throat with a knife. (Now that might perhaps be the rarest type of suicide.) He had a large family, with children and grand-children. As the pair of cops question them, we learn that many of them could be the suspects, including the central character of the story, the young nurse, Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas). Joining the cops is a detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Yes, with a French name, interesting mannerisms, distinct style of speaking and all that. Alas, no mustache. 

The story has all the standard, and beloved elements of a classic mystery. A rich estate, squabbling members of a large family, many suspects with motivations, questionable details around the death. The approach is also familiar. We know more than the detectives - while the characters are telling a version to the detectives, the director tells us what really happened. So we know who is lying and about what. 

Like any good mystery, this is a bit more than just a whodunit, even though that is the main plot line. How it happened and why Detective Blanc is involved are also unknown to us. The additional minor details about the characters are not novel but amusing nonetheless. Their interactions are often filled with dialogues that make a political and social commentary on the current state of affairs. Just to be sure, all that is kept as a sideshow. 

Visually, the movie is beautiful, and tends oh so slightly towards the noir style. And that’s a good thing. The movie never turns dark, as has become the norm lately. It remains faithful to classic mystery style. There is no gore, no boo moments. We like and dislike characters, but we never get too emotionally involved with any. There is no melodrama, no emotional manipulations. The movie absolutely never stops being fun and a puzzle to solve, with many memorable scenes along the way.

In such an approach, the screenplay becomes extremely important. It takes skills to figure what frames to show in only the two hours available. They need to be just enough to keep us guessing and not figure it out. And at the same time, be more than enough to make us accept the resolution as perfectly valid and not make it feel like a forced or cheap trick. When accomplished masterfully, as done here, it feels like reading a good book.

It’s not a character centric movie, but capable actors of course help. Ana de Armas, a relative newcomer and Daniel Craig play their roles perfectly, and get more screen time than others such as Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon and Christopher Plummer.

This is such an enjoyable movie. It uses all the familiar motifs and still feels fresh. It stays completely committed to present us a mystery with a very satisfying ending. I highly recommend it. It’s correctly rated PG-13 and should be fine for teenagers.

Monday, January 4, 2021


 अफलातुन !

आजच्या काळात सांस्कृतिक देवाण-घेवाण अगदी सहज होते. फार पूर्वी दोन संस्कृती एकमेकींना भेटायचे प्रमुख कारण दुर्दैवाने युद्धच असावे. विजेत्यांची संस्कृती पराभूतांवर लादली जात असेलही, तरी काही गोष्टी मनापासून स्विकारल्या जायच्या. वेगवेगळ्या विषयांचे ज्ञान अशा वेळी एका समाजातून दुसऱ्या समाजात पसरले गेले, आणि क्वचित प्रसंगी नावे देखील. 

Alexander The Great हा Macedon नावाच्या एका ग्रीक प्रांताचा राजपुत्र. वयाच्या विसाव्या वर्षी त्याने सुरु केलेल्या आक्रमणातून इतिहासातील एक विस्तृत साम्राज्य उभे झाले. Alexander ने नरसंहार खूप केला तरी त्याने जे प्रदेश जिंकले तिथे त्याचे नाव मात्र लोकं लावतात. आज ही सिकंदर हे एक नाव म्हणून प्रचलित आहे. “मुक़द्दर का सिकंदर”, “जो जीता वही सिकंदर“ अशा तऱ्हेने सुद्धा ह्या नावाचा वापर वाक्प्रचारात आणि काव्यात दिसतो.

याद रख सिकंदर के हौसले तो आली थे

जब गया था दुनिया से दोनों हाथ खाली थे

(चढता सूरज धीरे धीरे ढलता है ढल जाएगा - क़व्वाली)

Alexander ला The Great अशी उपाधी आपण लावतो ती योग्य असो नसो, त्याचा गुरु Aristotle मात्र महान होता यात तिळमात्र ही शंका नाही. जसं Alexander चा सिकंदर झाला, तसा Aristotle चं नाव अरबी भाषेत “अरस्तु” (أرسطو) असं झालं. जर आजच्या काळातही Aristotle च्या बुद्धिमत्तेने, विचारांमुळे आपण थक्क होतो, तर त्या काळात त्याचा प्रभाव त्या वेळच्या विचारवंतांवर पडला त्यात काही आश्चर्य नाही. ज्या ज्या प्रदेशात Alexander चं साम्राज्य पसरलं तिथे Aristotle ची Philosophy सुद्धा विचारांवर राज्य करू लागली. त्यावरून आधी अरबी आणि नंतर उर्दू/हिंदी मध्ये “फ़लसफ़ा” शब्द आला. इस्लामच्या सुवर्णयुगात बग़दाद मध्ये Aristotle चा अभ्यास आवर्जून व्हायचा आणि त्याचा उल्लेख अतिशय आदराने “The First Teacher” असा केला जायचा.

Aristotle चा गुरु Plato ही तितकाच महान होता. जशी Alexander ची युद्धनीती अजूनही अभ्यासली जाते, तसा Plato चा अभ्यास आजही बऱ्याच क्षेत्रात होतो - उदा. Political Science.

ह्या Plato चं नाव आधी अरबीत, नंतर उर्दू मध्ये आले ते अफ़लातूँ (أفلاطون) असं. मराठीत त्यातल्या अनुस्वाराचा पूर्ण न झाला आणि शब्द झाला अफलातून.

Plato ची बद्धिमत्ता एव्हढी होती की, हे केवळ नाव न राहता एक विशेषण सुद्धा झाले. आपण मराठी मध्ये विशेषण म्हणूनच “अफलातून” चा वापर करतो, आणि तो “विलक्षण”, “अलौकिक” अशा चांगल्या अर्थासाठी.

उर्दू मध्येही तसा वापर होतो. केवळ Plato च नाव म्हणून सुद्धा वापरतात. क्वचित ठिकाणी “फ़लातूँ” असाही शब्द काव्यात आढळतो - कदाचित वृत्तात बसवण्यासाठी हा बदल असावा. ह्या शब्दाचा वापर टोमणा देण्यासाठी सुद्धा उर्दू मध्ये करतात. उदा. “तुम अपने आपको अफ़लातूँ का बच्चा मत समझो”. 

उर्दूचे महाकवी अल्लामा इक़्बाल ह्यांच्या “औरत” ह्या प्रसिद्ध लघुकवितेत त्यांनी फ़लातूँ आणि अफ़लातूँ ह्या दोन्हींचा वापर केला आहे.

मुकालमात-ए-फ़लातूँ न लिख सकी लेकिन

उसी के शोले से टूटा शरार-ए-अफ़लातूँ

(Although she didn’t write the Dialogues of Plato,

From her flames came out the spark of Plato)

Plato च्या Dialogues चा सन्दर्भ देण्यासाठी इंग्लिश मध्ये भाषांतर लिहिलं आहे.

सिकंदर आणि अफ़लातूँ, ही दोन्ही नावं उर्दू/हिंदी/मराठी मध्ये रुळली, पण का कुणास ठाऊक, अरस्तु (Aristotle) आणि सुक्रातु (Socrates) ही नावं रुळली नाहीत. 

अफलातून सारखाच, कौतुक करण्यासाठी आपण ‘कमाल’ शब्द वापरतो. तो सुद्धा अरबी मधून आला आहे. त्याचा अर्थ “निपुणता”, “पूर्णता” असला तरी वापर “पूर्णता”शी निगडित जास्त होतो. उदा. उर्दू मधले मुकम्मल, कामिल वगैरे. तशाच उद्देशाने वापरला जाणारा “ज़बरदस्त” शब्द ही फ़ारसी मधून आला आहे - ज़बर (बलशाली) आणि दस्त (हात) ह्या पासून बनलेला जोडशब्द.


मराठी शब्दांच्या व्युत्पत्ती मध्ये, अफलातून शब्दाची व्युत्पत्ती सर्वार्थाने अफलातून आहे. :-) 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Mama’s Last Hug

Book Review : Mama’s Last Hug
Author : Frans de Waal My Rating : 5 out of 5 stars - MUST READ

The complete title of the book is ‘Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves’.

Let me start the review with the video from which the book got its title.

The last hug


It feels really weird to ask if animals have emotions. Of course they do! Ask any pet owner, ask anyone who has seen some of the countless animal videos circulating on social media. So why write a book (or multiple) books, trying to prove what seems as obvious as saying, the sky is blue. The reason, the author explains, is to dig deeper. What kind of emotions? Are their emotions similar to ours? Is there a purpose for these emotions? And so on.

Dr Waal has spent years studying this subject, and has written multiple books, highly regarded and widely read. I had heard of his perhaps most famous book, “Chimpanzee Politics”, but this is the first book I read that was written by him. Now, I am definitely going to try to read his other books as well.

Throughout the book, Dr Waal gives interesting accounts of experiment after experiment, each one making it crystal clear that animals feel, and have emotions. Feelings are not the same as emotions, something that may be obvious to people who study sociology and psychology, but I understood clearly from reading this book. The real insight is provided not only by the experiments, but also by the author’s explanation of how these emotions structure our lives and our societies. The emotions of compassion, revenge, empathy, hunger for power etc all are crucial factors that govern our decisions regarding everything from health care systems to legal institutions.

Most of the book is about primates, and chimpanzees in particular, which is what Dr Waal has specialized in. After reading his accounts and explanations, I can agree with him when he says, it’s really hard to draw the line between them and us. We are so similar. At the same time, he also cautions against projecting our feelings onto them. We often talk about animals, especially our pets, as if they are humans. In spite of that, and paradoxically, we are also surprised when we see animals reacting like us! Neither is a scientific approach. This book, as the complete title says, is as much about us, as it is about animals. 

Another new insight I learned here was how similar animals' body language can be with ours, including facial expressions. Just as our facial muscles pull our lips to reveal complex emotions, so do the animals. A smile can be because of happiness or it can be a nervous grin, both in humans and in primates. It’s just one of the many indications that their emotions are just as complex as ours. This complexity makes two opposite emotions, just two sides of the same coin. An ability to feel empathy is needed not just to help others, but also to be cruel and hurt others. He gives many accounts of not-so-good behavior by the primates.

The book goes much further than that. It’s very likely that for many readers, it won’t come as a surprise to know that animals have joy, fear, empathy and so on. But what about feelings that are indicative of a more complex morality such as guilt, or shame? It seems animals do have those feelings! As the later chapters explore, the real questions are, how complex are their emotions, do they have free will like us, are they rational maximizers, can they be capitalists and so on.

This is a beautiful book. Written in such a simple to understand style, and yet at the same time asking and often answering many deep philosophical questions. It draws from years of research of many, including Darwin. I very highly recommend it, giving it my “Must Read” rating. It will amaze you, delight you, inform you and make you self introspect. It’s a brilliant book. Read it.

In the end, I will leave you with this amazing video featuring the author, that I had seen many years ago, may be on “60 minutes”. It’s often mentioned in the management training :-)  about fairness. Enjoy!


Friday, November 20, 2020

Fool me twice

On Tuesday, November the 3rd 2020, as I sat eagerly to watch the results of the Presidential Election, very quickly my hope of seeing the country get rid of Trump turned into despair. In the first few minutes, the Florida results were encouraging. Then Miami-Dade county reported and the shock I felt will remain forever etched in my memory. Hillary Clinton won that district by 35 points, and still lost Florida. Biden won it by around 15 points or so, and it was immediately clear that he is not going to win Florida.

As they say, it was “deja vu all over again”. Four years ago, it was Florida that delivered the first shock and things got progressively worse throughout the night - for people like me who wanted to see the country rejecting Trump. This year, it seemed like a replay of the same movie. Both times, the pain became worse because I wasn’t prepared for it. The polls had left me no doubt that Trump was going to be defeated, and both times, the polls got it horribly wrong.

In 2016, when Trump won, the polls became a joke in the eyes of the most. I was also surprised how the polls got it wrong. I decided to spend time figuring out why. As I studied the issue, I realized that I didn’t really understand what the polls were actually saying. Of course, the polls got many things wrong, but their error was pretty much in line with their historical performance.

Even in 2012, the polls had underestimated Obama’s chances of winning reelection. But they got the direction right, and hence the polling error did not get too much attention. The polls were actually not as wrong in 2016, but the error margin was bigger than the slim vote margin that went in Trump’s favor. More importantly, Trump’s margin of victory was far less than the “undecided” percentage of voters reported by polls. That was the key to understand why we all though the polls were wrong. As the election neared, there was a clear movement of these “undecided” in Trump’s favor, which many missed, including the media and me. Then there was the last minute bombshell by Comey which sealed the deal, and there were few polls after that announcement. 

Many theories such as “the shy Trump voters” have been debunked in many studies since the 2016 debacle. The real reason, the pollsters argued, was that they didn’t account for the correct proportion of rural voters, people without a college degree etc. In other words, their sampling technique needed refinement to capture a better representation of the electorate.

So I defended the polls and prediction models such as the one at FiveThirtyEight. I argued that a few swing states, going in Trump’s favor by a very slim margin, is definitely within their prediction of a 30% probability of Trump’s win. In life, we shouldn't be surprised by events with 30% probability actually happening. For example, we are not at all surprised to see a pair of dice rolling to 6 on each, which has a much less probability (less than 3%). 

This time, I thought I was interpreting the polls correctly. The polls were indeed much better in 2018 midterms. In 2020 as time progressed, they tended to move more strongly in favor of Biden. That was not the case 4 years ago when the polls were fluctuating a lot. There were hardly any “undecided” in the polls this time, and Biden’s margin was much much higher than Clinton. To top it, the polls were consistent with each other, across different pollsters, across states etc. 

So I made my prediction for a Biden win, and doubled down on it by giving a 50-50 chance for a landslide victory by Biden. I even offered the bets with specific odds. Although I did not lose the bets, and got a few things right, I was wrong about lot more things.

Now the way ballots were counted, made it seem like a close and tough win. Actually it was quite a comfortable victory for Biden. When Trump won it last time, many called it a “clear mandate”. Biden’s 2020 electoral count is going to be the same as Trump in 2016. Biden’s popular vote margin (of close to 7 million votes) is even larger than what Clinton got. By the way, my estimation of the margin was quite right. Biden’s margin in swing states is much much higher than what Trump had in 2016. Finally, Biden won back the Blue states Clinton lost, and flipped 2 Red states in addition. So by any yardstick, this is a very nice victory. Just the way counting was done, made it look like a tough win.

In spite of that, I have to say that my prediction was quite wrong.

Most of the arguments I made were based on eroding support for Trump. That was completely incorrect. Trump got even more votes than he got the last time (close to 10 million more), and was able to get more votes from Blacks and Latinos than he got in 2016. There is a lot for me to understand there.

Mainly, I wasn’t predicting just a Biden win. I was giving a 50-50 chance for a landslide. As it turned out, there was really no chance of a landslide. I made that prediction thinking Florida will go to Biden and Texas will be a close loss. This was based on polls. For example in Florida, the polls continued to shift towards Biden as the election neared. Most highly rated polls gave Biden a +5 chance, when the reality was he was -3. That was an astronomically huge miss by the polls. When most swing states are decided by a margin of less than 2%, any poll that can be wrong by 8-10% is worse than being useless.

Florida wasn’t an exception. Iowa, Texas, North Carolina - none were as close as the polls claimed to be. And wherever Biden won, the polls had estimated a much higher margin.

The common theme in the errors made by the polls was - they underestimated the support for Trump. Just like they did in 2016. Except this time, the pollsters had told us that they have learned from their mistakes and have made the necessary adjustments. If this is how anyone “improves” in their job, they would be fired.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Hence, I am declaring that polling is useless for me. Yes, they will try to explain why they got it wrong this time, or how it wasn’t as wrong as we perceive. Yes, they might get it right the next time. But I am not going to trust them again. Ever. And I know, I am not alone. Even though Biden won as was the prediction, many people understand that polls were really inaccurate this time - especially in the purple swing states where they matter the most. The entire polling industry has lost its trust. Even if they get it right the next time, it won’t increase their trustworthiness any more than throwing a dice.

Nah. I did not make a good prediction. Live and learn. Well, at least I won’t waste any time and suffer heartburn in the next election, by engaging in studying polls and coming up with a prediction model. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

My Prediction For 2020 Election

The case for an epic landslide Democratic win

The 2020 Presidential election is only a few days away. Many questions are being discussed. Will there be a peaceful transfer of power if Biden wins? Will the polls be wrong again for predicting a Trump loss? And so on.

What is rarely mentioned is the possibility of an epic loss for Trump. Some believe that Teflon Trump will emerge victorious as he did in the 2016 primaries and eventual election. Some believe that his die hard supporters (or cult, as it’s often called) are the most loyal of all. Some believe polls are no longer reliable. And so on.

Almost an year ago, in late 2019, in my friend circles, I went out on a limb and outlined my prediction for a “yuuuge loss” for Donald Trump. At that time, it was even more of a contrarian opinion. Incumbents have an advantage. A good economy is a virtual guarantee that the incumbent will win again. Still I had my reasons to make that prediction.

But then the pandemic happened. Since I found it completely out of the “analyzable” space, I retracted my prediction, saying, I have no idea how this will play out. Especially with the rapid spread, and both the candidates being over 70 and in the high risk group, in April I had no idea what to expect going forward.

Now, I am again comfortable to reissue my prediction with an updated probability. Trump is going to suffer an epic loss.

Before I give my reasons, let’s define what my prediction means.

What’s in epic loss? I consider getting less than 200 electoral votes as epic loss. Or a blowout. So my prediction is Trump does not win more than 200 electoral votes.

How confident am I in making this prediction? Since the future is unknowable, we can only talk in terms of probabilities. I give it a 50-50 chance. Now before you smirk, let me restate. This is my estimate for the probability that Trump loses the election AND fails to win over 200 electoral votes. The probability for a general Biden win is much higher in my estimate. In other words, I am willing to have a bet with a friend, where if my prediction comes true, I win a dollar and if Trump gets more than 200 electoral votes I give them a dollar even if Trump still loses the election. For a general election result, I am willing to give a 1 to 3 payout ratio. Meaning, if Trump wins, I give them 3 dollars, and if Trump loses, I get only 1 dollar.

What are my reasons for such a high level of confidence?

Here is how I divide the eligible voters into distinct subsets.

  1. People who always come out to vote, and vote Democratic.

  2. People who always come out to vote, and vote Republican.

  3. People who always come out to vote, and vote based on their views on that specific election - the Independents.

  4. People who need motivation to come out to vote and if they do, they vote Democratic. 

  5. People who need motivation to come out to vote and if they do, they vote Republican.

  6. People who need motivation to come out, but may vote either way depending on the election.

  7. Net new additions to the voter pool based on old people dying, and young people becoming eligible to vote and will vote. Some may vote for Republicans, some may vote for Democrats.

  8. People who never come out to vote. Unfortunately there are such irresponsible people in every democratic country.

Which groups are more important in deciding the election? Without knowing the sizes, it’s hard to say. For example, if group 1 or 2 is 90% of the country, it really doesn’t matter what other groups feel or do. Thankfully, that’s not the case.

Since we don’t know the absolute sizes of each subset, we can then focus on estimating the change - the delta - between the last election and this. We can ask how do we expect these groups to behave differently in this election than what they did the last time. It’s a valid strategy to ask that question, as at least one candidate is the same in both the elections. So we can frame this question with respect to Trump. 

Let’s examine one at a time and focus only on the delta.

Group 1. By definition this group will come out and will vote Democrat, so no delta.

Group 2. By definition this group will come out and will vote Republican, so no delta.

Group 3. This group is more interesting to speculate about. Remember, this group will come out and vote. If they vote the same as last time, there is no delta. I am very certain that’s not the case. This is a referendum on the incumbent. Last time, some from this group voted for Clinton, and some voted for Trump. If someone was willing to vote for Clinton last time, I am sure they will vote against Trump again. Those who voted for Trump in this group, are more likely to change their minds. Not all. But some or many. Remember again, this group doesn’t represent the cult of Trump in any meaningful way. All of that is accounted for in group 2. We are only interested in the delta. So, I am arguing, this group represents a big negative delta for Trump. In other words, far more people in this group will change from Trump to “no on Trump”. Please note, not all have to change their mind this way. Some might actually change their vote from Democratic in 2016, to Trump in 2020. I am speculating about the aggregate, not the individual. So “net negative” is the operative word.

Group 4. This was a strong reason for Clinton’s loss. Many people who would have voted for a Democratic candidate, simply did not show up. This is a combination of die hard Sanders supporters and people who disliked Clinton. I am arguing they have a very strong motivation to come out and vote for the Democrats. They see Trump’s record. They see what’s happening with the Supreme Court. Biden is not as disliked as Clinton. Again, not all will come out to vote. We are just looking at the delta. This is a positive delta for the Democrats. No doubts about it.

Group 5. The reverse of group 4. This will be another big negative delta for Trump. How many are going to be really enthusiastic to come and re-elect Trump? A reminder once again. The cult of Trump is already accounted for in group 2. Coming back to this group of “likely Republicans”, will all of them come out to vote again for Trump? When there is no Clinton to defeat? Just like group 4 sitting at home in 2016, a section of this group will sit this one out. This is another negative delta for Trump.

Group 6. For someone who needs a strong motivation to come out and vote for someone (either Democrat or Republican), what’s their motivation this time? If they were not motivated last time to vote for Trump, they are not going to be motivated this time! In fact some may be motivated to vote against Trump. That’s why I am giving this a net negative delta for Trump.

Group 7. Another interesting group to speculate about. But maybe easier to get an agreement on. New young voters - which way will they go? Is there any doubt at all? Seriously! This is another net negative delta for Trump. And perhaps the biggest delta in percentage terms, when compared to the group size.

Group 8. By definition, there will be no delta here.

So there you have it. I do not know the size of any delta. I don't need to. Because none of the subsets is generating a positive delta for Trump. If there was a positive delta, then the question of the size becomes important. Because one positive delta can in theory override all other negative deltas. But I am confident that each delta is negative. Some mildly negative, to some wildly negative. Hence my prediction, and the confidence.

You are going to see this delta affecting “down ballot” candidates. This is not only going to go against Trump in a big way, but against Republicans in general. While I don’t think Lindsay Graham will actually lose, or that Texas will actually turn blue this time, both are a lot closer to happening than last time. As a side effect, Democrats have a good chance of getting complete control - the Presidency (high probability), the House (near certainty) and the Senate (slightly better than a 50-50 chance).


All this can be simplified into one question. Has Trump won more supporters than what he has lost? If you think he has converted more to support him than what he has lost, feel free to have a bet with me. Remember again, don’t just look at his cult. It’s the delta that’s going to decide the election, like it does in all the elections. His cult has not grown. But the size of his detractors has grown considerably.

Last time, he won with a razor thin margin. That margin got amplified, as it does in many elections, due to the structure of the electoral college. But that works in the other way too! If he loses that razor thin margin, the electoral map will look a lot different this time. I am betting, since he will lose a lot more than thin margin, it’s going to look like a blowout - less than 200 electoral votes.

UPDATE October 15, 2020
A couple of friends pointed out that I have not called out some of the data points clearly. So here is more explanation - no change in the forecast.

First, this way of doing analysis based on speculating about delta, is valid only for incumbents, which is the case here. Second all the deltas must be all negative, or positive else, the size of the deltas matter, and those are really hard to estimate.

Third, it’s valid only in cases where the margin was not high when the last election was won by the incumbent. I should have called out the third point very clearly. For example, President Obama did not get as many votes in his reelection bid, as he got the first time. Still he won the second time. In spite of negative delta. But his margin of victory was large enough to cushion it. That’s not the case with Trump.

Let’s look at the data. In Michigan, Trump won by an extremely small margin of 11K votes. That’s 0.23% of the votes. That margin is extraordinarily hard to defend, especially when you see that, in 2016 all other candidates (Green Part, Libertarian etc) got 5% of the vote (250K). So the chances of negative delta making Trump lose Michigan is very high. Note that Michigan had voted Democratic in the previous 6 elections. So 2016 with such a thin margin is not a secular change, but an outlier.

In Wisconsin, Trump won by 23K votes, which is about 0.75%. Third party candidates won 5%. And this state has voted Democratic for the previous 7 elections. This was again an outlier, which is very hard to defend for Trump.

In Pennsylvania, Trump won by 44K votes, which is also about 0.75%. Third party candidates got over 3%. This state has also voted Democratic in the previous 6 elections.

This is the basis for speculating about the deltas. A margin of less than 1% in a Democratic stronghold is too thin to stand on for a Republican candidate.

Similarly, Trump's margin of victory in other states was - Florida 1.2% and both Arizona and North Carolina less than 4%. None of these states is reliably Republican.
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