Book Review – Promised Land by Barack Obama


A Promised LandBarack Obama sees his elevation to the highest post of US president as a logical conclusion to the black minority struggle for legitimacy and equality within US. That is the reason he picked the title of his memoirs from the famous last speech of Martin Luther King Jr. On 3 April 1968, a day before he was murdered, King roared in Memphis, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land”.

Well Barrack’s United States was not exactly the Promised Land that Martin Luther King had imagined but with Barack Obama in the White House, it almost seemed achievable. I’ve read Barack’s previous books so was aware of his early struggles but still his perspective of those early days after becoming president is enlightening. Early success to Barack Obama did not come easy, he strived hard but once he decided to stand for the highest post of the land, everything aligned for his success and he unexpectedly saw himself almost pushed into the White House.

Barack has given an honest account of his days in the White House, the book covers only his first term but the reader can still grasp the intricacies of US politics and how even the supreme leader with veto powers cannot get his way through the long corridors of US Capitol. The bipartisan politics is bane of any US president but with a black president in White House it really became nasty and ultimately things deteriorated to an extend that led to the rise of someone like Trump who discredited the legacy of first Black US presidency.

In this memoir Barack Obama comes out as someone who can get the best minds to collaborate together for the greater good of US and world. Things most of the time did not go as planned but at all times brightest minds available were looking at the complex issues a US president has to deal with and decisions were being made with the best intelligence and information at hand. Barack inspired everyone around him, be it his treasury secretary or White House gardener or chef. He installed meritocracy within White House and best talent was promoted, he strived hard to get Hillary Clinton work for him or even kept Robert Gates in-spite of the ideological differences. That is the mark of a great leader, Barack ensured that while he is a ultimate arbitrator, decisions are being made across the table by eligible people who were trained and experienced enough to make those decisions.

I’ve read memoirs of previous presidents like Bill Clinton, Truman and others but this book provides the best peek to the mind of a US President and workings of US politics. I’m waiting eagerly to get my hands on the sequel of the book from one of the better US presidents.

View all my reviews

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European Commission proposes a trusted and secure Digital Identity for all Europeans

The Commission today proposed a framework for a European Digital Identity which will be available to all EU citizens, residents, and businesses in the EU. Citizens will be able to prove their identity and share electronic documents from their European Digital Identity wallets with the click of a button on their phone. They will be able to access online services with their national digital identification, which will be recognised throughout Europe. Very large platforms will be required to accept the use of European Digital Identity wallets upon request of the user, for example to prove their age. Use of the European Digital Identity wallet will always be at the choice of the user.

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age said: “The European digital identity will enable us to do in any Member State as we do at home without any extra cost and fewer hurdles. Be that renting a flat or opening a bank account outside of our home country. And do this in a way that is secure and transparent. So that we will decide how much information we wish to share about ourselves, with whom and for what purpose. This is a unique opportunity to take us all further into experiencing what it means to live in Europe, and to be European.”

Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said: “EU citizens not only expect a high level of security but also convenience whether they are dealing with national administrations such as to submit a tax return or to enroll at a European university where they need official identification. The European Digital Identity wallets offer a new possibility for them to store and use data for all sorts of services, from checking in at the airport to renting a car. It is about giving a choice to consumers, a European choice. Our European companies, large and small, will also benefit from this digital identity, they will be able to offer a wide range of new services since the proposal offers a solution for secure and trusted identification services.”

The European Digital Identity framework           

Under the new Regulation, Member States will offer citizens and businesses digital wallets that will be able to link their national digital identities with proof of other personal attributes (e.g. driving licence, diplomas, bank account). These wallets may be provided by public authorities or by private entities, provided they are recognised by a Member State.

The new European Digital Identity Wallets will enable all Europeans to access services online without having to use private identification methods or unnecessarily sharing personal data. With this solution they will have full control of the data they share.

The European Digital Identity will be:

  • Available to anyone who wants to use it: Any EU citizen, resident, and business in the Union who would like to make use of the European Digital Identity will be able to do so.
  • Widely useable: The European Digital Identity wallets will be useable widely as a way either to identify users or to prove certain personal attributes, for the purpose of access to public and private digital services across the Union.
  • Users in control of their data: The European Digital Identity wallets will enable people to choose which aspects of their identity, data and certificates they share with third parties, and to keep track of such sharing. User control ensures that only information that needs to be shared will be shared.

To make it a reality as soon as possible, the proposal is accompanied by a Recommendation. The Commission invites Member States to establish a common toolbox by September 2022 and to start the necessary preparatory work immediately. This toolbox should include the technical architecture, standards and guidelines for best practices.

Next Steps

In parallel to the legislative process, the Commission will work with Member States and the private sector on technical aspects of the European Digital Identity. Through the Digital Europe Programme, the Commission will support the implementation of the European Digital Identity framework, and many Member States have foreseen projects for the implementation of the e-government solutions, including the European Digital Identity in their national plans under the Recovery and Resilience Facility.


The Commission’s 2030 Digital Compass sets out a number of targets and milestones which the European Digital Identity will help achieve. For example, by 2030, all key public services should be available online, all citizens will have access to electronic medical records; and 80% citizens should use an eID solution.

For this initiative, the Commission builds on the existing cross-border legal framework for trusted digital identities, the European electronic identification and trust services initiative (eIDAS Regulation). Adopted in 2014, it provides the basis for cross-border electronic identification, authentication and website certification within the EU. Already about 60% of Europeans can benefit from the current system.

However, there is no requirement for Member States to develop a national digital ID and to make it interoperable with the ones of other Member States, which leads to high discrepancies between countries. The current proposal will address these shortcomings by improving the effectiveness of the framework and extending its benefits to the private sector and to mobile use.

For More Information

European Digital Identity – Questions and Answers

European Digital Identity – Facts Page

European Digital Identity Regulation

European Digital Identity Recommendation

eIDAS web page

Report on the evaluation of the eIDAS Regulation

Digital Decade – Press Release

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Why the Bitcoin Crash Was a Big Win for Cryptocurrencies – Bloomberg

Under extreme stress, the decentralized finance system worked as designed.
— Read on

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Bitcoin price drops below $40,000 reaching 14-week low

Bitcoin’s price has dropped below $40,000 for the first time since February 9. Meanwhile, ether has slumped below $3,000.
— Read on

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Wealthy Clients of Wells Fargo Will Soon Be Able to Buy Bitcoin – Decrypt

Wells Fargo has hinted that they are at the final stages of launching “a professionally managed solution” for crypto investing.
— Read on

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4 Degrees of Human Speech

As the information age gains momentum, the most primitive level–the spoken and written word–is drowning out the higher, subtle tongues.
— Read on

According to the Vedas, there are four degrees of human speech. As the information age gathers momentum, the most primitive level–the spoken and written word–is drowning out the higher, more subtle tongues. The result? Confusion, cynicism, and a flat, homogenized view of the world.

Many of us who love Ganesha, the roly-poly remover of obstacles, recite the Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad daily, invoking his blessings as we seek unwavering awareness (atharva shirsha means “unwavering head”). Early in this text appears the vow ritam vachmi, satyam vachmi, which expresses our determination to speak words that will strengthen both ritam (cosmic truth and order) and satyam (worldly, human truth). Shortly after we make these promises there follows a clarifying declaration: Tvam chatvari vak padani (Thou art the very syllables of the four varieties of speech).

Unpacked from its upanishadic terseness, the message is clear: In my pursuit of steadfast consciousness, O Lord, I shall endeavor always to speak words that are both relatively and absolutely true, using as many of the four categories of speech as I am fluent in. Aid me in my resolve!

Ekam sat, vipra bahudha vadanti, a Vedic proverb tells us: Truth is One; the wise express it in many ways. 

The prayer’s author was a rishi (a wise, God-intoxicated seer who served as a vessel for reality, a conduit through which truth could flow). Each rishi “saw” reality from a unique perspective; each spoke an inimitable truth. Ekam sat, vipra bahudha vadanti, a Vedic proverb tells us: Truth is One; the wise express it in many ways. Each rishi ushered universal truths into particularity by spontaneously condensing ritam (cosmic truth) and satyam (worldly truth) into hymns. Quivering with ecstasy, shaking with exaltation and realization, vibrating to the tune of the music of the spheres, these vipras (those who tremble) expressed truth in the four “tongues” that are the four degrees of human speech: vaikhari, madhyama, pashyanti, and para.

Each degree of speech embodies a different kind of perception; each transmits a different reality. Vaikhari, which is ordinary verbal speech, the kind we all hear and use daily, is an expression of kriya shakti, the power of action. You speak in vaikhari when you focus on deeds past, present activities, exploits to come.

Madhyama is mental speech, verbalized but unspoken, the internal monologue and dialogue; it expresses jñana shakti, the power of knowledge and wisdom (or lack thereof). Madhyama measures, evaluates, questions, harnessing your rational and emotional minds to formulate the intentions that precipitate into words.

Pashyanti, single-minded speech, is perceptible but not particularized. It is the vehicle for iccha shakti, the power of desire. When you speak at the pashyanti level, you are sure of your message; your intentions (selfish or altruistic) are always clear.

Para is pure intention—pure because it is a direct expression of the will of reality, unadulterated by any personal preference. Para is the power of ambika shakti, the supreme Mother Goddess, speech that flows directly from the cosmic creatrix. Abhinavagupta, the great genius of a thousand years back, eulogizes para as the form of speech that displays absolutely no thought of this, thus, here, or now.

Para (which means, literally, “beyond”) is beyond all objects, of any sort, motionless, eternally equipoised, so subtle that it is commonly perceptible only to those who are highly evolved. Pashyanti does not distinguish between subject and object. Perceptible but not yet particularized, it covers the middle ground between para’s pure intention and madhyama’s verbalized but as yet unspoken mental speech. Madhyama is particularized into phonemes, directed to mental objects, the objects of the inner senses. It straddles the gulf between the noiseless conviction that is pashyanti and the spoken word that is vaikhari. Vaikhari, the speech of maya, is physical speech, the outward, audible manifestation of phonemes that refer to and are directed toward physical, external sense objects.

Vaikhari lies within the purview of the conscious mind and jagrat (waking-time consciousness). The subconscious mind uses madhyama in svapna (dreaming consciousness). Pashyanti represents sushupti (the dreamless sleep that occurs when the unconscious mind takes over). Succeed at uniting the conscious mind with the unconscious and subconscious minds and you create the superconscious mind, whereupon you can go beyond the three common states of consciousness to reach turiya (the fourth state). Join vaikhari seamlessly with madhyama and pashyanti and you may gain access to para, which expresses turiya and other higher states of consciousness.


Vaikhari’s advantage lies in how easily you can run on at the mouth with it. Madhyama at least requires you to think; heart and head must work together for it to flow. With pashyanti, you must also focus your prana—head, heart, and hara (the solar plexus, more or less) all aligned. But in vaikhari mode, the head can freely filibuster along, ignoring inconvenient actualities.

Vaikhari can of course be a useful tool; you are using vaikhari to read this article, for example. Our modern rapid transportation and communication would never have developed without well-developed vaikhari. Civilization itself is a product of vaikhari; what is a tribe, after all, but a group of people who unite under the aegis of a particular worldview, almost always with the help of a particular (vaikhari) language?

A viable tribe, though, will number among their members at least a few who can—via madhyama, pashyanti, or even para—guide the helm of the clan-ship through the rough waters of the vaikhari sea. Confusion may swamp even the most confident captain, though, when unmodified vaikhari is the only tongue in operation. We might as well spell “doubt” v-a-i-k-h-a-r-i, because doubt is all you will ever truly know if you communicate in vaikhari idioms alone. Even knowers of pashyanti who immerse themselves in la vida vaikhari will find their previously clear perception clouding as the influence of heart and hara is overshadowed by the tyranny of head.

Overusing, misusing, or abusing any sense organ, your voice in particular, will rob you of the energy you need to speak deeply; try observing silence for an entire day, and you will gain a better understanding of the old maxim “Speech is energy.” Weakened people can often speak only with their mouths, in vaikhari; speaking shallowly, they fall easily into shallow breathing, eating, thinking, feeling. Subsisting on life’s surfaces they hustle through existence, hurrying past the silk purse in their pursuit of the sow’s ear.

Ganesha steadies your head by bringing your sense organs into line, withdrawing them (pratyahara) from their unwholesome attachments to external objects, attuning them to the point at which they value perception of truth more highly than more conventional gratifications.

Knowing this, the rishis in their unbounded compassion created mantras like the Ganapati Atharva Shirsha to bring our irresolute heads back into alignment with our hearts and haras. Ganapati means “lord of the ganas,” and one salient meaning of gana is “sense organ.” Ganesha steadies your head by bringing your sense organs into line, withdrawing them (pratyahara) from their unwholesome attachments to external objects, attuning them to the point at which they value perception of truth more highly than more conventional gratifications.

One way the Ganapati Atharva Shirsha does this is by helping you to recall how sacred words can be. The act of speaking was once taken far more seriously than we take it today. Misuse of speech was regarded as unfavorably as misuse of body or mind; loose lips, after all, sink ships. The energy inherent in words of truth is verily creative; speak your intention clearly and sincerely, in pashyanti or para, and the power in your words will lead that goal into manifestation. To declare that you will speak truth can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if you will but speak it deeply, with attention—which you can best do by speaking it silently, with intention.


All life instinctively craves the clarity of the unalloyed ritam (cosmic truth) and satyam (worldly, human truth) that the Absolute Reality enjoys. Lose access to the higher levels of speech and you distance yourself from satyam and ritam, which will invite doubt, confusion, and cynicism into your life. Lose the ability to speak deeply, and either you will lose your ability to speak your truth as your words leak from you, or you will petrify your truth by rigidly regulating your vocabulary.

However much we modern humans try to live our lives insulated from the natural world, Nature works perpetually to remind us who’s boss. As our heads tell us one thing and our bodies another, our collective inability to reconcile the discord between our natural eyes and our artificial notions drive us further into the dark jungle of shared delusion.

Human nature itself encourages this folly to spread widely; let a critical mass of people begin to believe something, however fictitious, and soon the contagion of popular hallucination has everyone knowing it for a fact. Multiply these “facts,” and soon there’s no seeing the satyam forest or the ritam countryside for all the tall, fractal misperceptions.

Humans crave to belong, to identify a shared semblance of truth, a consensus reality to which we can flock like sheep yearning for a shepherd. Tribes crystallize around consensus realities between villagers and their environs, and tribal chiefs build authority by crafting painstaking consensus among their constituents. Modern leaders, who trust instead the winner-take-all system of defining reality, herd us with the soothing monotone of cultural Muzak, or sound the strident single note of the trumpet that calls us to battle against the “enemy.”

The complexity of our confused vaikhari-only lives terrorizes us into a willingness to trade the spice of variety for the security of uniformity. And having lost multiplicity in our speech, we proceed toward a homogenized, conformist worldview that does not venture far from home. Having lost the richness of the more exalted varieties of our own speech, we retreat from the rich eloquence of nature into less threatening environs, recklessly endangering diversity on all fronts: biological, cultural, and spiritual.


One mainstream madness is the pervasive, persistent lunacy that our species deserves automatic precedence over all others. As a result we are right now in the middle of one of the greatest sudden losses of biodiversity in Earth’s history, a manmade bio-crisis that has species going extinct at a rate unseen since the last major cataclysm that threatened the very existence of terrestrial life.

Arrogating to ourselves dominion over all the Earth, we take a nature that we see as disorderly and strain to mold her into domestication. Vaikhari science, which limits itself to the external, material world, seeks guaranteed truth, the certainty of hard physical evidence. Trusting in analytical logic alone, materialistic science purifies, separates, isolates, and concentrates, reducing the chaos of the natural world into unambiguous “thises” and “thats,” defining land by sculpting and exploiting it, defining species by revising their genetics. And all the while the narrowed perspective of the vaikhari world’s consensus reality makes it hard for us to imagine how caribou, chimpanzees, wild herbs, and tropical forests might have any rights of their own.

Conventional science reassures us that we need not weep for what we have lost, and what we will lose, as we thus “progress”; our technological gains, we are told, are worth any environmental price that we might pay as we proceed on our path to the stars. The voices of the Vedic rishis, though, continue to remind us that Truth is One; the wise express it in many ways. Listen carefully to the natural world and you cannot but hear each living species, every inimitable plant and animal, expressing a unique formulation of truth, a one-of-its-kind proclamation addressed by wise nature to her beloved reality, echoing him in his infinite intricacy.

Each life-form is an aria of spirit, life trilling the glory of God in bulb and root, tooth and claw—a song that, though hard to transcribe into vaikhari, can be heard by anyone who has an open ear. The truly wise love to respond by inviting nature to speak through them, on behalf of all the asphodels and zinnias, aardvarks and zebras who each voice their own truths, as well as those of nature, in their every breath.


Today’s modern consensus reality is enforced into pure vaikhari by the volume of information we are forced to process, for where is that printing press or VCR, CD, DVD player, or Web browser that can reproduce pashyanti or para? Our insatiable appetite for input breeds an ever-growing throng of vaikhari words—wraiths, phrase phantoms that sow discontent in their wake.

To ensure clarity for new speakers, language ropes down grammar with firm, linear laws. Vaikhari clarity emerges from similar linear laws: the lineaments of the letters themselves, the procession of letters that have been transformed into words and phrases, the linearity of books that proceed in a unidirectional parade from a patent start to an unambiguous finish. Apply this inflexibility to a culture and you get the grammar of cultural imperialism, practiced sometimes with harsh violence, as by the Chinese on the Tibetans, spreading sometimes more insidiously, through contagion by mind-viruses.

One supremely effective tool of the cultural imperialist is to separate a people from its language. Deny a nation the right to its own dialect, however imperfect and vaikhari-ized it may have become, and you erase the experience of generations of “breathing from ancient times”; you erase the direct connections with the inspirations of those past wise men and women who somehow found ways to couch portions of reality in vaikhari words. Take away a people’s tongue and you pass a sentence of death upon that civilization; honor that vernacular, and you honor that community.


If Truth though One must be expressed by the wise in many ways, then the more ways in which Truth is expressed, the better our perspective on Truth should be. Until recently India’s spiritual environment embraced, or at least tolerated, every expression of reality that identified itself as being an offshoot of the original Vedic revelation. This made it difficult to “define” the Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Faith), the vast family of traditions mislabeled “Hinduism.” The Sanatana Dharma is eternal not in its creed but in its ability to give birth to new philosophies, attitudes, and conceptions of supreme beingness, era by era, each occupying its own eco-spiritual niche. Many of these dispensations have in common little more than their acknowledgment of reality’s ultimate oneness.

If Truth though One must be expressed by the wise in many ways, then the more ways in which Truth is expressed, the better our perspective on Truth should be. 

Confusion in the vaikhari mind about cryptic Vedic utterances would have begun early on, but for many centuries the rishis were able to minimize distortion by guarding their wisdom carefully, communicating it mouth to mouth, nose to nose, eye to eye, and mind to mind, sharing it only among those who could “see.”

But as the Vedic mystique deteriorated into general incomprehensibility, new interpretations of the Vedas proliferated, shoots as dissimilar as Purva Mimamsa, the five major schools of Advaita Vedanta, the Puranas, and the Tantras. Vigorous new dispensations have continued to appear ever since, and tired old ones to disappear, until today, when monoculturalism is killing off still viable spiritual traditions simply because they have been weighed in vaikhari balances and found wanting.


The drive is on instead to capture multidimensional, deep-level realities in simple, one-dimensional vaikhari formulations, a trend that appears in the yoga community in the West as an urge to “define” yoga. Yoga has, since its Western debut a scant century back, spread far and wide without thus far submitting to confinement within a single dogma. Many would now like to see it “graduate” into shackled uniformity, curbed into compliance with some tidy image of how it ought to appear (e.g., yoga as ancient workout system, updated for the modern world).

Acclimatizing ancient tradition to the changing times we live in is certainly essential if yoga is to flourish in contemporary non-Indian climate; but for yoga to surrender entirely its cultural context would be catastrophe, not adjustment. Healthy change is change to some degree, balancing continuity in the tradition with alert adaptation of specific practices.

If this debate were being conducted in well-informed madhyama, with overtones of disciplined pashyanti, it might yield some beneficial outcome. That the disputants are disagreeing solely in vaikhari, though, ensures that it will but promote unwholesome divergence of belief. Vaikhari is all about particularization, about dissecting out differences. Synthesis requires the ability to breathe with the yogis of former times, to see into yoga’s past, perceive its present, envisage its future. To try to define yoga by casting its principles in concrete vaikhari is to enslave it in concepts, when yoga’s very aim is to strip from the mind the straitjacket that vaikhari fashions for it.

The threat that hangs over yoga is but a specific instance of the more general hazard that jeopardizes all the sacred progeny of the Vedas. As with biodiversity and yoga diversity, vaikhari monoculture now endangers India’s spiritual diversity. Reasons vary; one is growing nostalgia for India’s previous cultural ecology, the ancient network of tales and tale-swappers, festivals and observances that have long swaddled and nursed its living traditions, a network that is slowly succumbing to the assault of modernity.

Another reason is the unfavorable comparison that some make between the gloriously fluid Sanatana Dharma and other, more doctrinaire, religions that enjoy inflexible rules contained within a single book whose vaikhari words are not in doubt. A third is the perceived political potential of a united Hindu electorate. And there are others; but none of these pretexts are any more legitimate than the excuses expounded to defend any other variety of enforced uniformity.

Traditions reconstituted in vaikhari will be no more able, in the long term, to replace lost spiritual diversity than will the monocultures of agribusiness succeed at replacing the biodiversity of the wildernesses they supplant. When the Vedas and their progeny are given life via the rich textures of madhyama, pashyanti, and para, how can they be squashed into a uniformly flat vaikhari version and be expected to continue to breathe?

Pinning down the dynamic dharma of the Eternal Faith into a straitlaced, certified Hinduism would bury the Sanatana Dharma. Fossilizing the ever-changing Vedic revelation into a “religion of the book” would guarantee continued risk for it, not salvation. Attempts to define “Hindu” in terms of public policy rather than private belief are particularly pernicious, for politics and spirituality should never mix. Even the best among politicians must occasionally speak vaikhari with a forked tongue, to generate consensus. Politics requires that truth be “polished” to make it attractive to the largest number of people; spirituality requires that people be polished, to become fit receptacles for truth. The two cannot meet.

Like our environment and our societies, our spiritual diversity will have to be nursed slowly back to health: traditions rehabilitated or regenerated, orthodoxy refined and curbed, wild practitioners of “crazy wisdom” enticed into distinctive spiritual niches where they may safely flourish.

Above all, people habituated to perceive, think, and express their truth in vaikhari will have to learn eloquence in other levels of speech. Vaikhari spirituality, however beguiling at the outset, leads ultimately to dead ends, for only those words that are spoken in madhyama and pashyanti (and para) as well can illuminate both satyam and ritam. Only such creative words are worthy of being said; only they can give life.

May Lord Ganesha bless us ever with such words of truth!


Vedic mantras yield their deepest secrets only when spoken simultaneously in each of the four speeches. To sing Vedic hymns rightly you must master the pronunciation, inflection, and melody of the words (vaikhari), sing those words with all the erudition and passion that your heart can muster (madhyama), concentrate all the prana (life-force) at your disposal into a single-minded vision of your message (pashyanti), and surrender wholly to reality as you speak, so that truth is all you convey (para).

Full-spectrum truth must be fully “conveyed,” transmitted from all the speaker’s many mouths to each of the listener’s several ears. From the perspective of the physiological head, vaikhari is that speech that operates in the mouth alone, via the physical tongue; madhyama emerges into the world through the nose, via the breath; pashyanti is spoken with the eyes; para is telepathic, materializing directly from the faculty of awareness.


Vaikhari truths use spoken or written words, and the associations that those words generate, as their conveyance; madhyama adds prana to the words, to energize the information. The prana boost makes what “gets across” in madhyama more vital, more real, than what “comes across” in vaikhari alone.

Many traditional societies that trust in madhyama use their noses for greeting instead of their mouths. In the Hawaii and the India of old, for example, elders would often breathe in the fragrance of a child’s head when they met—a very practical way to test the youngster’s prana and thus monitor its state. People unfamiliar with madhyama used to watch two Eskimos exchanging breath and would think they were rubbing their noses together, when actually they were breath chatting, conversing with prana.


The word pashyanti derives from a Sanskrit root that means “to see.” Pashyanti allows you to eyeball your world, to measure it accurately at a glance with your darshana, which is both your sight (what your outer eyes see) and your philosophy (what your inner eyes perceive). In pashyanti, seeing is believing, literally. When you become so aligned with reality that you can look out on the world and “see,” discerning reality clearly without intervening rationality and sentiment, then you can be confident of your pash-yanti-speaking ability. Go beyond even the personal need to see what you are saying, and you reach para.


It is impossible to tell a lie in para, for the ever-truthful universal voice is the embodiment of ritam (cosmic truth). Telling a pashyanti lie is possible but difficult; you have to believe overwhelmingly in your message if you are to succeed at throwing the weight of your eyes behind it. Ask anyone who has ever conversed visually with a dog, a horse, or a lover what volumes can be spoken without words, and how transparent the speaker’s true intentions will usually be behind those transmissions.

Lying is easier in madhyama; all you need is a credible rationalization for what you want to say, and out it will come. Vaikhari lies come easiest, of course, from the unconscious little white lies that grease the wheels of our ride through worldly life, lies whose effects we commonly don’t even notice, to the more conscious prevarications of politicians and managers, to the deliberate distortions that advertising and propaganda exploit to work their will on us.

The layers of real intentions behind what is actually spoken each add their filaments to the webs of political, economic, and social fabrications that bind a culture together. We tend to take these for granted even though, in our deeper selves, we know them to be forgeries; and the dissonance between our perceptions of reality and what we have been told is true generates trepidation within us, and doubt.

Robert Svoboda


Related Topics

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Covid-19 and Politics of Funeral Pyres

Covid-19 has clutched hard on humanity’s lungs since almost 2 years now. The virus has spread its deadly tentacles across the globe shattering the fragile lives in countries as far apart as China, Italy, Brazil, US, India and countless others. The pandemic has not spared anyone, it has infected farmers at Dublin, daily wage workers at Delhi and even business executives at Denver. The resultant healthcare crisis has exposed the deep cracks in medical infrastructure in all countries around the globe. Humanity will persevere in spite of the loss of millions of lives and will eventually beat the virus. But for now, the disease has made us all retreat into the safety of our small abodes, forcing us to vacate the real world and operate in a virtual realm like never before. There have been tales of bravery, tenacity and perseverance from the frontlines across all the severely impacted countries where doctors and nurses have stood their ground and are giving a tough fight to the virus. Vaccines have been produced in remarkably short times and drive is on to shield everyone with the serum doses so that humanity can reclaim the lost “real” space. There have been warriors disguised as grocery store workers, delivery guys, ambulance crews who are risking their lives on a daily basis to keep rhythm of life as normal as possible for all of us. I recently came to know of a doctor at a Delhi Hospital who kept working at saving lives even when her teenage son was struggling for breath at a different clinic and her other two elder daughters were recuperating at home. She kept on fighting, holding the fort firm where the virus had laid siege. She is still there at the battlefront, the only grace is that her son is now able to breathe on his own.

But as in all battles fought by humanity, it’s not just the tales of bravery all around, there have been acts of treachery, subterfuge and negligence also. There have been stories abound of the scums from the deep gutters of human filth who see a calamity as grave as this also as an opportunity to profiteer or just to advance their own fantastical petty agendas. They don’t realise that this virus is just lying in wait and given a window of opportunity, it will raise its sinister head again. One example of the virus’s ingenuity was evident in Ireland where government thought that the worst is behind it and relaxed the restrictions for a few weeks to provide some respite to its population during X’mas holidays. But virus crept in stealthily and overwhelmed this beautiful small nation killing thousands. And this happened on the watch of a leftist coalition government which opportunistically came together to keep a right leaning party out of power in Ireland. This virus doesn’t respect human hierarchies or care for which side of political class one belongs to. It does not matter to it, if ruling regime is conservative or liberal, it will take any opportunity to strike at the lungs and hearts of humanity. This is the time to pose a united front against this strong adversary but looks like it is too much to ask that from some of us who are intent to ply their ominous agendas even in these grim times for humanity. This is most evident now in Indian political landscape where such vultures in the garb of opportunistic journalists or ideologues are out in full force to virtually dance upon the funeral pyres of hapless Indians. India was spared the worst in the first wave of Covid-19 and government machinery was able to effectively manage the spread through a series of lockdown measures and other restrictions. The government in those early days of virus spread stepped up, created temporary care facilities, ramped up the production of preventive medicines, PEPs and vaccines. Ever after beating back the first wave, government advisory remained cautious and people were asked to adhere to the masks wearing at public places and avoid any big gatherings. But general populace got complacent after months of severe restrictions and let down their guards. There were peer pressures to attend hastily organised marriage functions and birthday parties, there were sacred religious events to go to. The political class also did not help, there were elections to be fought, political rallies to be held. More incriminating on the ruling political party was their relaxed approach to the vaccination drive. This gave an opportunity to the virus to strike back and now second wave of Covid-19 has overwhelmed India. Hospitals have filled up within days, there is a general shortage of essential medicines and oxygen cylinders, people are dying in great numbers, funeral pyres are burning round the clock and graveyards are filling up. This is the time to up the ante, join forces and fight back. Criticism and scrutiny can wait as otherwise any distraction will give more space to the virus putting more precious lives at risk.

But alas, for some even in these ominous times, political and ideological battles take precedence over fighting this common invisible foe. For these low lives what is emanating from these burning funeral pyres and still wet graveyards is not the reeking stench of death but an enticing smell of opportunity to undermine the efforts of the health care workers or to demonise the ruling regime. This is as sinister as it can get. There is a business woman who masquerades as a journalist in India going around the International news channels trying to encash her father’s sad demise. Everybody can understand her anger at the sad turn of events and her loss. But is there really any need to make your father’s death a spectacle to demoralize millions of health care professionals fighting across hospitals in India. Barkha Dutt claims that her father died because there was faulty oxygen cylinder in the ambulance carrying him to the hospital and more so as she claims, because of a medical system that has collapsed. She is declaring all this notwithstanding the fact that her father was provided first rate care at one of the premier private hospitals at Delhi for days till Covid finally took his life. The hapless driver of the ambulance has since given his side of the story that oxygen cylinder was working fine and that he even helped move the patient to the ICU after reaching the hospital. This is a new low in the sad saga of Indian left-wing journalism known at best for its limitless capacity to self-flagellate. Not everything has to be up for sale and least your own father’s passing. Barkha Dutt’s reporting over the years is a classic tale of dough taking precedence over truth. For her the maxim has been that truth can wait but first comes the advancement of any personal agenda or an agenda of those who has her on their payrolls. She is notoriously close to the top echelons of Indian political and business class and is paid handsomely to lobby for anyone who is ready to dole out the maximum. In November 2010, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the premier investigative agency in India announced that they had 5,851 recordings of phone conversations made by a fixer named Nira Radia, some of which outline Radia’s attempts to broker deals in relation to the 2G spectrum sale. The 2G spectrum scandal was recorded by Time magazine as second in their all-time list of worst abuses of power. Barkha Dutt’s conversations with Radia were reported and Dutt became the face of the tapes scandal. The investigation later showed that Barkha Dutt’s role in the Radia Tapes did not seem to point to an individual act but an institutional malaise. While covering the events of 2002 Gujarat violence, Barkha Dutt identified attackers and victims of a riot as “Hindus” and “Muslims” on television, flouting the guidelines of the Press Council of India. During 2008 Mumbai attacks, she was blamed for sensationalising the events, putting lives at risk and causing deaths by identifying on live television where the hotel guests might be located. Barkha Dutt has been previously criticised for “secular shrillness”, betraying the cause of Kashmiri Pandits, over-the-top nationalism in the reporting of Kargil conflict, and for soft-pedalling Hindutva. She has no credibility left in Indian journalism but is still welcome in Western press who are always looking for any negative stories coming from the East.

In Hindu tradition Antyesti (Sanskrit: अन्त्येष्टि), last rites for the dead literally means “last sacrifice”, and involves cremation of the body. It represents the last step or samskara in the rite of passage in the endless cycle of death & rebirth till one achieves Moksha or liberation. The Sanskrit word for death, Dehanta (Sanskrit: देहान्त), means “the end of body” but not the end of life. One of the central tenets of Hindu philosophy is the distinction between a body and a soul. Hindus believe that the body is a temporary vessel for an immortal soul in the mortal realm. When we die, our physical body perishes but our soul lives on. A funeral pyre is a deeply personal ritual, in-fact not to be seen by anyone other than the immediate family of the deceased. Making it a spectacle for the world to see is showing utmost disrespect to the dead and also to the cosmic order. But that would be too much to expect from someone like Barkha Dutt who going by her reports from cremation ground, obviously is not a practising Hindu and has been twice married to individuals from Muslim faith.

But Barkha is not the only one, the left cabal is out in full force to demean their bête noire,the nationalist PM Modi of India, now that they have an opening. There is another liberal face, an economist turned biographer but who rather pretends to be a historian harping in an article written in Financial Times that all the ills including Covid-19 has been thrust upon us because of the black magic of one Mr. Modi who is responsible for “unmaking of India”. For Ramchandra Guha, the oxygen cylinder shortages are the proof of the culpability of the Modi government in this tragedy. He is absolutely willing to give a clean chit to previous Congress governments who made Indians stand in long lines just to get the LPG cylinders for their kitchens. I can’t even fathom how a government like that would have fared in this emergency but am sure they would have made the situation much worse. In Modi government people are getting what they need, there might be delays but government is quick to course correct and find solutions for any road blocks, bottlenecks, oversights or outright mistakes. The government is working actively to pump up the production of oxygen like they did with PEPs last year and also to increase the availability of home grown vaccines like Covaxin. Going by the track record of previous Congress governments, any other leadership in India would have, by now, got embroiled in huge corruption scandals involving the procurement of such medical essentials from abroad and India for sure, would have been far less self-reliant than it is now. Modi government’s ‘Make in India’ campaign has made India virtually self-sufficient in vaccine or PEP production and India now is well placed to handle this crisis of infinite magnitude considering the size of its population. But these pseudo-liberal ideologues see this calamity as an opening to pile up on the government. In his article, Guha also has problem with Modi because a cricket stadium was recently named after him by board of cricket control of India but then he sees nothing wrong in the fact that names of almost all infrastructure projects including Airports, Stadiums, Townships etc. in India bear the names of either dead or living scions of Nehru-Gandhi family. In fact in the case of stadium, it was BCCI an external body which conferred the honour on Mr. Modi quite unlike Nehru, India’s first PM who actually awarded himself the highest honour of the land, Bharat Ratna while he was still alive.

Then there is the strange case of Suzzana Arundhati Roy who goes all lengths out to hide her Christian identity but is ever ready to demean India and its Hindu culture at all International forums. Her pathological hatred for right-wing BJP and Mr Modi is understandable. A self-reliant, united, awakened India does not fit well with her self-flagellating Abrahamic world view where India is just a conglomerate of different castes with no right to present a united front or even to exist as a cohesive unit. Of all the members of leftist cabal, Suzzana aka Arundhati Roy is the most vitriolic and biggest fabricator of lies. In her recent article in Guardian, she invokes a 2017 speech of Mr Modi where he’d called for an end to the religious discrimination by the then government in the largest state of India. She as usual picks up only those lines from Mr. Modi’s speech which fits well with her narrative like the statement on Shamshan (Hindu Cremation Ground) and Kabristan (Muslim Graveyards) but conveniently fails to mention that Modi explicitly called for equitable treatment saying immediately afterwards in his speech that if state government provides electricity for Hindu festival of Holi then it should ensure the same for Muslim festival Id also. Yes, you read that right, things were so dismal in the biggest state of India that citizens had to plead to government to provide them electricity to enjoy their most important religious festivals, forget about other days. Things have been much better since Mr. Modi’s nationalistic BJP party wrested control of the state and citizens have been getting almost uninterrupted electricity supply now on daily basis. Further in the article Suzanna aka Arundhati Roy tries to trivialize the adroit management of Indian government in containing the first Covid wave. For her India was lucky that it had far less mortality rate compared to first world countries which were all left hapless against the relentless tide of the virus. There is also a mention in the article of the tallest statue of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, the Ironman of India who united the country after British made an absolute mess with their haphazard partition of the subcontinent. Patel is not a BJP or right-wing stalwart but was a Congress leader and a towering personality of Indian independence movement who was not given his rightful due by Nehru-Gandhi family interested more in cult building and side-lined everyone whose name did not start with a Gandhi or Nehru. Modi has corrected a historic wrong just like he is doing for another Indian stalwart Subash Chandra Bose whose armed struggle was the real reason why British vacated India rather than the myth of Gandhi’s non-violent movement being the cause. Even irrelevant construction projects does not escape her ire in the article. Indian government’s has been operating from the facilities at Lutyens Delhi that British left them after independence but now after 70 years, an upgrade is long overdue. Indian government has now plans to create a new state of the art administrative block but for Suzzana aka Arundhati Roy, Modi can’t do anything right and the construction plan has been needlessly invoked & criticised by the author in her article on Covid-19. Her pseudo-Christian roots and neurotic hatred for pagan culture gives away the reason for her criticism on the rebuilding of Ram temple. Lord Sri Ram is the principal deity of Hindus, the predominant majority in India. Sri Ram’s birth place was demolished during brutal Islamic invasion of India spanning centuries in which more than 40000 Hindu & Buddhist temples were razed to ground and millions died in heroic resistance to the invaders. Rebuilding the Ram temple is important for India’s resurgence as no country can rise unless its civilizational imprints are lying in ruins. It is imperative of Indians to reclaim and rebuild their civilization ethos or anything that represents these moral codes.

This is not the time for pandering the nation like these pseudo-liberal ideologues are intent on doing on International forums. There have been cohorts, the likes of Aatish Taseer, Rana Ayyub and others who have also jumped into the band wagon trumpeting similar disinformation campaigns on new channels and print media, there is no point in giving any cadence to them as for them breaking India is their rightful duty anyways. Aatish in particular has not served well the legacy of his illustrious father who died for the cause of secularism in Pakistan. Looking at the track record of the past 6 years, it is very much evident that BJP government in India believes firmly in the secular credentials of the Indian constitution but this government is not going to indulge in the policy of minority appeasement like their predecessors. The past governments have not done any good to the cause of minorities, the dismal economic slide of Muslim community in India over the last few decades is there for all to see. This is new India, it will not discriminate between Indians whether on religious or caste lines. It believes in the equal opportunity for all Indians, sabka saath aur sabka vikas.

Together we’ll overcome this menace of Covid-19 in India and will in turn, also help the world eradicate this disease. Now India has been crippled by second wave but just a month back India was sending millions of doses of vaccines and PEP kits to the vulnerable nations around the globe. India launched a massive vaccination campaign early this year, which sought to inoculate more than 300 million people by summer. The country also sent more than 60 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine (known as CoviShield in India) and its domestically developed Covaxin to other parts of the world since the start of the year. Agreed the domestic vaccination campaign lacked a sense of urgency, with a relatively low case count in the first few months of the year and some hesitancy around getting the vaccines. So far, just 150 million doses have been given and less than 3 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. But this second wave has shown that there is no time to relax or be complacent. The vaccination drive has to be carried out at the war footing now that everybody have learned their lessons. India and South Africa — with backing from nearly 100 countries — have pushed a proposal at the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive certain trade and intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines to increase production and manufacturing capacity around the world, especially in lower and middle-income countries but big Pharma is still wavering in relaxing these rules. This is the need of the hour, we should remember nobody is safe till everybody is safe. Meanwhile there is no gain to be had from pointing figures at the political class in any country. Now is the time to leave aside our political differences but for once stand united as one humanity in fight against a common enemy.

– Tarun Rattan

Also published on OpIndia

Covid-19 and Politics of Funeral Pyres

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Serving Sanskrit, Serving Humanity: The Story of Martin Gluckman – Center for Soft Power

Serving Sanskrit, Serving Humanity: The Story of Martin Gluckman – Center for Soft Power
— Read on

Martin Gluckman’s Sanskrit dictionary ( created by the Sanskrit Research Institute has had 1,564,823 visitors searching for 975,621 words from 207 countries. Some of its unique features are that multiple dictionaries can be searched parallelly from contemporary and ancient data sources.

The site’s synonym explorer helps to generate synonyms in Sanskrit for an English word and then parallel that word against an array of the same word in 103+ languages of the world. The SRI website says you will often see similarities and sometimes the identical word will be there for example sambandha (relationship in Sanskrit) and sambandið (relationship in Icelandic). “In English we say sun or maybe solar or helio sometimes but Sanskrit has a vast array of words such as abhīṣumat, abjabāndhava, abjahasta, abjinīpati, ādideva, āditeya, ādityā, adri, aga, agira, aharbāndhava, aharmaṇi, aharpati, ahaskara, ahi etc.”

 An easy Sanskrit Writer, Root Explorer, Word Frequency Tool, Brāhmī Output, Sanskrit Text to Speech output, Sanskrit OCR, Sanskrit Posters, Sanskrit Reference Tools, it’s all there for anyone to explore. In 2015 they worked on a project to present the 64 arts along with a translation of each of the arts.  64 Arts – Sanskrit Research Institute (

Video: Interview with Martin Gluckman, Sanskrit Research Institute – YouTube

Early Beginnings

Martin Gluckman’s interest in Sanskrit began with Ayurveda. His father was a  physician and instilled in him a deep interest in the healing sciences and arts. In 1999, Martin started to study Ayurveda in South Africa. There were several teachers of Ayurveda in his country, and it appealed to him as it is a very ‘complete system’, ancient with a well documented history. 

In order to learn more, he traveled to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Tibet. He resided some years in Nepal and tried to meet as many traditional physicians as possible so as to “understand the practical applications of Ayurveda deeply”. Martin adds that as he went deep into Ayurveda, “I kept getting pointed to Sanskrit because all of the literature and all the terminology was in Sanskrit.” 

Martin spent 12 years devoted to Ayurveda and tried to meet everyone he could, attending conferences, reading the literature in the original language including the Samhitas.

Martin had been curious about languages prior to his interest in Sanskrit. He studied  Latin at school, another Indo-European language, and has basic fluency in about 10 languages including Japanese, Hebrew, a bit of Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Nepali. 

He came to live in India in 2003 after he started to develop an intense interest in Sanskrit. “There is immense beauty in the language that anyone who encounters Sanskrit will realize.’ He moved to  Auroville in 2007 and volunteered in a kitchen, where they were implementing the   Ayurvedic aspects of nutrition, “combining foods with spices.”   

At this time, his Canadian teacher in Auroville – Agni –  started giving him classes in Sanskrit. “I realized that Sanskrit is a very steep mountain, almost a Himalayan peak and requires immense effort and dedication. It’s not something you just acquire in a short period; it really was a commitment of a decade, at least.” 

In his search for a university, where he could study remotely, Martin came across the Australian National University Dr. McComas Taylor was pioneering the digital delivery of Sanskrit. The online lectures were for a few hours weekl. Long before Covid, the university was using a  2010 platform called Adobe Connect as Google classroom and the other learning delivery platforms for real time lectures were not so mature at that time.

Martin enrolled for an undergraduate degree majoring in Sanskrit. As he had a background in computer science he started to create tools that would make it easier for him to learn the language, “and also to appreciate the language, enjoy it and also to bring out its beauty through digital expositions. For example, Sanskrit has more than 200 words for sun and moon or sky or rain and this is very exceptional among languages.” He went on to do a postgraduate degree at ANU that led him to Panini and the Vedas and a journey of study that continues today.

He began work with teams of volunteers in Auroville. “The beauty of Auroville is you have this incredible spirit of volunteer-ship. Everyone comes to Auroville as a volunteer and gives their time to the Community, and this is really how to join Auroville. People often ask me how does one join this Community, well it’s a labor of love. So my labor of love at this time became the work on Sanskrit.”

His project was formalised as the  Sanskrit Research Institute, a play on words resulting in the mantric sound “SRI” which means glorious or splendid in Sanskrit. “This journey started through my father’s physician-ship, then to my discovery of natural medicine and then my very deep discovery of Sanskrit through Ayurveda.” The Sanskrit Research University brings together volunteers, often programmers from Bangalore.

Volunteers are given food, electric vehicle charging and sometimes accommodation for the “reward of working with this.incredible language. The deeper you dig into Sanskrit, the  further you go into this quest for creating knowledge. Sanskrit is a language but the knowledge that’s been written in Sanskrit is the juicy fruit that one gets to consume once one acquires that language.”

Martin says the journey of Sanskrit is full of surprises and wonderment and literally every week they get the most incredible people from around the world knocking on their door and saying they want to work with Sanskrit from all backgrounds. As to Auroville, “any Indian or any non Indian who visits Auroville will be touched by this 50 plus year project that’s devoted singularly to creating a place for human unity. It’s an incredibly creative, incredibly diverse, incredibly beautiful place. It was a desert, barren, and now it’s this vibrant, thriving creative network – a web of incredible energy of people who come and give their work for the highest expression of mankind. Auroville is especially charged. There’s a magical aura and I’m very honored to have my institute here. We have  created cities like New York, London and Amsterdam. I’ve lived in all of them, and none of them have the magic of Auroville. Auroville is this incredible city built on devotion to high aspiration.”

Like many, Martin came initially as a tourist with his wife, and stayed on as a volunteer. “I saw that the water was dynamized, the food was organic. There was a project with cashews to get away from the endosulfan. Buildings were built of earth. I saw in matter and spirit that this place  was doing something magical and I could not leave.”

Martin’s curiosity to understand one shastra – Ayurveda, inspired him to make this long journey. While the knowledge is ancient, it has great global relevance today. “Ayu means long lifespan. Ironically now at Harvard University there’s a Professor David Sinclair who heads a department of Lifespan Extension or Longevity or Regenerative Medicine, carrying forward this idea of extending lifespan, the seed for which was laid in at least 500 BC in the documented literary history of beautiful Ayurveda.”

Martin is on a panel with many eminent scholars which is looking at Ayurvedic solutions from the literature which can be applicable with cancer pain management and other adjuncts in modern medicine and they’re going to be doing clinical doctoral level research on this.

After he presented a lecture on Sanskrit at the University of Cape Town a year and half ago, he has been invited to work with some of the oldest people in the world – the San people of Southern Africa, and particularly from the southern Cape. These people inhabited places like Pinnacle Point and Blombos Cave and developed what is believed to be evidence of early abstract thinking in languages.The language of the San  people is similar to Sanskrit, says Martin. He has been invited to work on a project on endangered languages.

He’s also incubating a project called CEDA, the Center for Eco Development which has studied Auroville as a blueprint and is helping and hand holding communities to create more Aurovilles around the world. He’s doing the first project in South Africa, developing a community called Goodwill Mountain.


I like the word aspirational. Do you think Sanskrit will be considered among the world’s most spoken languages in the future? What is SRI doing to enable digital access to the language. It was an oral tradition and is now valued both for the written word as well as the spoken.   

Sanskrit actually was, of course, an oral tradition before writing was developed. However, Sanskrit, has the largest corpus of literature in any language on earth, before Gutenberg invented printing which is not so long ago.  The ocean of Sanskritic literature hasn’t been fully mapped. Every village, every ruler and village elder had their own collection of manuscripts. Very few of these collections have been exactly documented. The National Mission of Manuscripts in Delhi has already got a database of millions of manuscripts and their work is only scratching the surface of what’s out there.

There was obviously a strong emphasis on intellectual arts and memorization. They were the 64 arts that Krishna and his brother studied which He studied in something ridiculous like 18 days. It was like ‘the super Elon musk level intellectual capacity’ or way beyond. One of the arts was memorization and there were techniques of memorization, different mnemonics and so forth. So even though these sciences were ancient, they were very modern. 

From the age of 13, I worked with computers, and I’ve been lost in that world of computer science. This was from 1987, when the world was not yet computerized; only very big companies had mainframes and the personal computer was just being born. People like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were still unknown and not billionaires yet. So I became a hacker in my early teens and I even had done some ethical hacking as part of anti- apartheid activism and for organizations that wanted me to retrieve information from the apartheid Government.

I used the skills that I had learnt when I fell in love with computers, again when I fell in love with Sanskrit. It was an incredible marriage.  There was already a lot of work done in computational linguistics and Sanskrit by Gerard Huet and Oliver Hellwig, Peter Scharf and some of the IITs, Kharagpur and Mumbai and so forth, who were already using the early DOS computers and built systems and software.

However, I saw there were gaps. There were dictionaries but they weren’t  combining all the dictionaries into one. Also the sounds in Sanskrit are too diverse to have only one dictionary. When I was studying I would never look into  only Monier Williams or Apte. I would also want to refer Abyankar’s Grammar dictionary, or a dictionary on  medicine or on Jotisha. So what we did first was we glued a lot of dictionaries together and made a Meta dictionary and this became very useful. We have never marketed anything. We just put it out there. I think our dictionary actually has  around 1,00,000 users a month. The fact that it was actually used and usable and the people engaged with it showed Sanskrit as a living language. It was not just a seminal paper at a conference, although we did present it at conferences practically not theoretically.

I demonstrated it at the world Sanskrit conference in 2015 and then again in IIT Kharagpur last year at the Computational Linguists conference. Whenever we could share it with scholars in academia, we would share our vision and also what we’ve done and completed.

We always see what has been done before we set out to do anything. We have also made a text to speech engine for Sanskrit. One of the governmental departments, C-DAC, I think, had attempted it, but nothing was available. Often there have been these multi crore projects, where work was supposedly done, but is not available for people.  Another example is the Digital Library of India, where half a million old works were scanned, but suddenly just disappeared off the internet.

We’d fortunately crawled that over for about six months, created a mirror of it and put that in the public domain and also helped to work with them. We often do collaborations with individuals at Google and we’re going to start a collaboration with Deep Minds on a very famous project. That got everyone a little bit scared because there’s this fear of developing artificial intelligence where once we have singularity and superhuman Intellectual power that can do everything we can do and better.  We engaged with Deep Mind on a beautiful project with Greek epigraphy and it’s now reading Greek epigraphical works better than humans, and we want to use their know-how and their neural network for Sanskrit.

Whenever we saw an opportunity where computers could marry with Sanskrit and do something useful, we wanted to help people to digitize Sanskrit work. For Sanskrit manuscript digitization,  we built our own tool, initially using Tesseract, which is an open source computer vision and network engine that helps to read literature and convert into digitized unicode texts.

Later we realized that we needed to work with a much larger organization, so I connected with a computer scientist working at Google in a very senior position with computer vision and working with Indic scripts. We started to create this feedback loop for the Sanskrit work to help to get better recognition for Sanskrit texts, and now that that is available we’ve got an OCR engine. At last count, around 3.2 million images have been digitized and about 17  million words have been recognized. Our success is like when Paul McCartney said he felt he had succeeded when the postman was singing his song yesterday. So when the postman sings one of our songs, we feel we’ve succeeded basically.

There is a point of concern about attribution and appropriation. How do we keep India’s interests alive, when Sanskrit goes global on the internet.

I think you’re touching upon the politics of Sanskrit. There’s a lot of politics that comes into  academia in any field. What I do is  I stay dedicated to serving science. Of course the literature itself in Sanskrit is out of copyrights. The Rishis always very clearly said we give this for mankind, for the entire world. This is why Yoga has been exported globally, because it was given for mankind.

Of course, when the language moves out, it will get changed. Wherever it goes, the beauty of Sanskrit language is such that it was frozen by Panini. At east modern Sanskrit, not the Vedic or the middle Sanskrit. Panini froze the grammar, so even if you or I were to compose Sanskrit poetry, today, we would be restricted by Panini’s framework of grammar, which is quite rigid. The beauty of Sanskrit is that I can read something from 100 BC and something from 1000 BC and it will be the same grammar, so it is a bit like a computer language where we have kept the  syntax consistent so programmers can use it all over the world. This is really Sanskrit’s rare beauty.

There are many international scholars and universities, preserving digitizing, working with great Sanskrit manuscripts and collections all over the world. It’s basically seen as a group effort, a global effort. It’s been adopted globally there’s the World Sanskrit Conference which happens every few years. That basically is a global collection of scholars.The bulk of Sanskrit work is not dominated by one particular geography, it’s really dispersed, it’s a bit like Auroville. Sanskrit has moved beyond geographical barriers. In our work, if a particular work is digitized and is still under copyright and we would like to publish it, we obviously request permission.

We basically work with the norms of intellectual property and then, if we do publish a new work we put it in the public domain as Creative Commons in the spirit of the Rishis. If you want to read the Parashara Hora Shastra I can give it to you, basically I do this work for the benefit of man. 

So many non-Indians see the Vedic culture and the Sanskritic culture as a global culture, and not tied to any particular geography.  Many religions were born from India, and Hinduism  is very different from Abrahamic religions, because it is only within Hinduism and you can have atheism and theism, you can have polytheism and monotheism all in one container and no one bothers whether you have one God, unlimited gods, limitless gods and named God and nameless gods and so really you’ve got the ultimate version of a religion, you cannot get better.

If you want to have one God and call it by a particular name Hinduism accepts that. If you want to have it as a formless, nameless, define-less God, similar to the Judaic God, Hinduism accepts that too. ,So you really have this incredible intellectual, philosophical, epistemological tradition. This is ultimate development and what really brings people to India is that openness..

What is the presence of Sanskrit and Ayurveda in South Africa? It’s very dominant in Europe for instance where there’s a lot of interest in Indology. How is it in South Africa?

 South Africa has a very large Indian population of one and a half million Indians. They have  often come as indentured labourers from Gujarat and Tamil Nadu and then settled there and become multigenerational Indians, so there’s obviously a liturgical and religious use of Sanskrit..

In Cape Town where I have lived, there is a Vishnu temple. There are multiple Krishna ISKCON  centers throughout South Africa. There’s a Shiva temple.  So obviously, Sanskrit is used here as it is in India in the temples. In terms of academic level, sadly we don’t have any chair in Sanskrit. It’s something that we would really love to have. We’ve had meetings with the High Consul or Vice Consul and we’ve proposed this and they are looking into bringing it there. There’s not enough Sanskrit studies in South Africa, and it really needs to develop more. There’s definitely an interest and a will and a wish to develop it and this can be done.

How important is studying Sanskrit as an ancient language for higher education

It is extremely relevant in terms of humanities and linguistics. Sanskrit is of great significance to a linguist and particularly if you’re going to focus on Indo European linguistics. Sanskrit formed a lot of the early linguistic frameworks of modern linguistics scholars like Chomsky who have referenced this. Early linguists around the world have been extremely influenced by the Sanskritic knowledge systems, particularly by Panini. Panini has been one of the greatest intellectual gifts that we have of the ancient world. If there was a list of the seven ancient  intellectual wonders of the world, Panini would be probably two of them at least. 

Since it is the month when we mark Rama Navami, how has the Ramayana influenced you?

 Everything appeals to me about the Ramayana. It is one of the greatest works of literature. I have also read that many of the plants of Ayurveda are inspired by it. Even if it is a work that covers Ithihasa and how to live Dharma, there would often be botanical references to plants and to fauna and flora, so much so that we can reconstruct how life was and know that India had already reached this incredible civilization when Europe, the US, South Africa or South Africa were still growing

It is significant that we have these memories and that we keep the identity strong because the beauty of India is  that the culture is still very much a living culture. So things that are described in the Ramayana are still very much lived and acted out today. Actually, I was thinking   of doing  a fast in a forest and eating just the Jamun fruits and seeing if I could lose some of this weight I have put on during Covid! I think all of us have had this Covid syndrome of putting on weight and I thought I could do a bit of Ram Navami Langhana Chikitsa which is a fasting therapy. I am thinking of doing a multi-day fast on Jamun or something equivalent from the Auroville forest  and then doing a bit of Sanskrit recitation just to keep the mind off food!

India’s got this incredible culture that’s alive today and the work that we’re doing helps to preserve it because so many Indians are wondering today how to access their culture. It’s easier when you can digitally access it and see that there are hundreds of synonyms for words, and that there’s literature spanning tens of millions of manuscripts, long before printing came to Europe. There were universities in India, long before the University of Bologna, which was the first University to be set up in Europe around a millennia ago. Yes, they were ransacked, looted, destroyed and faded into crumbs and ruins, but we can revive this intellectual tradition. 

However, there is now an incredible wish to develop it further. The IITs are working very deeply on Sanskrit and I just saw a beautiful work from IIT Kharagpur which has developed a neural network to rapidly tag Sanskrit literature. So it is coming together very strongly in this neo India, and we want to be part of that. Auroville represents the birth of a new India. To all readers out there, come to Auroville, come and volunteer here. Don’t just visit here as a tourist and take pictures and walk through the forest but come and give some of your skills, particularly those that have talent and skills come and help build the city and build the future of India, the future of mankind.

Aparna Sridhar

Aparna M Sridhar is the Editor for the Center for Soft Power’s magazine

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Scrum – An Overview

Humans are thought to be social animals but of a special kind. We love to meet people, talk to them, have fun with them but somehow, we don’t get along and work together as a group. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an extended family, a commune, a small firm or a big corporation, most of the times we fail to deliver together as a team. Jeff Sutherland spent his life understanding this conundrum and trying to find a way to make teams work more productively. In his research he found out that it wasn’t that these weren’t smart people. It wasn’t that the team didn’t have the right personnel in place, or even the right technology. It wasn’t about a work ethic or the right supply of competitive juices. It was because of the way people were working. The way most people work. The way we all think work has to be done, because that’s the way we were taught to do it.

Jeff Sutherland wasn’t the only person who tried to unravel this team puzzle. Henry Gantt was another pioneer who at the beginning of last century came up with his unique solution to address this challenge. He invented his famous Gantt Charts around 1910 and propounded that for success all the work needed to be done on a massive project should be laid out for everyone to see. These charts were very successfully used by Chief of Ordnance General William Crozier during WWI to enhance the productivity and distribution of the ordnance to US Army. These Gantt Charts were later adopted heavily by most US major firms for planning purposes during the last century. Most corporations had lots of intelligent people working for months, figuring out what needed to be done. Then they spent more months planning how to do it. They produced beautiful charts with everything that needed to be accomplished and the time it would take to complete each and every task. Then, with careful colour selection, they showed each piece of the project cascading down to the next like a waterfall.


With the advent of personal computers in the 1980s making it easy to create these intricate charts—and to make them really complex—they have become works of art. Every single step in a project is laid out in detail. Every milestone. Every delivery dates. These charts truly are impressive to behold. The only problem with them is that they are always, always wrong. It’s just so tempting: all the work needed to be done on a massive project laid out for everyone to see. In many companies there are dedicated teams of people whose only job is to update that Gantt chart every day. The trouble is, once that beautifully elegant plan meets reality, it falls apart. But instead of scrapping the plan, or the way they think about the plan, managers instead hire people to make it look as if the plan is working. Essentially, they’re paying people to lie to them.

Jeff Sutherland had worked on number of these big waterfall projects that inevitably failed to deliver and started looking for an alternative framework to manage teams. And through tons of research and experimentation and looking over past data Jeff realized that we all needed a new way of organizing human endeavour. Around 20 years back he came up with a new approach called Scrum. None of it is rocket science; it’s all been talked about before. There are studies going back to World War II that lay out some of the better ways that people work. But for some reason people never really put together all the pieces. Over the past two decades Jeff tried to do just that, and now this methodology has become ubiquitous in the software development. At giants such as Google, Amazon, and, and at small start-ups you haven’t heard of yet, this framework has radically shifted how people get things done.

At its root, Scrum is based on a simple idea: whenever you start a project, why not regularly check in, see if what you’re doing is heading in the right direction, and if it’s actually what people want? And question whether there are any ways to improve how you’re doing what you’re doing, any ways of doing it better and faster, and what might be keeping you from doing that.

Scrum has its roots in Japanese thought and practice. In Japan Scrum isn’t seen as the latest work fad. They regard it as a way of doing, a way of being, a way of life.

Scrum, like the Tango, is something that you can only really learn by doing. Your body and your mind and your spirit become aligned through constant practice and improvement. In the Japanese martial arts, there is a concept called Shu Ha Ri, which points to different levels of mastery. In the Shu state you know all the rules and the forms. You repeat them, like the steps in a dance, so your body absorbs them. You don’t deviate at all. In the Ha state, once you’ve mastered the forms, you can make innovations. Put an extra swing in your step down the dance floor. In the Ri state you’re able to discard the forms, you’ve truly mastered the practice, and you’re able to be creative in an unhindered way, because the knowledge of the meaning of the tango is so deeply embedded in you, your every step expresses its essence. Scrum is a lot like that. It requires practice and attention, but also a continuous effort to reach a new state—a state where things just flow and happen. If you’ve ever watched great dancers or gymnasts, you know that their motion can almost seem effortless, as if they’re doing nothing but simply being. They seem as if they couldn’t be anything else but what they are in that moment.

In Japan this approach to work was widely used in production lines of multiple conglomerates. Work doesn’t have to suck. It can be an expression of joy, an alignment toward a higher purpose. We can be better. We can be great! We just have to practice. Toyota was an early pioneer of this approach and Taichi Ohno detailed this philosophy in his classic book Toyota Production System.

One of the key concepts that Ohno introduced is the idea of “flow.” That is, production should flow swiftly and calmly throughout the process, and, he said, one of management’s key tasks is to identify and remove “impediments” to that flow. Everything that stands in the way is waste. Eliminating waste must be a business’s first objective. For Scrum to really take off, someone in senior management needs to understand in his bones that impediments are nearly criminal.

Another thing management needs to keep focus is on “value.” In software development there is a rule, borne out by decades of research, that 80 percent of the value in any piece of software is in 20 percent of the features. Making people prioritize by value forces them to produce that 20 percent first. Often by the time they’re done, they realize they don’t really need the other 80 percent, or that what seemed important at the outset actually isn’t.

The most important component of the Scrum is the “team.” Teams are what get things done in the world of work. There are teams that make cars, answer phones, do surgery, program computers, put the news on, and burst through the doors of apartments occupied by terrorists. Certainly, there are artisans or artists who do work by themselves, but teams are what make the world go ’round. And they’re what Scrum is based on. Everyone knows this, but in business we all too often focus solely on individuals, even if production is a team effort. Think of performance bonuses or promotions or hiring. Everything is focused on the individual actor, rather than the team. And that, it turns out, is a big mistake. Managers tend to focus on the individual because it makes intuitive sense. You want the best people, and people are different, so focus on getting the best performers, and you’ll get better results, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple. Somehow there are only a very few great teams, some examples are the Celtics of the 1980s or the New England Patriots of the Tom Brady era or Barcelona of early Messi era. When those teams were on, it seemed as if they were playing a different game than everyone else. That absolute alignment of purpose and trust is something that creates greatness. We’ve all seen those teams. Some of us have been lucky to be on one—or more than one—over the course of our lives. Some teams change the world, and others are mired in mediocrity? What are the common elements that truly great teams have? And, most important, can we reproduce them? These are the questions that kept Jeff awake at night, in his ongoing research he came across a seminal paper “The New Product Development Game,” by Professors Takeuchi and Nonaka where they described the characteristics of the teams they saw at the best companies in the world:

Transcendent: They have a sense of purpose beyond the ordinary. This self-realized goal allows them to move beyond the ordinary into the extraordinary. In a very real way the very decision to not be average, but to be great, changes the way they view themselves, and what they’re capable of.

Autonomous: The teams are self-organizing and self-managing, they have the power to make their own decisions about how they do their jobs, and are empowered to make those decisions stick.

Cross-Functional: The teams have all the skills needed to complete the project. Planning, design, production, sales, distribution. And those skills feed and reinforce each other. As one team member that designed a revolutionary new camera for Canon described it: “When all the team members are located in one large room, someone’s information becomes yours, without even trying. You then start thinking in terms of what’s best or second best for the group at large and not only where you stand.”

The Japanese professors compared the teams’ work to that of a rugby team and said the best teams acted as though they were in a scrum: “… the ball gets passed within the team as it moves as a unit up the field.

Jeff spent a lot of time pondering over the paper and went on to create a framework to form such high performing teams that aims for a higher goal, organizes itself, and constantly feeds off each member’s skills? After all, you can’t just yell at people to be more self-organized and transcendent; the motivation has to come from within. Imposing it will kill what you’re trying to do. Might there be a simple set of rules that encourage the formation of magic? Jeff worked with other like-minded individuals and then in 2001 conclave, Jeff and sixteen other leaders in software development wrote up what has become known as the “Agile Manifesto.” It declared the following values: people over processes; products that actually work over documenting what that product is supposed to do; collaborating with customers over negotiating with them; and responding to change over following a plan. Scrum is the framework Jeff built to put those values into practice. There is no methodology.

Scrum works by setting sequential goals that must be completed in a fixed length of time. In Scrum we call these cycles “Sprints.” At the beginning of each cycle there is a meeting to plan the Sprint. The team decides how much work they think they can accomplish during the next two weeks. They’ll take the work items off that prioritized list of things that need to be done and often just write them out on sticky notes and put them on the wall. The team decides how many of those work items they can get done during this Sprint. What Scrum does is bring teams together to create great things, and that requires everyone not only to see the end goal, but to deliver incrementally toward that goal. It’s management’s responsibility to set the strategic goals, but it’s the team’s job to decide how to reach those goals. Management didn’t even have to manage. Instead, team members managed themselves. Best teams are unselfish, autonomous and also cross-functional, they can get the whole project done. In Scrum there are no handoffs, Jeff had realised early on that whenever there are handoffs between teams, there is the opportunity for disaster.

But just because cross-functionality can achieve great results, you shouldn’t play Noah and throw two of everything into a team. The team dynamic only works well in small teams. The classic formulation is seven people, plus or minus two, though it has been seen that teams as small as three function at a high level. What’s fascinating is that the data shows that if you have more than nine people on a team, their velocity actually slows down. That’s right. More resources make the team go slower.

Also Scrum teams are self-managed but in practice Jeff noted that all teams needed someone whose job it was to make sure the process itself was effective. Not a manager—more of a servant-leader, something between a team captain and a coach and is formally known as “Scrum Master.” He or she would facilitate all the meetings, make sure there was transparency, and, most important, help the team discover what was getting in their way. The key part of that was to realize that often the impediments aren’t simply that the machine doesn’t work or that a team member is a jerk—it’s the process itself. It was the Scrum Master’s job to guide the team toward continuous improvement—to ask with regularity, “How can we do what we do better?

Time is the ultimate limiter of human endeavour, affecting everything from how much we work, to how long things take, to how successful we are. The relentless one-way flow of time fundamentally shapes how we view the world and ourselves. And so, in Scrum framework a Scrum Master embarks on what we call “Sprints.” These are called Sprints because the name evokes a quality of intensity. The idea is that team is going to work all out for a short period of time and then stop to see where they were. Scrum Master will facilitate task tracking through a board divided into a few columns: BacklogDoingDone. Each Sprint, team members put into the Backlog column as many Post-its as they think can get done that week. As the week goes by, a member of the team will take up one of those tasks and move the sticky to Doing. When it’s finished, it’ll get moved to Done. Everyone on the team can see what everyone else is working on at every moment. An important point: nothing gets moved to Done unless it can be used by the customer. Sprints are what are often called “time boxes.” They’re of a set duration. You don’t do a one-week Sprint and then a three-week Sprint. You have to be consistent. You want to establish a work rhythm where people know how much they can get done in a set period of time. Often that quantity surprises them. One crucial element of an individual Sprint, though, is that once the team commits to what they’re going to accomplish, the tasks are locked in. Nothing else can be added by anyone outside the team.

The Scrum Master, the person in charge of running the process gathers the team every morning into what is known as “Daily Stand-Ups” and asks each team member three questions:
1. What did you do yesterday to help the team finish the Sprint?
2. What will you do today to help the team finish the Sprint?
3. What obstacles are getting in the team’s way?
That’s it. That’s the whole meeting. If it takes more than fifteen minutes, you’re doing it wrong. What this does is help the whole team know exactly where everything is in the Sprint. Are all the tasks going to be completed on time? Are there opportunities to help other team members overcome obstacles? There’s no assigning of tasks from above—the team is autonomous; they do that. There’s no detailed reporting to management. Anyone in management or on another team can walk by and look at the Scrum board and know exactly where everything stands.

When Jeff started the first Scrum team in 1993, he didn’t have a Product Owner. Jeff was part of the leadership team and had a bunch of other responsibilities besides figuring out exactly what the team should do in each Sprint. The problem was, after the second Sprint Velocity went up 400 percent in the next Sprint, and the team finished in a week what they thought would take them a month. There was no more Backlog for them to work on! Jeff thought he’d have a month to create more “stories.” A great problem to have, admittedly, but one that had to be addressed. The difficult part isn’t figuring out what you want to accomplish; it’s figuring out what you can accomplish. The key is prioritizing the work. Jeff needed someone who can figure out both what the vision is, and where the value lies. In Scrum we call that person the Product Owner. The Product Owner decides what the work should be. He or she owns the Backlog, what’s on it, and, most important, what order it’s in. The Scrum Master is the how and the Product Owner is the what of Scrum.

According to Jeff there are four essential characteristics that make a successful product owner
One, the Product Owner needs to be knowledgeable about the domain. By this it mean two things: The Product Owner should understand the process the team is executing well enough to know what can be done and, just as important, what can’t.
Two, the Product Owner has to be empowered to make decisions. Just as management shouldn’t interfere with the team, the Product Owner should be given the leeway to make decisions about what the product vision will be, and what needs to be done to get there.
Three, the Product Owner has to be available to the team, to explain what needs to be done and why. While the Product Owner is ultimately accountable for the Backlog, there needs to be a constant dialogue with the team.
Four, the Product Owner needs to be accountable for value.

What Scrum does, by delivering a working increment, is give the Product Owner the ability to see how much value that increment creates, how people react to it. Then, based on that information, Product Owner can change what the team will do in the next Sprint. This sets up a constant feedback cycle that accelerates innovation and adaptation, and enables the Product Owner to measure how much value is delivered. Everyone works toward the same goal and with the same vision: deliver real value as fast as possible.

One element of Scrum that’s often a prelude to achieving autonomy, mastery, and purpose is transparency. The idea is that there should be no secret cabal, no hidden agendas, nothing behind the curtain. Far too often in a company it isn’t really clear what everyone is working on, or how each person’s daily activity advances the goals of the company. Because the team knows what has been done and what still needs to be done, they can regulate themselves. They know what they have to do, they can see if a colleague is in trouble, if a story has been in the Doing column too long. The team can self-organize to defeat problems that become obvious once everything is transparent. the more connected people are to other people at work, the happier they are—and, apparently, the more productive and innovative as well.

Scrum is not only about refining the team processes but also about changing the team mindset. Psychologists, including Harvard’s Ben-Shahar, say that one way to analyse how people approach the world is by asking whether what they’re doing makes them happy today, and whether it will make them happier tomorrow. This is a useful lens to look at people in work environments. People tend to fall into four types according to Ben-Shahar. The first type, the “Hedonist,” is someone who is doing what makes them happy right now. Tomorrow? Let tomorrow worry about tomorrow. I’ll just enjoy today. This kind of behaviour is seen a lot in start-ups: a bunch of people in the figurative garage just making stuff, because it’s cool and it’s fun. But there isn’t a lot of attention paid to creating a sustainable product. Very little mental energy is channelled into how this thing will be working in a month, let alone a year down the road. And what usually happens is that the investors in these guys get worried. So, they hire a bunch of managers to ride herd on the hackers. And, suddenly, the hackers find that the world they enjoyed so much now sucks. There are now all sorts of rules and tests and reports. It sucks today, and they think it will suck forever. Call them now the “Nihilists.” Then there are the guys who were brought in to run the place. They’re the ones willing to put in eighty-hour weeks (and willing to whip others to do so), because they think they’ll get promoted later, and they’ll be happier. Of course, when they do get promoted, they just have a new set of headaches to contend with that require more time. They enjoy the rat race. The fourth type of person is the one that Scrum tries to identify and encourage—the individual who is working at stuff that is fun today but has an eye toward a better future and who is convinced it will be fun forever. This sort of person rarely experiences burnout or disillusionment. He’s spared the negative feelings toward work suffered by the hedonists, the nihilists, and the rat-race-addicted managers who strive to make everybody toe the line. What Scrum does is promote a single, galvanizing mind-set. By having everyone work together, the team helps the hedonist look ahead, convinces the nihilist there is a future without whining, and tells those managers stuck in an unending rat race that there actually is a better way.

Scrum accelerates human effort—it doesn’t matter what that effort is. It does so because it’s an effective way to work but more so because it’s a happier way to work.

This article is also available at Tech Central, Ireland

– Tarun Rattan

Credits – Sutherland, Jeff; Sutherland, J.J. Scrum. Random House

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