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Soon after, George and his Berkeley team launched the Harappa excavations. Being the second largest site of Indus Civilization, Harappa shares few common features with Moen jo Daro. After the ban on Mohen jo Daro excavations George had always hoped to unearth some significant material from Harappa to compensate for what could not be salvaged from the sub-merged layers of Mohen jo Daro. The opportunity arrived when the Smithsonian Institute sponsored his eighteen-member team to undertake excavations at Harappa. In 1988, after digging many finds, he had come to deliver a lecture at the American Consulate General in Karachi. After the lecture he sat with me for an exclusive interview for the daily Dawn.  

The meeting coincided with the times when I was studying the symbols and the iconography of the seals. By now I had realized that 5000 years ago the Indus scribes made use of horizontal and vertical lines and they knew the concept of parallel lines! However, the answer that I was seeking from George was not about this simple observation but about his views on interpreting the seals. I was curious to know about a seal he had discovered from Moen jo Daro and I received a detailed answer: “One of my intentions to come to Pakistan was that I was interested in the sea trade of the ancient people. The whole question of trade obviously needed boats but the archaeological evidence of boats is practically zero and there are only three representations of boats that I know of in excavated sites. When we excavated Mohenjo Daro in 1965 we discovered the seal with the picture of a boat and perched on top of the boat was a bird…when we went down to the Indus river via Mohenjo Daro and saw Mohannas (fishermen) who live in their boat homes and that in every single boat there was a bird as they used these birds for fishing purposes we could see a continuity of tradition, here we have a 4000-year-old representation of it in Pakistan.”

 Amidst all that disappointment in the seal research George’s evaluation of the seal made some sense, at least through the seals, we can identify many present-day traditions rooted in the Indus Civilization. I had often wondered why the traditions and dialects of the Indus region were not considered for serious research, although a few Sindhi scholars had done significant work on this subject. I feel most of that work has not reached the mainstream archaeologists.

I am not a linguist but Sindhi being my mother tongue has helped me in identifying a few ancient words that had survived in the vernacular dialects. Growing up in my village in the Tharparkar district of lower Sindh, I am familiar with the rustic language of older folks, sadly, that language is now on the verge of extinction. N.A. Baloch, realizing the value of such words, had strongly suggested the inclusion of Sindhi in the mainstream Indus seals research; G.A. Allana, also a former vice chancellor and professor of linguistics,  University of Sindh, Jamshoro, had listed Sindhi words to draw their comparison with the Dravidian words; Murray Emeneau of the University of California Berkeley had already researched the non-literary Dravidian languages. Considering all these precedents similar research can be done on the Sindhi language. I asked George the next question: “Do you think the study of such words and their derivatives will help in the understanding of Indus language and script?’  He drew my attention to the existence of the sub-stratum of words that go beyond urbanization of Sumer. Ancient words from the pre-urban phase of Indus Civilization may be preserved in the Sindhi language. However, further research in linguistics is required to identify such words. 

My chance to study the seals officially came in the spring of 1991 when Cornell University in Ithaca, New York accepted me as a visiting scholar. Kenneth Kennedy, physical anthropologist and Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evoultionary biology who was also known for his work on the early humans in South Asia, provided me with the opportunity to lecture in a semester-long seminar on South Asian prehistory. Apart from Kenneth and myself, Sudharshan Seneviratne of the Institute of Fundamental Studies, Kandy, Sri Lanka was the third participant of the seminar. (Currently, Seneviratne is the High Commisioner of Sri Lanka in Bangladesh). For me the seminar was also a perfect platform to introduce my work and this led to my affiliation with the South Asia Program at Cornell for the next seven years. 

By that time I had also realized that identifying ancient words on the seals was not so simple, perhaps, there were a few more steps to be crossed in order to reach that stage. I was still struggling to understand the lines and had made minor progress by observing that the Indus  scribes also knew the concept of dividing a line in equal parts as on some of the seals the vertical lines were broken in two or three equal segments. A few researchers feel that such vertical lines and their segments or the short strokes appearing in the row of signs and symbols might be representing numbers.  I realized that while these lines and their segments appear independently on the seals they were also used to construct a few symbols such as the man sign and rake sign often referred to as the tree sign.  This observation turned out to be the first step of my research  at Cornell. It made sense that in order to understand the big picture of the seal iconography I must begin  by studying the smallest component of that iconography- The line segments.

So far Brahmi numerals are considered to be the oldest specimens of numbers used in the subcontinent, but there are strong and logical chances that their precursors were engraved on the ancient Indus seals. In his book The Universal History of Numbers George Ifrah has guessed about the pre-Brahmi numbers. A chart in his book shows the semblance between his proposed pre-Brahmi numerals and the vertical lines and their segments appearing on Indus seals.

http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/Diagrams/Indian_num_5.gif

Many experts agree that the very first idea of counting numbers came from the human limbs, the hand that allowed counting on fingers. And when it came to counting larger numbers, where fingers were not enough, natural substances such as sticks were used as substitutes, and then at some point merely the images of sticks represented by lines were used for counting. But before getting lost in the infinity of the numbers I preferred to focus merely on the very first five lines that the scribe may have drawn to represent the four fingers and a thumb. He or she must have realized that these lines could be manipulated in more ways than the real fingers. They could be positioned horizontally, vertically and diagonally, they could touch each other from any point and they could even intersect each other, perhaps, a vague idea of angles might have occurred to the scribe as he or she played around with these segments to form more angles and more shapes. But the very first and the most mystifying moment must have been the realization that even the shape of the man himself could be created by five sticks or five lines and that is exactly what he or she engraved on the seals.  The stick figure man that we still use as a symbol to represent the human body was used for the same purpose by the Indus scribes. 

 Hence, when one looks at the many rows of symbols one can spot the man sign standing along with the fish sign, the rake sign, the tree sign and so on. I began my research by studying step by step through diagrams, how a particular number of line segments could be arranged and rearranged in a specific template to construct a variety of signs. As simple as it all seems I still had no answer for the curved lines that made the ovals, the fish signs and what looked like parenthesis or brackets. There are many scholars who are intrigued by these images and who have dedicated their lives to deciphering these images and while I admired their dedication I also wanted to be one of them.

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Here is my journey to Mohenjo Daro in a documentary by LHI (Live History India).

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I am pleased to present the latest documentary on MohenjoDaro produced by Live History India. The documentary includes my interview on MohenjoDaro’s fascinating history.

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Dilip Kumar, the tragedy king, who put so much soul in so many stories which have been watched on the silver screen by generations of Indians and Pakistanis, has gone. Left behind is his own story. In the bygone days this would have been a story told and retold in the Bazaar of Storytellers where he was born. 

The ancient Bazaar in the heart of Peshawar where traders and travellers, after their long tiring journeys, exchanged stories for thousands of years came to be a place where stories were told, perhaps, more than the ware that was sold, hence the name Qissa Khwani (literally story telling). Present day Peshawar is another country; old stories are lost, new are told through other means-books, radio, film, television and social media. Dilip belonged to this new era but he was equally good in narrating stories of the Bazaar in the old way. 

In 1988 he had made a sentimental journey to his birthplace and that is when the Press recorded what he remembered of his town- the mud houses, the heat, the narrow streets, food stalls with sizzling chapli kebabs, his own house where he enjoyed eating Baqar Khani, dry fruit and malai. Hopefully, soon that house will be converted into a museum.

Dilip’s first movie that we watched was Aan and it was the family’s favorite. It was a colored movie with spectacular scenes. All his other movies that we watched were black and white but those had another attraction as in most of those Talat Mahmood was the playback singer. A great singer from Lucknow Talat came to be recognized as Dilip’s voice though he did the songs for several other stars as well. I had the chance to meet Talat when he came to Karachi for the wedding of his nephew Shehzad Mahmood. During the conversation he highly praised Dilip not only as an actor but as a very good human being.

My elder brother Khalid was a great fan of Dilip and after 1965 when the Indian Movies were banned in Pakistan he went as far as Jashn-e-Kabul to watch his movies; me and my sister Shaheen went as far as a place called Tin Hati just to see a special ladies show arranged in a rickety cinema house which was a challenge for our driver to find but he had to because Nasira, my dear friend and a faithful fan of Dlip had to watch the movie at all costs! 

Dilip was equally great at comedy which he proved in Ganga Jamuna, Ram aur Shyam and Gopi. In between tragedy and comedy he had played versatile roles. However, there was one role which was unique.
During that first visit to Pakistan, I wanted to meet him and write an article in Dawn. I was very keen to ask him about the fate of that movie. It was early eighties or may be late seventies when one day I read the news that B.R. Chopra was making ‘Chandragupta and Chanakya’ and that Dilip was to play the role of Chanakya. Since Chandragupta was the subject of my research thesis during Masters I was very keen to be a part of the movie. I wrote a letter to Mr. B.R. Chopra and attached my paper to it. Chopra’s response was prompt and we exchanged a few ideas but unfortunately the movie was not made. So when I met Dilip Kumar at the Indian Consulate in Karachi, I wanted to know from him the fate of the movie and it was from him I learnt why it was shelved. I recently did a search and found this article in which Dharmendra explains it better than me. https://bit.ly/3i61oPM

Dilip Kumar

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The Shrine by Laila Shahzada

When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earthbut find it in the hearts of men.

-Jalal-u-Din Rumi

It is said that Sindh is a blessed land, mixed with its dust are ashes of countless saints. 125,000 are buried in the Makli necropolis, many others rest in their shrines scattered all over the land and yet many more remain unknown and lost in the mists of time. What if  we find one?

In 1909, in an abandoned stupa near Mirpur Khas in lower Sindh, when Henry Cousens (1854-1933) found funerary ashes along with a bone it was questioned whether these remains were of Buddha or of a Buddhist saint. The stupa stood in the ruins of a Buddhist monastery sprawling over an area of 30 acres, in those early days it was dated back to 6th century CE. Before the excavations, the site was described as a ‘great heap of ruins’ located about half a mile to the north of Mirpur Khas, the nearby villagers called it Kahu jo Daro, the Mound of Kahu. The Gazetteer of the Province of Sindh (1907)  mentions a minor irrigation canal Kahu Wah which flowed at a distance of 65 miles from Mirpur Khas.  It is also said that there was a Kahu Bazaar around which in 1806 Mir Ali Murad Talpur founded the city of Mirpur Khas. But still in present day Sindh Kahu is a rare name, hence my search led me to a far corner of the globe, to Hawaii where Kahu literally is the keeper of the bones but in a deeper meaning he is the guardian of spiritual treasure.

Existence of a bazaar suggests that Kahu jo Daro was not just a remote monastery but also a sizable town. Xuan Zang (Hiuen Tsang) the well-known Chinese monk, who visited Sindh about a century before the Arab Muslim conquest in 711 CE, writes about hundreds of Buddhist monasteries that thrived in Sindh. At the same time history tells us that  to run such a network of holy places most of the finances came from the merchant and the artisan class which was mostly Buddhist. Located close to the ancient trade route Aprantapatha which stretched  from the Bolan Pass in Balochistan to Kanya  Kumari at the tip of South India, Kahu Bazaar must have been a busy place where monks and the merchants mingled with the townspeople. There is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that it remained a peaceful town even after the  Muslim conquest as monks continued to collect their pilgrimage tax while the merchants as zimmis (non-Muslims) paid the tax.

Although like the site of Harappa Kahu was also robbed of bricks by the railway contractors, but during the course when a few ornamental bricks and two remarkable figures of Buddha were exposed, it drew the attention of the British officials. According to Sir James Campbell these represented ‘Sikhi, the Second Buddha.’ Guru Nanak’s struggle against Brahmanism, his reverence for Buddha’s teachings and his visit to Tibet may have led many to consider him the second Buddha. It is important to note that before the Partition (1947) a sizable Sikh population lived in Mirpur Khas.

Cousens arrived in Mirpur Khas four decades before the Partition. His was a long  journey which began as a photographer in the Indian service and ended as the superintendent of the Western Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India. With one clerk and an assistant photographer he had already traveled many parts of India before his posting in Sindh where he explored, surveyed, photographed and recorded the antiquities . Although Kahu jo Daro was first surveyed by J. Gibbs in 1859 but it was in 1909, just a year before his retirement, that Cousens dug it to the deepest level and retrieved a relic casket, the most sought after artifact of the archaeologists during that period. The relic contained just an ‘egg-spoonful’ of ash and a bone but to the devotees it was more precious than the votive tablets, Buddha’s images, vases and many other artifacts which were unearthed and transferred to the Prince of Wales Museum in Bombay.

My last visit to Kahu Jo Daro was in mid 1960s until then images of Buddha stood firm in the niches of its exterior wall, sadly, by now everything has vanished. After an extensive research on the Buddhist monuments of Sindh, J.E. Van Lohuizen-de Leeuw, rightly remarked that ‘the  worst fate befell the site of Kahu.’ Also, instead of blaming the Arab Muslims for the destruction of pre-Islamic monuments she identified salinity as the enemy of buildings in Sindh. This is so true, in my lifetime I have seen many beautiful structures, both old and new corroding due to salt encrustation and rapidly crumbling. In such a fragile world where abodes of saints do not survive their seekers often beguile their hearts with the thought that under every tree lives a saint.

Throughout history saints have been living not only in Sindh but all over the globe, they may have belonged to different religions but they lived beyond these labels to serve humanity. Regardless of caste or creed they willingly showed the right path to those who were lost in the labyrinth of life. We may never know the saint whose ashes were buried in Kahu jo Daro but we hope to remain blessed.

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Jhirk (also spelled Jhirak, Jherruck,  jerrruk,  jarak ) located off the National Highway between Thatta and Hyderabad in lower Sindh is a quaint little town known for two big names: Agha Khan Hasan Ali Shah (1804-1881) who made Jhirk his first home in the subcontinent and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who was born here in 1876.

The very first Gazetteer of Sindh, informs us that Jhirk was located on a hill close to River Indus and was a good spot to command the navigation of the river in both military and commercial point of view.  The Gazetteer further mentions that Alexander Burnes even recommended Jhirk  as the ‘best location for a British settlement’ and ‘Sir Charles Napier is said to have regretted not having chosen it for the European Barracks, instead of Hyderabad.’ However, it was Napier who found Jhirk to be the most suitable place to accommodate Agha Khan under British protection. Agha Khan the first or Awal, as he is mostly known to his followers, also built the first Jamaat Khana in Jhirk, hence making it a sacred town for the Agha Khani Ismaili community of Sindh. Perhaps, the region has a compelling aura as in the ancient past on nearby hills Buddhists had built their sacred shrines. The big name, in fact the only name of those times, that has survived in the memory of nearby villagers is Raja Manjira, a Buddhist king who ruled the region from his hilltop fort crowned with a stupa. Little further, across from the river, on another hill stood two stupas.

We are informed about the existence of these three stupas by Henry Cousens.  By the time he visited the Kot Manjira hill its stupa was gone, all he could find was ‘a shapeless low heap of brick debris’ in which he could find only 6 carved bricks. Cousen’s however,  refers to a letter dated 1853 written by W. Cole the Deputy Collector of Sindh which mentions a hilltop stupa standing at a distance of about 3 miles from Jhirk. The natives referred to the site as Kafir Kot (the Fort of the Infidels) owned by Raja Manjira. Cole found the remains of a wall built of large stones which fortified the site and the remains of a building made of heavy big bricks cemented by fine mud of Indus, this mud cement is found in very early brickwork, he adds.  Apart from larger structures were parts of ornaments bearing semblance to those found in later Buddhist cave temples. And in fact, there were fragments of Buddha’s images of which the head was missing. A total of 113 specimens was later handed over to the National Museum of Karachi.

Mention is also made of an inscribed stone which Cole later discovered. In his footnote Cousens explains that Alexander Cunningham, the director of the Archaeological Survey of India, read two words patrasa and bhagavatasa from this ‘very curious inscriptions in old Indian characters .‘

As for the two stupas located across from the river, Cousens informs that these  were reported by Mr. Carter. The natives referred to this site as Budh jo Takar, based on this name any body could guess that these were Buddhist remains. Carter compared the potsherds and bricks of these to the ones discovered from the stupa of Kahu jo Daro located near Mirpur Khas, Sindh.

Buddhist sites are scattered in a much larger area of the Indus region as Sindh continued to remain a stronghold of Buddhism even after the Muslim conquest.  Fatehnama also known as Chachnama, an Arabic account of the conquest of Sindh, mentions a huge stupa in the center of Debal, the first city conquered by the Arab Muslims in  711 CE. With the passage of time a significant number of lost stupas had come to surface, the reexamination of these sites can shed more light on the region’s past. Following is just a brief account of the relatively recent surveys of the Kot Manjira stupa site.

In the 1970s A.Rauf Khan of Karachi University surveyed the lower Sindh region closer to Karachi and identified several pre-historic sites, some of these going back in time to the upper Paleolithic period. He also  visited Kot Manjira and found some chert blades and potsherds which indicate that the site was pre-historic and before the Buddhist occupation it belonged to the Amri Culture which precedes the Harappan or the Indus culture (2600-1900 BCE). Khan also confirmed that the entire flat top of the hill was enclosed by a six feet thick wall and within these were  massive buildings made of limestone hence,  much older than the brick structure of the stupa which formed only a small part of the entire flat top area. Based on all these finds Khan attributed the site to both the Amri Culture and the Buddhist period  5th century  BCE.

In 2009 Ca’ Foscari University, Venice and Sindh University, Jamshoro conducted a joint survey of Kot Manjira to determine the area of the Amri culture. It was found that the Chalcolithic Amri culture was located in the central-western part of the hill. Though the Amri remenants were heavily damaged by the Buddhist structure but the chipped stone assemblage showed many characteristics of the Amri culture.  Hence, the report of the survey states that the ‘first human activity in the area took place at least from the beginning of the seventh millenium uncal BP.’

It must be mentioned that since 1985 the Italian team has been surveying  Sindh and have examined a large number of stone assemblages going back to the Paleolithic Period indicating that human occupation in lower Sindh goes back to the Stone Age. I have already referred to that previous work in my book on the Indus seals.  Khan, who had listed 250 sites in lower Indus, confirms this, ‘In time they (some of these sites) go back to upper Paleolithic Period. Thus we find in this area, the vestiges of the oldest cultures of our country so far known after the Soan Valley Culture of Potwar Plateau.’

Kot Manjra site is a good example where the historic, pre-historic and the pre-bronze periods can be scanned together. Between the Buddhist and the pre-bronze period is a long span of time but it is at Manjira that at least a small space of a huge blank is filled by the Amri culture. Kot Manjira stupa like the Moen jo Daro stupa stands on the foundations of a distant culture; Amri culture even goes beyond the urban phase of the Indus Civilization hence Kot Manjira stands on a culture much older than the city of Moen jo Daro. The time span between Kot Manjira’s Buddhist period and the Amri culture is much longer than the one between Moen jo Daro stupa and the city discovered under its foundations, nonetheless,  both show the different  and detached periods of human occupation of the same site. It will still take more time and research to come up with evidence that can fill in more blanks to demonstrate the continuity of culture.

I am most thankful to Dr. Paolo Biagi of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice  for sharing his report of the 2009 Project .

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As the year 2019 begins and a ‘Naya Pakistan’ strides ahead on its journey to discard the old it is hoped that it will preserve the best of its past to inspire the new. You can learn about this incredible past by reading “Moenjodaro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization”

There is no doubt that the custodians of the Naya Pakistan have inherited a country inflicted with many ills. Corruption, crime, debt, nepotism, poverty, and illiteracy have sometimes become bywords to describe Pakistan. But beyond these ills lies another Pakistan–a Pakistan that stands upon a spectacular heritage that deserves more attention than it has received by previous governments.

With its rich history and geographical location, Pakistan already owns a grand cultural legacy. Islam arrived in this region as early as the eighth century. This is three centuries before it spread in the other parts of the Indian subcontinent. Hence, this region was rich in the early Islamic attitude of following a pragmatic policy which resulted in blending Islam well with a heterogeneous South Asian culture. For a better understanding of that Islam you can read my essay here.

It was on the banks of Pakistan’s River Indus where one of the four ancient civilizations emerged and matured to an urban phase, represented by Moen jo Daro and Harappa. These cities, unlike their contemporaneous, Mesopotamian and Egyptian cities, lasted for 700 years (2600-1900 BCE) without war or violence. The Indus Civilization’s peaceful and nonviolent traits have survived in the later indigenous religions and philosophies of Buddhism, Jainism, Bhaktism, Sufism and Gandhism. Present day Pakistan’s socio-cultural temperament is shaped by the unique Sufi culture that evolved in the Indus region.

Also, unlike its west Asian Islamic neighbors, Pakistan had the advantage of drawing the best from its British legacy in the fields of education, law, sports and irrigation. These diverse influences have given Pakistan a heterogeneous, tolerant and resilient identity. This identity cannot be ignored and must be kept alive by gaining inspiration from the past. The most accommodating cultural policy so far was authored by Faiz Ahmad Faiz in 1972. It is encouraging to note that he addressed Pakistan as a pluralist society.

Pearl Buck said: “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” But where a past is wrongly reconstructed and even at times erased from the books what could be done? One of the scholars refers to it as the ‘Murder of history’  , while others have blamed the history text books of telling blatant lies, The debate continues. But while an intellectually honest team of researchers and scholars sits down around the table to correct the previous record it is the responsibility of the scholars, historians, writers, public figures and administrators to promote an awareness and a love of history.

History can come from many sources, including a country’s land. Its mountains, rivers, valleys, waterfalls, vegetation and even its deserts reveal clues about its past. It needs to be highlighted for a whole new generation of aspiring writers and historians through books, lectures, tours, television and cinema–the most powerful medium of them all.

Pakistan’s mountains are not only covered with snow but they are also draped with history. Here are a few examples:

  • The Suleman mountain range in Balochistan with its peak Takht-e-Suleman (the throne of Solomon). Legend has it that this is where King Solomon climbed to see the subcontinent
  • Kirthar range whose mountain walls are engraved with hundreds of ancient images including those of the stupas and atish kadas (fire alters), these are telling us that once here lived Buddhists and the fire worshippers
  • There are stories floating around K2, the second highest mountain peak on Earth, second only to Everest, but more punishing to climb where many have failed . One of them, Greg Mortenson, ended up at the foot of the savage mountain to discover the profound hospitality of the village folks. He tells their story in “Three Cups of Tea.”
  • Not far from K2 is the Siwalik range, a human habitat since millions of years, where the remains of the hominoids Ramapithecus and Shivapithecus were discovered to help understand the human evolution.

Even the deserts of Pakistan, scarce in water, are rich in history.

  • Gedrosia, the one in Makran had been a challenge for great warriors like Cyrus and Alexander.
  • Thar in lower Sindh, where lived Marvi, a great folk heroine who defied a King. The fringes of these arid zones touching the seacoast were dotted with legendary emporiums. One of these was Bhanbhore where Sassui and Punhoon played their fates. Bhanbhore is also labeled ‘Gateway of Islam’ as it is identified with Debal, the first city of the subcontinent that Arab Muslims conquered.
  • In between the mountains and the deserts is the fertile plain of Punjab with the 5 tributaries of Indus, on the banks of one these thrived Harappa, another larger city of the Indus Civilization.

River Indus: A Historical Lifeline

The lifeline of the ancient and present-day Pakistan, however, is River Indus which runs through the north south length of the country, and yet, it is more than a water resource. Indus is the nurturer of a great civilization; a trade route since ancient times ; a boundary line of  the easternmost satrapy of Persia’s Achaemenid empire; the retreat point of Alexander the Great.

It is also the revered river mentioned in ancient Rig Veda and Pakistan’s Sufi poetry and its land had been a stronghold of Jainism and Buddhism, the most nonviolent religions.

Decades ago, Imran Khan, the current leader of Naya Pakistan, was lured by the beauty and might of Indus. Much before I came to know Imran Khan as a politician, I had known him through this book that he wrote on Indus. It is hoped that Khan is able to inspire others to write, advocate and promote the correct history of Pakistan.

 

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