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INDERA PAUL SINGH: A LEGEND IN INDIAN ANTHROPOLOGY

Prof. Kallur Nava Saraswathy

Professor of Biological Anthropology

Department of Anthropology

Delhi University, Delhi

20th February 1928 - 27th September 2016

Prof. Indera Paul Singh, fondly referred to as I.P Singh Sir, or Singh Sir, is a legend in Indian Anthropology. His indomitable spirit, an insatiable desire to learn and seek excellence, his humane temperament, and his incorrigible ability to identify talent and encourage it to its zenith, are only a few qualities, that one instantaneously recollects while writing this small memoir of my association with him. He was a man of vision, action, and values; above all, a true enthusiast of Anthropology.


His acumen for addressing administrative bottlenecks is beyond belief. He is the man behind the structural and functional achievements of the Department of Anthropology, University of Delhi. Last year the Department of Anthropology, University of Delhi, celebrated 75 years of its glorious existence, and this could not be complete without paying obeisance and bowing to the memory of the man who crafted its success story. He was not the founder head, but it was his vision and ability to attract talent that catapulted the department to the glory in which it dwells now.


We remember him not only for his academic achievements and his successful administrative assignments but also for his ability for social networking and persuasive power for fundraising for a discipline that was not the first choice for financial and academic support by many. His humility won them over. He was passionate about the subject and compassionate to his students, colleagues, and office staff. He was always there to share their personal agonies and ecstasies. Ranks and hierarchies were beyond his worldview.


EARLY YEARS

He lived a wholesome and contended life both professionally and personally. He was born on 20th February 1928 in Amritsar. His early schooling was from Ramjas Higher Secondary School, Delhi, and I.Sc. from Hindu College, University of Delhi. After intermediate, he completed B.Sc. from Khalsa College, Amritsar, and M.Sc. from the newly opened Department of Anthropology, University of Delhi, which was founded at a momentous juncture of India’s history in 1947. The department’s website suggests that the department was established with the sole aim of undertaking holistic research and teaching in different aspects of human living. Prof. Singh being a student of the second batch trained in this philosophy, engrained it into his being to serve the newly independent nascent India.


He had the unique distinction of being the first Ph.D. from the department, in the year 1959 in Dermatoglyphics, under the supervision of the founder head of the department, Prof. B.C. Biswas. Prior to enrolling for his Ph.D., he received specialized training in anthropology from Franz Weidenreich Anthropological Institute, Goethe University, Frankfurt in Germany, from 1950-52. From 1952 to 1953, for a short period of six months, he served as a research officer for the Ford Foundation. He joined the faculty of the Department of Anthropology, Delhi University on 1st September 1953 and completed his Ph.D. while in service. He served the department for forty years, attaining ranks of Reader in 1961 and Professor in 1971. He retired on 19th February 1993, serving a most meaningful inning, in building, not only the discipline of anthropology, but several institutions of utmost learning experiences, in emerging India. His jest for learning prompted him to attain proficiency in the Russian language and literature and later in German. He had excellent command in reading, writing, and conversing in Punjabi, Urdu, and English.


This charismatic academic extended his immense capabilities in several administrative responsibilities given to him by the University authorities. He served as Dean of Science faculty and as the Proctor of the University, for nearly seventeen years, which is a record. He was also the Chairman of the DU Sports Council and Chairman of the Board of Residence, Health, and Discipline of DU. He was a member of the Executive council of DU for almost 20 years, a Member of the Court for almost 35 years, and the Academic Council for over 20 years. He served as a member of the Governing Bodies of various colleges affiliated to the University of Delhi, some of them being Satyawati, Hamdard college of pharmacy, St. Stephens and Lady Irwin colleges, and the Institute of Home economics, South campus. In addition, he never shirked any social management responsibility given to him from time to time. He played a pivotal role for twenty years in the management of the renowned Gwyer Hall Hostel for students and visiting faculty.


From 1947 to 1968, the Department of Anthropology remained in the Arts faculty of the University of Delhi, despite being categorized under the faculty of science. Concerted efforts made by I.P. Singh during his tenure as Chairperson of the department resulted in finally shifting it to the Faculty of Science and housed in an independent heritage building in 1968.

He served the department as its Chair twice during his long career. His first term was from June 1968 to June 1979 and then from April 1981 to April 1984. He worked tirelessly to build the basic infrastructure for the department's physical anthropology laboratories, throughout his tenure as a faculty member and HOD. Major physical anthropology laboratories which were initiated in the department were serology genetics, biochemical genetics, cytogenetics, growth and development, forensic science, and physiological anthropology.



Prof. I.P. Singh with India’s first prime minister Late Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru inspecting museum of anthropology department at Delhi University

His academic excellence and achievements ensured a place for him in most international and national bodies in all branches of anthropology. For such a globally renowned scholar, it is difficult to recount all the international forums on which he represented budding Indian Anthropology. To name just a few, he represented India at the Asian Association of Bioethics in Tokyo, Indian Social Science Academy (Japan), International Commission on the Anthropology of Food and Food Problems, International Commission of Urban Anthropology and the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. Additionally, he was nominated to the Indian Academy of Sciences, American Anthropological Association, Council for Nutritional Anthropology, International Council for Scientific Development, and International Commission on Documentation. He had associations with numerous significant academic institutions. His position as a member of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in 1973 and the Tenth International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in 1978 amply demonstrate his leadership in the field of anthropology internationally.


His presence on various national Forums was also due to his astute scholarship. He was President of the Indian Anthropological Association, Indian Society for Human Ecology, and Indian Dermatoglyphic Association. He served as vice president of the Ethnographic and Folk Culture Society in Lucknow. For several years he intermittently served as a sectional member, recorder, and president of the Indian Science Congress Association's section on Anthropology and Archaeology.


FORAYS IN THE TRADITION OF FIELDWORK

The tradition of Fieldwork defines the contours of Anthropology and I.P Singh had the privilege of being trained by one of the most celebrated masters of the craft-Oscar Lewis. India remained a living laboratory for almost a century for western scholars to learn the craft of generating primary data. In early 50’s, Oscar Lewis was engaged in the study of village Rani Khera on the outskirts of Delhi and as a young researcher, I.P. Singh assisted him. Fieldwork is an individualized experience and he learnt early in his career to persist with it. He then went on to study Daleke, a Sikh village in Punjab, to document an insider’s perspective. His passion for ethnographic research took him back to study the same village nearly sixty years later in the tradition of Raymond Firth. Several publications came out of this longitudinal study, of which A Sikh Village and Religion in Daleke: and A Sikh Village are frequently cited.


Though he is often addressed as a biological anthropologist but was truly well-versed in the holistic tradition of anthropology, and pursued all branches of the discipline, with equal jest. He devoted a considerable period of his active research career to Urban studies. Some of his publications in the domain of socio-cultural anthropology are Dynamics of Change in a Sikh village, Life in a Pepsu Hill Village, Effect of Urbanization in Delhi Suburban Village, Caste and Occupation in Simla Hills, Leadership in India, Social Work in Ladakh and Concept of Health and Disease among Some Communities of Eastern Uttar Pradesh. In the beginning of his career in anthropology, he remained intimately connected with renowned social anthropologists B.S. Guha, Oscar Lewis, and Freda Mukherjee. His conversations with them immensely influenced his wirings in social anthropology.


Contemporary research is rooted in collaborative endeavours but in the early decades of the discipline, most research was individual-specific. However, a visionary like him was years ahead of his time. He supported collaborations and inspired young researchers and colleagues, to work in teams and publish together. He was always a team player and several of his students were there with him during most of his field trips. He was never shy of giving co-authorship to students who collaborated with him in data collection. He also did not insist on being the first author and in many publications, he remained a second or third author. Unlike many of his contemporaries who insisted on publishing only in cited international journals, he often authored book chapters and obliged former students and colleagues’ request to contribute to edited volumes.


Despite publishing extensively in cultural anthropology, the physical anthropologist in him could drive him to contribute publications in various biological anthropology journals like American Journal of Physical Anthropology (3 papers), Acta Genet. Med. Gemellol.,Journal of Heredity (2 papers), Human Biology (2 papers), Human Genetik (2 papers), Acta Anthropogenetica (5 papers), Z. Morph. Anthrop. (9 papers), Human Heredity, and many more journals. His book, Anthropometry: A Laboratory Manual on Biological Anthropology; co-authored with M. K. Bhasin published in the year 1968, serves as a primer for training budding anthropologists and practicing nutritionists, clinicians, and sports scientists in anthropometry.


I.P.Singh being honoured by Pondicherry University

His research interests were neither conditioned by geographies nor super specialization, that restricts one to focus only on one domain. He travelled to do fieldwork in some of the most difficult terrains in the Northwest Himalayas- Bharmour valley, Shimla, Kulu, Chamba, Manali, Dharamshala, Dalhousie, Jammu and Kashmir, Rampur, Rani Khera, Ladakh and many more localities. The research areas covered were wide-ranging from Genetics of new-born, Physical traits, Biochemical traits, Serological traits, Cytogenetics, Ecology, Biocultural aspects, and features of Polyandrous societies. This reflects his enormous understanding of Anthropological applications. He never restricted himself to any one aspect of Anthropology. In fact, anthropology in independent India needed a vision and horizon for its future growth, and he provided this like a caring parent.


Prof. I. P. Singh with former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and eminent anthropologist L.P. Vidyarthi at the inauguration of Anthropological Congress

What a pioneer and leader he was! For any research, money is a must. He was a wizard in generating funds. From humanities to social science to funding agencies in science, both nationally and internationally, he could prevail upon any agency about the urgency of the submitted project and get funding for young researchers, colleagues, and students. Using his network skills and persuasive abilities, he was able to get funding for various projects of the department and help research scholars get financial assistance. Several national funding agencies like the University Grants Commission (UGC), Department of Science and Technology (DST), Anthropological Survey of India, Ministry of Environment, Government of India, and Planning Commission gave generous grants to the neophyte discipline taking shape at Delhi University. He was a lead researcher for a UNESCO-funded project on ‘Man and Biosphere’ that brought anthropological research in India in limelight. He also worked with the Défense Science Laboratory of the Indian Government to impart training to young academics in human physiological research.


PASSIONATE TEACHER

Indra Paul Singh was not only a passionate researcher, academician, and administrator but also an equally passionate teacher and research supervisor. Constantly motivating, he gave his students space to experiment with their ideas. He guided thirty doctoral theses and they all excelled in their professional career both within the domain of anthropology and outside it. Many of his Ph.D. students served in various faculties of different universities, including Delhi University. Some of them went on to become Vice-Chancellors of different universities imbibing his exceptional administrative skills. One of his disciples, an internationally renowned anthropologist, Prof. Satwanti Kapoor had this to say:


Prof I.P. Singh had a larger-than-life persona. He balanced his academic, administrative, and mentoring responsibilities very aptly that too with always a smile for the students. His devotion to anthropology, we all found to be exemplary. He was first to enter the department every morning and last to leave. He was always on the lookout for eminent anthropologists, Indian or foreigner, to deliver lectures to the students and encouraged them to ask questions with a view to nurturing their critical skills. As a young student, "being a stage shy person", I always dreaded asking questions in seminars or public gatherings. It was only when I started teaching that I realised the importance of being nudged to speak in the seminars.
As a Ph.D. mentor, I have no words to explain his mentoring role, which I initially found very upsetting. Let me explain this: I always saw my colleagues sitting in front of their mentors for hours and were always fluttering nervously with some or the other aspect of the deadlines. But Prof. I.P. Singh (my Ph.D. mentor) never expected me to report regularly. He used to say, to quote him, “meet me when in confusion, doubt, or need". He said, Satwanti, my role is to see that you are on the right track; in case you stumble or stray from that track, I will be there to support." This attitude of his helped me to be self-confident, diligent, and focused and hence to make a career for myself. I would have none other as my mentor as I learned to work independently and confidently and never ever found subdued in my thoughts, action, or publications.

It was not only Prof. Satwanti, but all his students admired his humility, compassion, and readiness to help. Many students from the department were assisted by Prof. Singh in getting support grants to visit premium institutions outside India to receive training in advanced physical anthropological techniques. Several of his students often narrate anecdotal references to how he went out of his way to help them with their research or in finding placements in different institutions. He was never shy of approaching anyone on behalf of his students to find a place for them for advance training in their state of art laboratories.

Another of his former student Rashmi Sinha reminisces:

Singh Sir was very encouraging and motivating during my Ph.D. He would invite any delegation from India or abroad visiting Delhi to the department, and escort them to various labs and ask us to share our research work. I was weary in the beginning, I had nothing much to share except my project title and some literature I had read on the subject. One day, I tried explaining my limitations to him and his response has stayed with me through my career. He simply said, these interactions give food for thought about the subject and add to the confidence of budding researchers. He encouraged me to submit an abstract for paper presentation in the eleventh ICAES. There were no Emails those days, but he ensured that it reaches the organizers. He took a copy of the presentation with him to Canada and submitted it on my behalf. His generous endeavour helped me nurture my professional and personal life.

It was not only his academic concern for his students but also genuine compassion that some of them remember with fondness and respect. Shalina Mehta, Professor and former chairperson, a social anthropologist and alumnus of the department fondly recalls his almost daily visits to All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, while she was struggling to survive an acute attack of ‘Pancreatitis’. When she was moved to ICU, he would ask his son who was working as a neurosurgeon in the same hospital, to keep him informed about her health. It was this connect that kept his former students, who moved out of the department very early in their careers, to stay emotionally connected. She also recalled his ability to stay informed about other activities in which students were engaged. She narrated,

In late 1960s and early seventies I used to do radio programs for All India Radio. These were my formative years in the Department as a graduate student. One day, his office assistant came to the classroom and said Head of the department wanted to see me. As a young student, I was apprehensive, and with trepidation, I entered his office. But within few minutes of coming out of his office, I had a smile on my face. He learnt from some of my class-fellows that I did occasional programmes for the All India Radio, Delhi. Leading Social anthropologist from America, Margaret Mead was visiting India to receive a national award, and he wanted me to organise a radio interview for her. I was not sure if my request would be honoured by the programme director, but it did! A panel discussion was organised with some eminent sociologists and anthropologists with her, and I had the privilege of being part of it. For a beginner in anthropology this was a memorable experience and for it, I am grateful to Prof. Singh for thinking about it and allowing me to be a part of it.
When I moved to Chandigarh in 1977, on every visit to the city, he made it a point to come home and share a meal. It did not matter to him that I belonged to a batch which rebelled and more than half of us went to specialize in social anthropology defying the dominance of physical anthropology stream. On another occasion he hosted a lunch for the alumni of the Delhi University, at press club, Chandigarh. Six of us teaching in the Department of Anthropology Panjab University and several others teaching at Panjabi University, Patiala during the 90’s, were alumnus of Delhi University’s department of Anthropology. Not only that he remained connected with his former students but whenever opportunity came, he brought everyone together. I remember him most for his personal and social persona that taught many lessons to us. His academic and personal attributes contributed immensely to laying foundation of the discipline not only in the north-west India but across the country.

His former colleagues also have very fond memories. Prof. A.K. Kalla, his colleague for several years puts across his persona pithily: “He was a down-to-earth man with an open heart and a very helpful nature. I will always be grateful to him for everything he did for me”.

The Chairperson of the department, Prof. M.P. Sachdeva, is a product of Panjab University and joined Delhi University as a young faculty. He describes his association with I.P. Singh passionately:

I was fortunate to be his youngest colleague for about seven years. As he was my teachers’ teacher, I had immense respect for him. His tall stature, immaculate personality, and in-depth knowledge always impressed me. In staff council meetings, he was always smiling, pithy, and his words were decisive. He would always welcome me with a cup of tea whenever I visited his room. On his big office table, facing the visitor, was a table sign “THINK”, and it did have an impact on the visitor immediately. He was a no-nonsense man. Always welcoming, always helping, very passionate, a true Sikh, and a true follower of Sikhism. He was stalwart and produced stalwarts.

His commitment to the field is evident in his post-retirement visits to the Department. Even in his late eighties, he used to enter the department with a walking stick in hand and an attendant accompanying him. He would unhesitatingly enter any of his former colleagues’ rooms or laboratories, where some research activity was in progress, sit there enquiring about the details of the work in progress and reflect upon it. His curiosity and enthusiasm for anthropological inquiry were infectious and left many of us wondering if, at his age, we would be able to hold even an iota of his jest and passion for learning.


I have been personally fortunate to have him in my room on several occasions and received his affectionate appreciation of my research work. During one such interaction, he said that he used to generate funds for projects that were application oriented. But keeping the core concern of the discipline, he would also incorporate human evolution studies and use some of this funding for its research. His endeavour was to ensure that the department attain international standards and be at par with other prominent centres of the subject. It was this foresight that was responsible for the opening of several biological anthropology laboratories in the department. Later generations of physical anthropologists simply carried forward his legacy by expanding and maintaining these research laboratories. In recent years few other laboratories like molecular anthropology, public health and epidemiology and forensic science are added to its holistic discourse.


His visits to the department and my interactions with him always resulted in new insights for our research arena. He believed that one needs to share and popularize one’s work. He advised me to send my publications and details of projects, along with other achievements, regularly to the University authorities and allied departments. He advocated sharing of publications not only with colleagues in other anthropology departments but also with colleagues in other fields too. It was this vision that facilitated the expansion of the department and other institutions in which he had a role to play as a member of the governing body.

Author Prof. Kallur Nava Saraswathy with Prof. I. P. Singh, Prof. Vinay Srivastava, Prof. P.C. Joshi, and Prof. Rao

Academics are generally shy of sharing their research and other achievements on public platforms. They assume that their work would be acknowledged and appreciated only because of its merit. But today in the era of social media and a world engaged in self-publicity, academics must come out of this cocoon and parochial mindset and share their knowledge and scholarly inputs freely and frequently. This is now critical in the era of competitive survival, where methodologies, constructs and theories are often borrowed without acknowledgment of their original source. These are then marketed as original by other disciplines on the strength of their topical value at a particular period of knowledge generation and expansion. Method of empirical fieldwork that was generic to anthropology and is now co-opted by most disciplines, in social sciences and humanities, is only one such example.


His last visit to the department was in 2015 at the age of 87. Department had organised a national conference titled Anthropology of Cardio metabolic adversities, and we requested him to be the guest of honour on the valedictory function. We had some trepidation about him or his family declining the invite because of his age and health. We were jubilant when he accepted the invitation and attended not only the Valedictory but all the proceedings of the conference. During lunch hour, he would happily engage with the students and research scholars of the department. On the last day, he reached the Department before time and waited for the valedictory session sitting in a very inconvenient wooden chair, without complaining for the entire day. The session proceedings lingered, and the valedictory session was delayed. But to our utmost surprise, he sat through the day’s proceeding without showing any sign of discomfort or restlessness. Late in the evening, he delivered a lengthy address and, after the session was over, stayed for high tea, chatting with students, and complimenting them on their presentations. This was the spirit of the man whose dedication to anthropology should be celebrated each day by each one of us.


Prof. I. P. Singh at the age of 87 in the Department

Encouraged by his enthusiasm, we extended another invitation to him for another national conference on Anthropology and Health held on 28th Jan 2016. We wanted to have him with us for the Inaugural session. Sadly, when I called him, the call was attended by someone from the family, and they informed me that he was not keeping well and expressed regret. He died a few months later, leaving behind a void and a tall order for others to follow.

He lived a fulfilling life. He was not only a wholehearted anthropologist but an equally devoted family man. He married Balbir Kaur, and they were blessed with three sons. Two of them went on to become medical professionals specializing in paediatrics and neurosurgery, and the third one served as a merchant naval officer. They imbibed his values, sustaining his legacy of nurturing their respective professions with ethics and dedicated commitment.

Many more of his colleagues, students and friends would have happily contributed to this write-up, but time and space are major constrain. Remembering, thinking, and writing about Singh Sir, as we always addressed him, was a privilege for me. We shall always remember him for his warmth, foresight, dedicated commitment, perseverance, and patience. I bow to him and his vision! Wherever he is now, I seek his blessings for the entire Anthropological Fraternity.


IMPORTANT PUBLICATIONS

  • Singh, Indera Paul; Bhasin, Mohinder Kumar (2004). A Manual of Biological Anthropology. Delhi, India: Kamla-Raj Enterprises.

  • Singh, Indera Paul; Bhasin, Mohinder Kumar (1968). Anthropometry. Delhi, India: Bharti Bhawan.


Books edited

  • Arthur, Don Ramsay (1980). Singh, Indera Paul; Tiwari, Surendra Chandra; Vidyarthi, Lalita Prasad (eds.). Man and His Environment. Delhi, India: Concept. LCCN 80903701.

Selected papers

  • Singh, I. P. (1988). Anthropological Strategies of Tribal Health. Indian Anthropologist, 18(1), 69-79.

  • Bhasin, M. K., Shil, A. P., Sharma, M. B., Walter, H., Danker-Hopfe, H., Singh, I. P., ... & Wadhavan, D. (1987). Biology of the people of Sikkim, India. 2. Colour blindness, ear lobe attachment, mid-phalangeal hair and behavioural traits. Anthropologischer Anzeiger, 351-360.

  • Verma, S., Kapoor, S., & Singh, I. P. (1987). A study of age changes in physical fitness (as measured by rapid fitness index) and its relationship with other body measurements among Lodha tribals of West Bengal. Indian Anthropologist, 17(2), 101-108.

  • Singh, I. P., Bhasin, M. K., Walter, H., Bhasin, V., et al. (March 1986). "Genetic Studies of Pangwalas, Transhumant and Settled Gaddis: 4. Colour Blindness, Mid-phalangeal Hair, Ear Lobe Attachment and Behavioural

  • Kapoor, S., Kapoor, A. K., Bhalla, R., & Singh, I. P. (1985). Parent-offspring correlation for body measurements and subcutaneous fat distribution. Human biology, 141-150.

  • Walter, H., Stach, M., Singh, I. P., & Bhasin, M. K. (1983). Transferrin subtypes in four Northwest Indian tribal populations and some remarks on the anthropological value of this new polymorphism. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 61(4), 423-428.

  • Singh, I. P., & Bhasin, M. K. (1983). Anthropological Studies among Pangwalas and Gaddis of Himachal Pradesh, North India. Anthropologischer Anzeiger, 137-148.

  • Walter, H., Strodtmann, H., Hilling, M., Singh, I. P., Bhasin, M. K., & Veerraju, P. (1981). Transferrin subtypes in six Indian population samples. Human Heredity, 31(3), 152-155.

  • Malik, S. L., & Singh, I. P. (1979). Lung function in highlander Bods of Ladakh. American journal of physical anthropology, 51(3), 383-388.

  • Malik, S. L., & Singh, I. P. (1978). Growth trends among male Bods of Ladakh—a high altitude population. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 48(2), 171-175.

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15 Comments


UIAF Office
UIAF Office
May 17, 2023

Very nice blog on Dr. I P Singh, sir


Mini Bhattacharya

Guwahati University, Assam

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UIAF Office
UIAF Office
May 17, 2023

My deepest regards to Prof. IP Singh, a great human being, for his various qualities, and

exceptional humility with which he interacted with seniors as well as the young. Indeed, an

excellent commentary on his anthropological and administrative contributions. He was my PhD

supervisor too. A noble soul and helpful to everyone across any service division. So well written,

he was my Ph. D. Guide.


Dr. Rajni Rani....

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UIAF Office
UIAF Office
May 17, 2023

Thanks. A comprehensive write up and an affectionate tribute to a tall teacher and one of the founding pillar of the department. My hearty congratulations.


P.K.Misra

Patron UIAF

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UIAF Office
UIAF Office
May 17, 2023

Thanks Shalina, very exhaustive and praiseworthy effort by prof. Saraswati. pls. ask her to rectify the name of Prof. P.C. Biswas.


Shibani Rizvi

AnSI (retd.)

Delhi

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UIAF Office
UIAF Office
May 17, 2023

Thank you Saraswathy and Shalina Di for sharing this with us.


Poonam

Lady Irwin College

New Delhi

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