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Jawaharlal Nehru: A life in words

There is no dearth of writing on Jawaharlal Nehru. More will always be less when accounting for his contribution to the country, which starts from before the inception of India, the idea of India. A man who fought imperialism, colonialism, and strove for the idea of a nation propped by secularism, diversity and communal camaraderie is not a figure easily summarised in words. But this 14th of November, we are celebrating Nehru’s birthday with a list of works that come close to portraying the brilliance of his persona, a figure larger than life, vital to our history.




An Autobiography

front cover an autobiography
An Autobiography||Jawaharlal Nehru

by Jawaharlal Nehru


Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, was a great personality who also wrote a number ofinspiring and knowledgeable books. ‘Jawaharlal Nehru: An Autobiography’ is his autobiographical work which he penned down between the years of 1934 and 1935 while he was in prison. In this book, Nehru explores his ideologies and the events in his life that led him to the situation he was positioned in when he wrote this book.

The practice of civil disobedience that Nehru had taken up, is discussed by him terms of his belief in the movement. The author starts off the book with an introduction to his ancestral history, where he mentions that his predecessors had to run away from Kashmir to settle elsewhere.

The book also paints a vivid picture of the pre-independence era in India, where the air of dissension was at an all-time high. The book depicts the political realisation of an upcoming giant of a nation and the battle for its freedom.



front cover Discovery of India
The Discovery of India||Jawaharlal Nehru

The Discovery of India

by Jawaharlal Nehru


Jawaharlal Nehru wrote the book ‘The Discovery of India’, during his imprisonment at Ahmednagar fort for participating in the Quit India Movement (1942 – 1946). The book was written during Nehru’s four years of confinement to solitude in prison and is his way of paying an homage to his beloved country and its rich culture.

The book started from ancient history, Nehru wrote at length of Vedas, Upanishads and textbooks on ancient time and ends during the British raj. The book is a broad view of Indian history, culture and philosophy, the same can also be seen in the television series. The book is considered as one of the finest writing om Indian History. The television series Bharat Ek Khoj which was released in 1988 was based on this book.



front cover Glimpses of World History
Glimpses of World History||Jawaharlal Nehru


Glimpses of World History

by Jawaharlal Nehru


‘Glimpses of the World History’ is an account of the progress of the world through centuries and ages. This book is a collection of letters that Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to his daughter Indira when he was in various Indian prisons for three years. The letters were meant to introduce her to the world and its history. In the first few letters, Nehru expresses his sadness for not being able to be around his daughter and give her the materialistic gifts that other parents could but  he promises to give her a gift that he could afford; in the form of knowledge and wisdom through words that come from the very core of his heart. Nehru wrote 196 letters and covered the history of mankind from 6000 BC to the time he was writing the letters.


front cover Letters From a Father to HIs Daughter
Letters From a Father to HIs Daughter||Jawaharlal Nehru


Letters from a Father to His Daughter

by Jawaharlal Nehru


When Indira Gandhi was a little girl of ten, she spent the summer in Mussoorie, while her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was in Allahabad. Over the summer, Nehru wrote her a series of letters in which he told her the story of how and when the earth was made, how human and animal life began, and how civilizations and societies
evolved all over the world.

Written in 1928, these letters remain fresh and vibrant, and capture Nehru’s love for people and for nature, whose story was for him ‘more interesting than any other story or novel that you may have read’. This is a priceless collection of letters from one legendary leader to another.





Get a small glimpse into the life of Pandit Nehru in his own words.


A Glimpse Into the Emotional Side of Indira Gandhi, An Excerpt from ‘Indira Gandhi: A Biography’

Indira Gandhi was the first female Prime Minister of India. While most of her life was dominated by politics, only a few knew Indira’s non-political persona.
Pupul Jayakar’s ‘Indira Gandhi: A biography’ seeks to uncover the many personalities that lay within Mrs Gandhi. The book also reveals the complex personality of Indira Gandhi—her thoughts and feelings, her hates and prejudices, her insights and her faults, her loves and emotional entanglements.
Here’s an excerpt which gives a glimpse into the emotional side of the late prime minister.
Motilal Nehru died in Lucknow in the early hours of 6 February 1930. His son Jawaharlal Nehru, released from jail a week earlier, in view of his father’s deteriorating condition, had, in desperation, moved his father from Allahabad to Lucknow where the medical facilities were
better. Motilal had been like an elder brother to Gandhiji and it was as part of the family that Gandhiji, released from detention by the British Government, hastened to see Motilal and accompanied him to Lucknow. He found Motilal’s face swollen beyond recognition, his body racked by asthma and his kidneys failing. The old patriarch died cradled in the love of his family and friends. He remained a nonbeliever to the end of his life; scorning priests and the recitation of mantras, he had joked with Gandhiji, challenging him to a race to heaven. He said if they were to die at the same time, the Mahatma would probably walk alone across the river of death, while he, Motilal, would speed across it in a motor-boat and shoot past the gates of heaven. Whether he would be allowed into heaven or not was a totally different matter. In a more serious mood he told Gandhiji, ‘I am going soon and I shall not be here to see Swaraj, but I know you have won it and will soon have it.’
On the night of Motilal’s death Jawaharlal was with him till midnight. Jawaharlal later told Gandhiji:

A very strange thing happened to me. Papa told me last

night that he had been taught the Gayatri Mantra in his

childhood, but he never cared to repeat it and thought he

had forgotten it completely long ago, but that night as he

lay in bed it all came back to him and he found himself

repeating it.

Motilal’s body, wrapped in the Congress flag, was brought from Lucknow to Anand Bhawan. He was cremated at the Sangam in Allahabad, at the point where the three rivers met. His ashes were cast into the rivers, to journey to the oceans. Vast mourning crowds accompanied the cortège. Gandhiji was present, so were Swaroop Rani, Vijayalakshmi, Krishna, Kamala and Indira.
Jawaharlal cried out in grief at the loss of his father, a mountain had crumbled; he was now head of the family, responsible for his mother and sisters. He resolved to make them feel that nothing had changed in the old home. The bond between father and son had matured beyond love into mutual respect and pride; a relationship that united them in a commonality of work though, perhaps, not of mind. Jawaharlal was in those early years an austere man of few needs,
Motilal, a man whose laughter filled the vast house, who could gather his extended family and friends in his embrace, savour abundance and give with a generosity of heart. He had a razor-sharp intellect and a joie de vivre seldom seen amongst Indians in the third decade of the twentieth century.
Indira had loved her grandfather with the intensity of a child. He had protected her, come to her aid when her parents rebuked her, listened to her tiny problems and laughed them away. He was the anchor in her insecure, chaotic world; the foundation stone that was always there; a presence so total that there was no space left to be alone or insecure. Alone, almost forgotten in Anand Bhawan, Indira wept, hidden behind a pillar. It was her first introduction to sorrow; her body was racked by an emotion with which she was not familiar.
Referring to her grandfather Motilal five decades later, Indira said, ‘With his death Anand Bhawan was silent. His resounding voice no longer echoed in the rooms or along the verandahs.’ She described his warmth and his fierce short-lived anger. Smiling at her memories, she said:

He always seemed to fill a room, although I now realize

he wasn’t really that tall, but at that time I thought he was

very tall and broad . . . and when he laughed the whole

house sort of shook and laughed with him. He was a

biform human being, both man and woman, with strength,

intellect and an abundance of feeling.

With a twinkle in her eye she went on to say that she felt that she was like him. Jawaharlal felt depleted. After his father’s death, he felt the need to renew himself, to lay down the complex political problems that surrounded him, to relax, to look at trees, meet people, to have a holiday. So he sailed with Kamala and Indira on the S.S. Cracovia to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Jawahar and Edwina, the greatest love story of the twentieth century? Fact and fiction

By Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang
I know about historians.  I am married to one!   They look at the evidence, interpret it and make judgements to give you a balanced and judicious account.  If you want a critical assessment of the historical setting in which Jawahar and Edwina developed their friendship, then you need a solid work of history.  But if you want to understand the feelings, emotions, personal histories, tensions, contradictions and passion that drove them together, then you need a work of fiction.
The historical novelist does not pretend to be a historian. In some ways the net must be cast wider than that.  Not only must a historical novelist have a thorough grasp of the period of the relevant political and social history, but they must also have an understanding of fashion, food and psychology- in sum be a jack of all trades!  My aim in writing The Last Vicereine was to transport the reader back to the chaotic last days of the British Raj. I wanted to put the reader in Edwina’s and Jawahar’s shoes so that they could empathise with them and live moment by moment with them in their world.  Unlike the historian, the historical novelist is not there to judge or assess, and needs to remember that historical figures and imaginary characters do not have the benefit of hindsight.  This requires constant vigilance when writing. People in the novel might attempt to predict the outcomes of certain decisions and calculate their actions accordingly. They might genuinely believe that they were doing the right thing in the circumstances, and be acting out of the best of intentions, but history might judge them to be wrong.  Today we all know that partition was a disaster, but no one at the time, neither British nor Indian had a full grasp of the horrendous short term consequences, never mind the long term implications of the decision to divide British India along religious lines.
So how exactly did I go about bringing Jawahar and Edwina to life?  I began by avidly reading all the standard history books of the period and general histories of India. I then moved onto autobiographies and biographies particularly of Nehru, Gandhi and the Mountbattens, and supplemented this with as many diaries and memoires as I could get my hands on. The next step was to spend time in the Mountbatten archives going through the papers of Countess Mountbatten of Burma and some of those of her husband, the Viceroy. And finally I undertook a research trip to India so I could truly soak up the atmosphere.  Only when I felt I had a full grasp of the locations and historical period and could enter the minds of the key players, did I begin to write.
It was at this stage that I stopped playing historian, pushed aside my own judgements, and put on my novelist’s hat. It was then that history moved from the foreground and took on a different function. It became both background set and plot driver. We know for example that some of Edwina’s letters of Jawahar were stolen in the run up to the transfer of power. What was in these letters? Who had sight of them? How did the characters react and what might have been the political consequences if they had been leaked?
Furthermore, Jawahar and Edwina were characters of their time. Both were born with silver spoons in their mouths and were respectively members of the British and Indian elite. This imposed certain restrictions, privileges, duties and obligations on them that conditioned their world view and actions.  They cannot be judged by today’s standards.
While a historian might dread gaps or ambiguities in the record, the historical novelist can turn them to advantage. The blanks and omissions in the record are fascinating and exciting and are where stories lie. What are they hiding?  What is missing? What might have been said or not said after a big meeting? Perhaps the minutes don’t exactly tell the full story. What might have happened at the party? What did the gossips say and what were the consequences of rumour and chatter on the political process?
The gaps leave space to imagine and create.  For example, we know from the records that Lady Mountbatten had two female English secretaries on her staff.  Unlike the men of Lord Mountbatten’s staff neither of them appears to have kept a diary or written or published memoires.  Here was my opportunity to create the character of Letticia, Lady Wallace, a widowed school friend of Lady Mountbatten who served on her staff and became my narrator. She was privy to many private conversations, she became our eyes and ears and she took on an exciting and exotic life of her own.
For various reasons the main histories and records have dithered around the relationship between Jawahar and Edwina, partly because it was a private friendship, partly out of respect to the parties involved and also because it has been in the interests of both the British and Indian Congress establishments not to ask too many questions. Nevertheless, it is clear for example that Lady Mountbatten probably played a key role in saving the talks on the transfer of power from complete collapse in Simla in May 1947 and I enjoyed dramatizing this.
Today, with the benefit of hindsight, is easy to ask why on earth India should have been divided in 1947.  The first thing to understand it that it was the end of the war.  The Japanese had broken the will of the British in the Far East and the British people and State were exhausted. Nehru had spent years incarcerated in British jails and was no longer a young man.  Jinnah too was old and probably knew that he was dying.  In dramatizing the situation in Viceroy’s House in the spring of 1947, it was clear from my research that British India was in a state of virtual collapse.  There had been a complete breakdown of law and order in some areas. The British were terrified, bunkered down with a siege mentality and planning for a mass evacuation of their nationals- to say this is not to absolve the British from their responsibilities.
In my novel, I attempt to reflect the sense that things were spinning out of control, the exhaustion, illnesses and at times sense of hopelessness and futility experienced by Edwina, Jawahar, the Viceroy and his staff. By May of 1947 it was obvious that a solution had to be found and quickly. It is not widely known that shortly after independence there was a real fear that the new government of India might have to be evacuated from New Delhi for its own safety. For a period of time the survival of the new India was in question, and Nehru had to work with Mountbatten as Governor General and the outgoing British administration to ensure the future of the new administration and preserve the illusion of central authority. Given this, perhaps we can understand the kind of pressures Jawahar and Edwina were under, their day to day experiences and the extreme stress they shared together, both of them constantly risking their own lives to serve India.  Perhaps if we understand the kind of emotional stress they were under as public figures at an desperately traumatic time, we can they appreciate why they supported each other, why they cared about each other and perhaps also why some decisions were made in the way they were.
What is the truth of the Jawahar Edwina relationship?  My own sense is that there was certainly a deep physical attraction but that it was a friendship between two older people based on emotions and the mind.  Both would have counted themselves as socialists.  They shared interests in art, history, music and poetry and enjoyed riding, swimming and hill walking together.  Edwina was also an experienced aid worker before she became Vicereine of India. She was good with people, having a common touch, and worked valiantly to get aid to refugee camps both before and after partition.  Again this is not really known in India today. But Nehru saw how hard Edwina worked and appreciate all she was doing for India. Both were public figures with a keen sense of public service and duty and they understood that this came at huge personal cost.  Somehow, they managed to carve out a private space for their friendship and to continue to meet, correspond, and support each other emotionally until Edwina’s death in 1960.  Perhaps one day, if the full content of the letters between becomes publically available, we will know more.  But we will always need historical fiction to bring the past to life. Jawahar and Edwina’s friendship is arguably the greatest love story of the twentieth century. If Shakespeare were alive today, he might not have written Anthony and Cleopatra but rather Jawahar and Edwina.
About the Author
Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang is a British writer. Her work focuses on historical fault lines and themes that are globally significant. She studied Oriental Studies at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and is a non-practising lawyer. She is fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese.

Letters from a Father to his Daughter – An Excerpt

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, was one of the prominent figures during the Indian freedom struggle. He started writing letters to his daughter Indira when she was ten years old. He wrote to her about diverse topics, ranging from the origin of the Earth to history of races and faith.
In  a collection of 30 letters, Pandit Nehru imparted wisdom to his growing up daughter, while steering the movement to Indian freedom.
Here’s an excerpt from the book.
We saw in our last letter that the chief difference between man and the other animals was the intelligence of man. This intelligence made him cleverer and stronger than enormous animals who would otherwise have destroyed him. As man’s intelligence grew, so also grew his power. 
To begin with, man had no special weapons to fight his enemies. He could only throw stones at them. Then he began to make out of stone: axes, spears and many other things, including fine stone needles. We saw many of these stone weapons in the South Kensington Museum and also in the museum in Geneva.
The Ice Age, about which I said something in my last letter, slowly ended and the glaciers disappeared from Central Europe and Asia. As it became warmer, men spread out.
In those days there were no houses or other buildings. People lived in caves. There was no cultivation, that is working in the fields. Men ate fruits and nuts and the animals they killed. They had no bread or rice because they did not grow anything in the fields. They did not know cooking but perhaps they just heated the meat on the big fires they had. They had no cooking vessels or pots and pans.
One thing is very curious. These savage men knew how to draw. Of course they had no paper or pens or pencils or brushes. They simply had their stone needles and pointed instruments. With these they scratched or drew animals on the walls of caves. Some of their drawings are quite good but they are almost all profiles. You know that it is easier to draw profiles, and children usually draw in this way. As the caves must have been dark it is probable that they used some kind of simple lamp.
These men that we have described are called Palaeolithic men, or the men of the old Stone Age. That period is called the Stone Age because men made all their tools with stone. They did not know how to use the metals. Today most of your things are made of metals, specially iron. But iron or bronze was not known then, and so stone, which is much more difficult to work with, was used.
Before the Stone Age came to an end, the climate of the world changed greatly and became much warmer. The glaciers had gone far back to the Arctic Ocean, and in Central Asia and Europe great forests arose. Among these forests we find a new race of men living. These people were cleverer in many ways than the Palaeolithic men whom we have just described. But they still made their tools out of stone. These men also belonged to the Stone Age but it was the later Stone Age. They are called Neolithic men or men of the new Stone Age.
We find when examining these Neolithic men that great progress has been made. The intelligence of man is making him go ahead fast compared to the other animals. These Neolithic men made the very great discovery of cultivation. They started tilling fields and growing their food there. This was a great thing for them. They could now get their food more easily instead of having to hunt animals all the time. They got more leisure, more time to rest and think. And the more leisure they had, the more progress they made in discovering new things and methods. They started making earthen pots, and with the help of these they began to cook their food. The stone tools were much better and were beautifully polished. They also knew how to tame animals like the cow, the dog, the sheep and the goat. They also knew how to weave.
They used to live in houses or huts. These huts were very often made in the middle of lakes as the wild animals or other men could not attack them easily there. These people are therefore called lake-dwellers.
You will wonder how we know so much about these people. They wrote no books of course. But I have already told you that the book where we read the story of these men is the great book of nature. It is not easy to read it. It requires great patience. Many people have spent their lives in trying to read this book and they have collected large numbers of fossils and other remains of old times. These fossils are collected together in the great museums, and we can see there the fine polished axes and the pots and stone arrows and needles and many other things which were made by the Neolithic man. You have seen many of these things yourself but perhaps you have forgotten them. If you see them again you will be able to understand them better.
There was, I remember, a very good model of a lake-dwelling in the Geneva museum. Wooden poles were stuck in the lake, and on top of these poles a wooden platform was made. On the platform the wooden huts were put up and the thing was connected by a little bridge to the land.
These Neolithic men clothed themselves with the skins of animals or sometimes with a rough cloth of flax. Flax is a plant which has a good fibre used for making cloth. Linen is now made out of flax. But in those days cloth of flax must have been very rough.
These men went on making progress. They started making tools of copper and of bronze. Bronze, as you know, is a mixture of copper and tin and is harder than either of these. They also used gold and were vain enough to make ornaments out of it!
These people must have lived about 10,000 years ago. Of course, we do not know the exact dates or periods. All this is largely guesswork. You will notice that so far we have been talking of millions of years. We are now gradually getting nearer and nearer to our present age. From the Neolithic man to the man today there is no break or sudden change. But still we are very different from him. The changes came slowly, as is nature’s way. Different races developed and each race went its own way and lived its own life. The climate being different in different parts of the world, people had to adapt themselves to it and changed greatly. But we shall talk about this later.
One thing more I want to tell you today. About the end of the Neolithic age a very great disaster happened to man. I have told you already that at that time the Mediterranean was not a sea at all. There were just some lakes there and in these lakes many people lived. Suddenly, the land near Gibraltar, between Europe and Africa, was washed away and the waters of the Atlantic Ocean poured into the low valley of the Mediterranean. The water went on pouring and filling it up, and large numbers of the men and women living near or over the lakes must have been drowned. They could not escape anywhere. There was water all over the place for hundreds of miles. The Atlantic Ocean continued to pour in till it had filled up the valley, and the Mediterranean Sea came into existence.
You have heard, of course, and perhaps read, about the great flood. The Bible speaks about it and some of our Sanskrit books also refer to it. It may be that this mighty flood was the filling up of the Mediterranean. It was such a terrible disaster that the few people who managed to escape must have told all about it to their children, and they to their own children, and so the story was handed down from generation to generation.

“Where I sweated and wilted, Edwina was as cool as a cucumber”, 'The Last Vicereine' — An Excerpt

In the spring of 1947, Lord and Lady Mountbatten set foot in the sultry heat of Delhi. A woman of unparalleled charisma, influence and beauty, Edwina Mountbatten was also one of Jawahar’s closest. Little did anyone know that their lives were about to change forever as lines would be drawn through the soul of undivided India.
A beautiful, heart-breaking tale of love, loss and unflinching faith, Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang’s The Last Vicereine takes us through a blossoming relationship that was one of a kind, amidst the storm of Partition.
Here is an excerpt from the novel:
My God, India was hot! Standing on the tarmac at Palam airport, the heat took my breath away. Everything was white. My eyes ached from the brightness. Had I been living so long in the darkness that I had forgotten the light?
Where I sweated and wilted, Edwina was as cool as a cucumber. We had landed ages ago and the boxes were mostly unloaded. The Viceroy and Vicereine Designates had been received by the waiting dignitaries and Dickie had long since finished inspecting the guard of honour. Yet she tarried.
She stood about ten feet away from the foot of the steps to the aircraft. All fizz and sparkle, her weight resting seductively on to one hip, she was deep in conversation with two Indian men. Already, they were under her spell. They were Liaquat Ali Khan, General Secretary of the Muslim League, and Jawaharlal Nehru, Vice President of the interim government. Both of them were famous and I recognized them immediately from newsreels, papers and books. The handsome, charismatic Nehru was the man most likely to be the Prime Minister of the new independent India after we left. But it looked like Edwina knew them personally. She had greeted them like they were long-lost friends. Now she was chatting animatedly, talking French style, with her hands and shoulders, as was her way.
The rest of us were gathered by the cars, waiting to leave the airport. Dickie’s face was inscrutable. But he pulled awkwardly at the hem of his jacket as if trying to straighten it when it was not creased. It was getting embarrassing. She was almost flirting. Did she know she was keeping everyone waiting? If she did, she didn’t seem to care.
Squinting and shading my eyes against the sun, I saw that now Nehru was doing the talking. He must have said something very funny for Khan rolled his eyes to the sky and all three of them burst out laughing.
It was a relief when at last we got in the cars.
‘Best keep the windows up as much as you can once you enter Delhi,’ the young British officer from the 14th Punjabi Regiment warned. He closed our car door gently, almost as if he were tucking children up in bed.
I was squashed between the side of the car and Ronnie Brockman who seemed owl-like in his spectacles. He, in turn, was wedged against a bulging padlocked briefcase and Elizabeth Ward. Just after we landed Edwina had thrust the shoebox containing the tiara into my hands for safe keeping. Tenderly, I cradled it in my lap as the cars sped towards New Delhi.
On the outskirts of the city we stopped so that Edwina and Dickie could transfer into the horse-drawn landau for the final leg of the journey to Viceroy’s House. I could not see the point of such a show for there was a marked lack of crowds to welcome the new Viceroy and Vicereine. Out of nowhere, I remembered that in 1912 someone had thrown a bomb at the elephant carrying the then Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, and his wife when they were passing through Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. The Viceroy had sustained serious injuries, and the mahout had been killed. And now Dickie and Edwina were out in front in the open-topped carriage. They smiled through clenched teeth at the non-existent crowds, and hated one another. They had not exchanged more than a few words during the whole flight.
Through the windscreen of the car I watched the landau with its mounted escort of the Viceroy’s bodyguard, wheel past India Gate. Facing the Gate was a high stone canopy underneath which stood a monumentally square, almost Soviet-style statue of King George V.
‘Look!’ Ronnie Brockman pointed to the great cupola dome of Viceroy’s House. In the distance, it seemed to float on a cushion of the palest blue. ‘Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Isn’t it magnificent?’ Ronnie had been in New Delhi during the war when he was Secretary to Lord Louis in his capacity as Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia. He was gearing up for the role of tour guide. ‘The city of New Delhi was commissioned in 1911, and designed by Lutyens and his colleague Herbert Baker. It is in a unique style, as you will see, combining Western classicism with Indian decorative motifs.’ Elizabeth and I nodded dutifully. Judging the danger of bombs, stones and Molotov cocktails to be minimal by this point, I rolled the window down.
There was no wind, not even the promise of a breeze. The pennants on the lances of the Viceroy’s bodyguard barely moved. The men were tall in their turbans, splendid in white breeches, black jackboots and red jackets. The hooves of their horses clattered as they rode a neat collected trot.
‘North Block, South Block.’ Ronnie Brockman was feeling at home, proudly indicating the two great administrative blocks of red sandstone, one on either side of the road, each topped with its own miniature dome. Here was the heart of the British Raj that ruled over four hundred million people. I wondered who might be looking down at us from behind the black unblinking windows. The size and the scale of the buildings made Whitehall look like a toy town. Surely it was Britain that was ruled by India, not the other way round?
Grab your copy of ‘The Last Vicereine’ here today!

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