Collaborations with The Community Library Project ~ Devika and Shahid

July, 2018 marked the beginning of yet another engagement with The Community Library Project, Panchsheel Vihar. Mihir and Shahid took ownership of this project consisting of 15 adolescents and pre-adolescents. Sundays became theatre days at the library, and the children got acquainted with the format of TUNE IN, REFLECTION and ENGAGEMENT.

A long time was spent on preparing the actors’ bodies and helping them develop the skills for effective voice projection and dialogue delivery. In addition to that, multiple experiments were conducted to build on improvisation skills and the utilization of space and time in performance.

After establishing familiarity, the children and the facilitators started engaging with their notions of safe and unsafe spaces. The sessions grappled with difficult questions that gave rise to many stories, anecdotes and grievances. The children shared their experiences of harassment, bullying, being overpowered by authority figures and not finding places to play in.

Our struggle with absenteeism and behavioral management continued, but we have managed to come up with some beautiful pieces and can’t wait for them to be performed this February.

Korika: The Wishing Kite ~Jasmine Sachdev

Khirkee is a vibrant community bustling with energy and people from various backgrounds living together, making art together and making purported  ‘ends’ meet together. The diversity helps one experience a manifold of images, scents, sensations and interactions all at once and more- this is what makes this community special. We, at Aagaaz, worked with the children from the community using drama through the story of Korika: The Wishing Kite. The book, A Kite Called Korika by Sharada Kolluru formed the basis of our work. The story of Yelliah and her family exposed the children to various aspects of a new yet familiar environment in someone else’s life, and they started on the journey to understand it and learn from it by making it their own. Over the last 6 months, the work with the children was focused on building listening, consistency, working with other bodies in space and eventually grounding their voice, body within a makeshift narrative.

In our efforts to work with other bodies in space, we worked through our norms on consent, listening, being consciously aware of the objects, sensations and people around us. We started requesting the kids to ask us before they extended any touch, and did the same for them. Through the last 6 months, the awareness and practice around asking the other person for permission before establishing physical connections has increased and now the children correct the facilitators if they touch them without asking them. To make sure that everyone learns in the space and one person’s energy doesn’t distract the rest, we worked with stillness and silence, and doing exercises like eyeballing and Columbian hypnosis. We made the activities a part of our rituals, and it helped us build focus and awareness of our cacophonic surroundings. The children are now able to stay on task and focus, even while working in a space like the JamunWala Park which being a public space contained a lot of exciting stimulus but also distractions.

To work on our listening, we used call and responses, which made the children stop and move with the facilitator amidst the maze of activities and tasks given to them. The reflection circle at the end of every session helped us build on the skills of observing and listening to those around you. Working on oneself, as well as a sense of listening to and supporting the other came through this conclusionary exercise. A sense of collective ownership was built where we all, facilitators included, gathered that to make anything work and take any objective to task, we all need to work together; as if this belonged to all of us collectively, in equal parts and one person or just ‘I’ doing it well won’t ever be enough.

We struggled with working on consistency till the end of the program, however, we improved on it immensely over the course of 6 months. Our rituals that made our space, practicing and building on the same things in each session, saying true to our word, and having sessions consistently with children despite our problems with the space; even with the children having to work at home to support their parents, changing timings to make sure we meet, helped us build on this value over time.

We worked on all the above values and sensibilities through what is core to the team and the work, i.e. drama. Warm up exercises and songs building on our voice and body, working with the changing quality of one’s vocal energy. Children realised the varied ways they could use their voice to express themselves or a character’s emotions, and working on the body helped them see the different ways their legs and arms could move to depict something. While working on the ‘narrative’, the children co-created the scenes, building their own dialogues with improvised actions which revealed interconnections throughout the story, learning how to tie various fragmented scenes to create one single, unified piece. Amongst all of this, glimpses of connections bridging the gap between the self and the other, between them and those around them, between what they held to be true and what was being discovered as ‘new’, could be found.

In which Ajab Gajab bachchas take to the stage ~ Priiya Prethora

It’s difficult to feel the impact of performance till we perform, till we feel the stage is a space we step on to, claim as ours and be watched while we express what it is that we feel. This feeling is an amalgamation of what we have learned before, what being on stage at that particular time does to us and what it’s going to feel like once the performance is over.

Early on in January we decided to put together a short performance with the Ajab gajab gang  of Jamun Wala Park. We chose to work with the opening song of our play Duniya Sabki – Kahab Toh Lag Jaaye Dhak Se, because of the group’s enthusiasm about it following the shows during the Khirki Festival. They already knew the lyrics to the song, although in a sequence that their own imagination created, often strung together on the basis of the closest rhyming word in the previous line. There we were, humming and buzzing our way to the sopranos and falsettos, dance movements of our own making. Much like their cartwheels, they would suddenly flip the flow of the workshops with wide eyed, disbelieving questions – “are we actually going to be on a stage?”, “Will there be a real audience?”,  “Will we dance?”

Sweccha bestowed upon us a colourful room with a giant mirror that is the fourth wall, which became our rehearsing space for this performance. The mirror in the room was our constant audience and we were inseparable, like spirits who have found the long lost bodies which they once inhabited in the living world. We watched ourselves watching ourselves, keeping a check on how we looked while we sang, danced or did nothing but just kissed our reflections, sometimes for more than three minutes. The things did turn around when we designated the space where the audience will be, which was on the opposite side of the mirror. The song has a casual rhythm like that of bullock cart riding on a mud road with drop and lifts caused by puddles so we started manoeuvring our bodies for the lyrics to become thoughts in actions.

The number of children kept varying, especially when we would rehearse in the park, some of them were shy of being watched while rehearsing. The dance choreography consisted of stunts and flips by some of the children and the usual spur of the moment additions by almost everybody. The entire piece took about eight/nine sessions to be completely choreographed.

This particular group of children, with their exuberant energies, often struggled to engage with each other without violence. They also embraced the single narrative that the world around ascribed onto them – they steal, nothing will come off working with them, they are abusive and violent, wild, dirty. This workshop created a tiny crack in the ways in which they see themselves – of the other stories that they can possible be. For children who were written of as uncaring and what not, each one of them had scrubbed themselves clean and worn their best clothes for the show without any instructions from us – they had dressed for a special day. With the workshop’s focus on silence and stillness and the first show that had an audience of 30 strangers – the children discovered the thrill of working together to create an experience. Their post show joy was very tangible palpable in the room after the show.

The theatre bug administered – they are creating their first devised performance for the end of June led by Jasmine Sachdev and Devika Bedi along with our core group members. I cannot wait to see what emerges.

Khirki mein Drama – Theatre and Music at the Khirki Festival ~ Sanyukta

Khirki looked like it was celebrating Diwali or multiple weddings for five days in the month of December. The month of December kept all of us on our toes. The entire studio was abuzz with workshops, exhibitions, food stalls, events – people of varied ethnicities and age groups running up and down the stairs, laughing and talking in the otherwise serene environs of S-17, Khirki. KHOJ International Artist’s Studio on its 20th year of being, celebrated through a festival in collaboration with the local community and artists/arts organisations. Aagaaz led three element that were a part of the celebrations – the Khirki Music Ensemble, two plays based with children from the Community Library Project and 4 Kisse Connections.

The Khirki Music Ensemble came together in August last year – Romeo and Zoom – two young musicians from Congo, Kumud, a prodigious 15 year old with no formal training in music but awe inspiring, her mother Leela who never did realise her dreams of singing publicly, Shahid – one of the core group members of Aagaaz who has been getting trained in vocals from Manzil. This motley crew was led by Baan – our Managing Trustee and the co-founder of Dastaan Live, a pathbreaking music ensemble. They jammed through many a hot and rainy day, with the one common language of music bringing them all together. Re-arranging known songs and mash-ups of a few others – their hour long set list left the audience at the Jamunwala park enthralled.

The audience was a fair sample of the diversity that Khirki epitomises – and for once they were sharing an experience that was beyond the everyday. Through the performance though we battled the energies of the group of children from the tongewalla community that we work with through Ajab Gajab. There efforts to be up on the stage and join the performance were endearing and frightening (for the sake of the musicians and their hardwork) all at the same time. Bigger were the fears about the performances by the children from The Community Library Project scheduled for the next day. Most of our young actors were going to be on stage for the first time – what if they were intimidated by these younger children?

Safdar Hashmi has been an inspiration for us. His works for children used in drama workshops, beautifully allow for conversations with children to open up. The Community Library Project shares our desire to create spaces for children to be curious, think, and ask questions. It is an ideal collaboration. We worked with two groups of children over a period of two months. One of the groups had already created a performance of Duniya Sabki – we did a movement based workshop with them and used Hashmi’s Kitabein as a thread to explore the notion of stories. We explored the stories that they had read and relooked at these narratives from the perspective of a lesser know character, or a changed decision, or a parallel ending. The final show had new versions of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and the age old fabe of the Lazy Caterpiller, while looking at Mahasweta Devi’s Kyun Kyun Ladki in the context of one of the participant’s life. The new group of children dipped into Duniya Sabki and explored prejudice based on the colour of skin and gender discrimination – simply explored from the perspective of the participants. Our core group members were a joy through the process – they have visibly grown in their abilities work with young children using drama.

We approached the the day of the performance with great caution – what with the experience we had during the show by the Khirki Music Ensemble. We spent the morning talking to the Ajab Gajab gang, clearly demarcating stage space, collecting volunteers to guard our young performers. Once the show started, however, we experienced the unexpected. Everyone in the audience, specially the little ones – watched, rapt in awe. They watched as children, only slightly older than them, from their neighbourhood captivated an entire audience – despite all the distractions that performances in public spaces right next to a busy main road and opposite a big mall can bring. After the show, the performers looked ecstatic with a furtive look that I have grown to associate with young people who have suddenly stumbled upon the addiction that theatre can be. The Ajab Gajab gang accosted us and demanded to be put on stage too – and of course we would comply – they have since done two short presentations for their immediate community and are prepping for a bigger show in the end of June. The play will be based on a book by Tulika – A Kite Called Korika. Do read Priiya’s article about the presentations by this group in December and January.

The Kisse Connection sessions during the festival were special – for we experimented with our format. Other than the regular format of exploring personal memories, this time around we also did a session in collaboration with the wonderful Khoj Canteen led by Devika Menon. We explored stories around food and to talk about our experience would need another feature and more space, so do wait for our next issue.

As with most festivals, we worked in a state of intense momentum and breathed a collective sigh of relief as it drew to a conclusion – however, unlike most such times, we didn’t dip into a state of post rigour ennui and instead continued all our engagements with a steady pace and renewed vigour. Watch this space for all that followed and is planned. Much excitement!

Neuro- Dramatic Play Workshop with Sue Jennings ~Devika

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Aagaaz has embarked on a journey towards nurturing and enhancing the development of its team members. In November, Devika attended a 3 day workshop on Neuro-Dramatic Play and brought back new ideas and plenty of insights. Here is a small reflection, that highlights her detailed observations while interacting with children during this process:

The first of our workshop was a beautiful journey of self-exploration, sensory play, and rhythmic movement. We experimented with themes and ideas and put ourselves in the shoes of the children. It was an experiential session, and it would never have been authentic enough without that element. The real learning, however, started on the second day. Discussing theoretical frameworks about pedagogy or pretend play with adults could never compensate for first-hand experiences with children.

Luckily! This training involved children. I found myself in a group of 4 adults who facilitated for 3 children. Their distinct personalities made the whole process more dynamic. Vaishnavi (6-girl), Shweta (6-girl) and Shalu(8-boy) responded to the same stimulus in very different ways. I spent about 4 hours with these children in the span of two days and managed to observe various skills and patterns in the limited time period.

My first lens for exploration was- ‘Connection with metaphors’. Sue had introduced us to a rain metaphor that was used as a narrative for all our activities. Vaishnavi and Shalu didn’t show much resistance to this idea. Vaishnavi, whose play resembled that of a younger child was more fascinated with sounds, repetition and displaying her capabilities. Shalu, with his hearing and depth perception difficulties, was quite active and enthusiastic about what we brought to the table. Shweta didn’t connect to the metaphor at all and got distracted every few minutes.

Messy Play was another revealing exercise for all of us. It led to joy, energy, imagination and social play for the children and the adults. Vaishnavi was initially quite enthusiastic about the activity. She spent a long time playing with the shaving foam and liked the possibility of connecting with others through the medium. After a while, she got quite flustered and annoyed with the substance on herself, and wanted to clean it off as soon as possible. Shweta also explored the texture of the medium, tried to extend her imagination and wanted more and more for herself. Shalu on the other hand, engaged in individual sensory play, without paying much regard to what others were doing.

I was quite fascinated by the children’s tendency to adapt to the new flock of adults around them. Initially, they all operated with apprehension and curiosity which soon transformed into openness. The first indicator was visible when the children decided to include us in the drawings they were making. All three of them were particularly friendly, yet they showed different characteristics. Shalu was accepting of the facilitators, yet he didn’t seek much attention. On the second day, however, he chose to go and hug one specific older person he felt comfortable with. Shweta liked the attention and holding our hands, yet she managed to separate herself from us when she felt like it. Vaishnavi sought a lot of physical touch and affection, and constantly indulged in hugging and kissing. This led to a lot of questions in my mind about the care at their centre. However, I was aware that I couldn’t jump to any premature conclusions about attachment behavior.

Stories became a good tool to gauge listening skills and memories. Sue had narrated a story on the first day the children arrived, and we asked them to recall details on the second day. My co-facilitators and I had noticed that Shweta was particularly restless and distracted during the storytelling. My assumptions around her lack of attention were challenged, when she managed to recall important details from the story. Shalu was also quite attentive and his body language coincided with that. Vaishnavi, didn’t show signs of having remembered much from the story. She seemed to be struggling with sitting still and paying attention. What I love the most about working with children is that they are unpredictable and more than capable of shattering perceptions.

I was curious about the extent to which children exhibit initiative taking and leadership in group activities. On the first day, I noticed that both Vaishnavi and Shalu enjoyed leading the singing and dancing exercises, while Shweta found the theme difficult to connect to. On the second day her attitude was very different and robust. She seemed way more confident and enjoyed the process of initiating aspects of the work, especially while narrating the story.

Lastly, there were a lot of unique patterns that I tried to pay attention to. Vaishnavi, was particularly restless, resisted following instructions after a certain point and went into sudden outbursts of expression- especially anger. Her patience levels were very low and told more than one facilitator that they were making her dirty during messy play. She also wanted a lot of things while doing a craft activity and showed very little inclination to share. Sue had made some very acute observation about how she was involved in games such as ‘peek-a-boo’ which were developmentally inappropriate for her age.

Shweta had a fantastic memory that remained throughout the 4 hours. Her understanding of subtlety was quite impressive. I noticed this in two instances. One of them was the story recall, where she was clearly more confident than the other two. I made simple eye-contact with her when she spoke out of turn, and she always caught it as an indicator to slow down. Her drawing also showed some very interesting details and nuances. She coloured the bird in her drawing, in two different colours to signify that some movement had taken place. She also seemed to enjoy the process of mocking others, especially adults.

Shalu was expressive in his drawings and very calm at the same time. He showed very little resistance to any activities. He wanted to do the work given to him and also liked the process of displaying and showing it off. She showed curiousity and interest in other people’s drawings, and seemed to have very little competitive tendencies.
My favourite moment in the whole workshop was when the children were asked to pull apart their craft work. I could hear my heart breaking, because they had put a lot of effort in creation and ideation. The children, being their wonderful selves were actually quite open to that process. I was awestruck by their responses and felt almost sad they would have to grow up to be adults someday.

Explorations with a new group ~ Supriya Puri

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The journey over the last couple of weeks with the girls at Pehchaan has been of wonderful revelations. Exploring different avenues of social, affective and emotional domains; has been the key in decoding how individuals perceive the world and how the human experience differs from one person to the next.
Working with various modalities within the art based spectrum facilitated a comprehensive understanding of individual processes without making overt observations embedded in interpretations. One can gather behaviour and thoughts through these means without over-reaching personal ideologies as art as a construct, supersedes conscious patterns and helps to create meaning by simply being a custodian of unconscious manifestations that are brought to fore in a very organic way.
In order to bring about change, one must gauge where, what and how, can the shift be encouraged without imposing individual ideas of where it might seem relevant. The past couple of sessions have been a container of just observing, the overt manifestations, reactions as well as creating causes and conditions which sustain and persist the current way of being, without introducing structures and activities that inhibit free expression for the girls
Facilitating, or providing scaffolding for them has been the main area of focus, so that the element of social appropriateness and good vs bad do not seep inhibit natural reactions. Whenever such an instance occurs, the girls are encouraged to question the validity of norms and standards of conformity that they have come to absorb from their social environment.
To understand their coping mechanisms as well as how they view the social construct within which the operate, along with cognitive, affect, emotional and physical parameters an art based tool, called 6 piece story making was conducted individually as well as in pairs. This session gave wonderful insights about their inner dialogue and inter vs intrapsychic conflicts.
This gave us a fair understanding of what the focus of the next sessions would be, in terms of affirming and establishing immediate goals. As the follow up of the story making session, a container for object relations and improvisation was conducted which focused on using different day to day objects, for instance, a mirror, a pen or a scarf and establishing different meanings to the ones with which they are associated, originally. This  proved to be of immense assessment value as it re-affirmed the line of thought that improvisation and affective expression would be limited and it was observed that very few of them were able to use their imaginative capacity to the fullest potential. The reasons for the same are multi-layered but fall within our current understanding of all these young individuals.
Moving ahead, working with rhythms, body, movement and encouraging exploratory play would remain the guiding principles towards actively bringing about awareness of the self and the other and eventually hoping to create an ease of dialogue about concepts under the broader purview of gender and sexuality. This will be a long journey indeed, but one which both Devika and I are looking forward to undertake.

Unlearning Uncentred Restructured By Vardhna Puri

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The Unlearning Uncentred sessions have been happening as you all know for the past 9 months. It is quite a sight to see children involved in playing games, which have been designed for them from a learning objective. These months have been interesting and have given us so many ideas to move forward. Let’s call that Unlearning Uncentred- Chapter 2. We now have onboard Noopur, who works in the area of education. With this we plan to structure our program and reach out to children in our capacity. The sessions will continue on a regular basis but with tweaking, in terms of learning goals they address.

What the sessions till now have done for us is to create visibility in the community and generate a buzz that we engage with children. This month started with a field visit where the parents of the children were individually visited. A lot of the children who come to us have dropped out of school and those who are still enrolled in the formal system, are not making too much out of it.

The next step is to individually assess children on what point are they in their learning journey and how can we make it more attuned to their lives. We plan to use themes such as- ‘understanding self’ and want to gain insight into the community as a way to generate interest in learning. So one of the activities this time around was for children to talk about the places that they like or dislike; feel happy or scared in. This gave us not only a glimpse into their relationship with their community but also ideas for further engagement.

For now, we plan to create a deeper relationship with both the children and the community at large.

Khirki Music Ensemble- Journey so far.. By Anirban Ghosh

What started as an experiment in Khirki (Somehow Khoj had trust in us that we will be able to create interesting programmes with this community) today has resulted in 3 full-fledged programmes for us at Aagaaz (Unlearning Uncentered, किस्से Connection and Khirki Music Ensemble). Khirki music ensemble emerged from the need to create and engage the hidden musicians from Khirki, and give them a platform to express and collaborate with other like-minded individuals from within the community.

The first audition call was a disaster – we actually waited (somewhat like the two photographers from Jane Bhi do Yaaron – Naseeruddin Shah and Ravi Baswani who are waiting for people to turn up for the opening of their photo studio) till 4 pm but nobody showed up. We knew we had to do this and it would somehow work out, so we started finding ways to get people to join this ensemble. That’s when we bumped into Swati’s ‘Recharge ki dukaan’ where she was also running a makeshift recording studio. I started spending time and jamming with the musicians who come to record there and found some amazing rappers (Anubhav and Ravi) and a young Bollywood singer (Kumud).  Zubin (from Khoj) connected me to these two Congolese musicians (Romeo – guitar/vocals and Zoom – Bass man / vocals) who blew me with their renditions of some really hip Congolese songs. I started jamming with this group and this began the journey of creating KME with this motley crew of young musicians from Khirki.

The ensemble right now is just 5 rehearsals old, but we do believe that we will be able to put together solid performances given the enthusiasm and will of each individual. We are hoping that more people will join this ensemble in some course time, but till then, we will keep doing what we do the best – create music that crosses borders/languages/cultures and brings people together in Khirki.

Theatre with ‘The Community Library Project’, Panchsheel Vihar By Priiya

 

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There is a deep sense of kinship to be working again with a group of participants who have already been led into a theatrical journey of sharing ideas and experiences, and it provides for a pleasant challenge. These workshops become a continuation of an educational exercise through theatre and play an important part in the evolution of thought itself.  The group of kids from The Community Library Project at Deepalaya at Panchsheel Vihar are in gears for the second series of workshops with us and that has us moving.

Following the first performances that culled out of Duniya Sabki in a workshop format, the second series revolves around stories, storytelling and the storytellers. The stories that we are working on are the ones that have been read by this group of 12 avid readers over the last few months, stories that they carried beyond the books . Through a range of narrative and improv exercises, we are experimenting with the numerous ways in which these stories could possibly be told. Their choice of stories they want to tell is in itself a fascinating reflection of what appeals to these children as unique individuals.

As with most workshops, as much as planning ahead of time is essential, many thoughtful developments happen during or after the planned activities, and the dynamics of set exercises are prone to modification on a daily basis. After the initial step of sharing stories in our workshops, we are now gradually shifting our focus towards the act of narration of the stories, using various techniques involving images, machines, non-linear narratives and humanization of objects around us. In the recent workshops, most of the brainstorming sessions have been whirling towards an attempt of bringing to surface the impact of invisible characters in each child’s story. This exercise is an effective way of understanding the varied perspectives that can alter the narrative direction of the story being told. This has set in motion the process of not only thinking but also acting from various point of view. Interestingly, one of the children has chosen the guitar in her story to be the storyteller and another one is trying to make a box of paint talk, oh! it’s going to be fun.

किस्से Connection at Jashn-E-Aman By Shreya Jani

 

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On 2nd October, 2017 STEP Trust collaborated with Aagaaz and organized किस्से Connection in Lodhi Garden, as a culmination of our 12 day Peace Festival Jashn-e-Aman.

The topic of the event was ‘Bridge the Gap’, which focused on stories of navigating identities to understand issues of class, caste, gender, region, religion, and aspiration. The preparation for this event started a week before- on 25th of September when Nishant Paul held a short orientation workshop with our human books, at the Aagaaz office in Nizamuddin. We played a game called ‘Zombie’ and laughed a lot before we started to discover each others’ stories. The Aagaaz team and STEP team spent the next few days on the creation of registration forms with the audio recordings and eventually reached out to readers.

There were 10 books in total and around 25 readers who gathered on a beautiful Monday evening at Lodhi Gardens, over some tea and cake. The event started with some warm activities, followed by one-on-one book readings and a debriefing session. This intimate experience brought people from many walks of lives, together and gave them a glimpse into each others’ narratives.

Here is a reflection by one of the readers Paramjeet Bernad an entrepreneur who runs women’s vocational training centre in Uttam Nagar:
“As one of the readers, I found this concept to be an interesting and connecting experience. I discovered that everyone’s life stories are similar and every journey resonates with mine. I find such interpersonal reading has capacity to bring people together to understand the value of human life. It also brings about a sense of interconnectedness which might be helpful to bridging the gap between two communities or two people.”

Rajat was one of the human books and this what he had to say about his experience:
“As a person who loves to read, the word library is no less than an aphrodisiac. So when Shreya told me about this human library project I immediately registered for it. The theme- ‘Bridging the gap’, difficult but also interesting. It made me and my fellow books think of an incident in our lives where we overcame bias/prejudice/ignorance or any other experiences along these lines. For me it was ignorance, a life event which had recently opened my eyes to a greater reality of gender equality and one’s chosen identity. Putting my memory and lessons learned onto paper and then recording it was a unique experience. I was really excited to be borrowed. My title “She is not the man” was well received. I was happy to answer the borrowers’ questions and some of their questions gave me a fresh perspectives into things. I received healthy feedback and priceless comments. The session also got the books to interact with each other which is unique to library of human books. The whole process of human library and the interactions turned out to be an exhilarating experience for me. Thank you everyone!”

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