Glass Ceiling – Broken or just Cracked?

Senator Clinton eloquently put it in her concession speech, “To all the little girls watching, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.” But the fact still remains that she lost!

Increasingly other data points to this “one step forward two steps backward“ meandering march that the diversity agenda is charting everywhere!

1. In USA, according to a McKinsey report ‘Women at Workplace’, for every 100 women promoted past entry level positions, 130 men are promoted

2. This same report indicates that more women than men asked for a raise, 29% compared to 27%

3. Gender imbalance has existed even on music charts. Although, today it is at a significant low

4. Yet another report suggests that number of women on the Board of Indian companies has gone up. And, the percentage change in the figure is highest in India across APAC.

The glass ceiling – that elusive barrier that keeps women out of upper management, is obviously still very much there. It might be cracked but it still needs a few more blows to be completely shattered.

What can be done here? Start a revolution? Absolutely not right now. Hold onto those ‘belan’ and ‘morcha’ thoughts though. We need small wins, incremental changes. Through the 60s, 70s, 80s women have led movements using radical protest marches and legal action to drive out discrimination. But most of the barriers that persist today are deeply ingrained – not the kinds that a revolution could blast away. These barriers are more subtle, more nuanced and therefore that much more dangerous – and they start young.

I loved BBC’s poignant expression of how kids view differences between each other – if you haven’t seen it yet, stop right where you are click here: We could all learn from these kids.

The adult in you will see the obvious and striking differences – different ethnicities, different levels of able-bodiedness, accents, gender. However the biggest differences the children see between themselves are whether or not they like tomato sauce or lettuce, or who talks more or less and who has “squirrels in his roof and who doesnt” !!!!

The video ends with a message, ‘When it comes to difference, children see things differently’.

Every child’s response is a strong reminder that discrimination is an evil bred in our society, and not something we are born with.

How did we even get here? What happened between childhood and adulthood?

As kids, we have an impressionable mind and start learning at as little as two years. Girls and boys start playing with kitchen sets to imitate their mothers, or toy cars to imitate their fathers. But soon enough, the boys get reprimanded – “go play ball outside”and girls are asked to sit indoors like dutiful Hindu cows, to “dream of their own pantry”. And foul, antediluvian prejudices get reinforced with pretty, fuchsia (read: blue for boys) coloured packaging to generate sayings like ‘like mother like daughter, like father like son’. What a shame.

The truth is that we’re all hard-wired to some form of gender discrimination at a very early age. We need to revisit that time in our lives when we first began to believe the bullshit that boys don’t cry and must be tall, and girls wear pretty frocks and must be fair. The one in distress is always the damsel, and the rescuer is always the knight. My personal favorite is when my son at age 6 told me he would grow up and marry someone exactly like me except with long hair! I was quite flummoxed with this outdated notion of beauty that he had, till I realized all the ads on TV for any beauty product invariably showed long lustrous haired models, accentuating repeatedly the preconception that long hair is a sign of beauty if not a joy forever!

Indeed if all parents had believed that playing sports ( and that too, god forbid, in shorts ! ) would ensure their daughters became dark/never got married/were perceived as women of loose morals/wouldn’t know how to cook and so on, we wouldn’t be raising a toast to our womens’ cricket team reaching the finals today!!

So to all the ladies out there who wear the pants and the frocks – raise a toast to yourself. And try to remember that while you may have been the damsel, you’re also your own knight!

Only dead fish go with the flow!

The recent Wonder Woman movie is a rage, both at the box office, and critic ratings. It has, in fact, gone on to become DC’s highest grossing movie. Kudos Gal Gadot! What struck me the most about the movie is the fact that Diana returns, finally, to a home, satisfied in knowing the truth of who she is.

And the key word here is satisfied ! How many of us are truly content with who we are?  Being comfortable in your own skin, ironically, is very uncomfortable. And, unfortunately women end up having the maximum amount of self doubt. The mind of a woman dressing up for work, for college, or even for a morning run, is less potpourri, more pandemonium. Can I carry off this shade of lipstick? Does the back of my blouse seem low? Is a sleeveless top appropriate for class? Will the shorts ride up during the run? If Wonder Woman questioned her outfit this much, she’d be fighting crime in a Teletubby suit!

And, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If we compiled all the doubts women have about themselves into a book, we’d have a new record for the ‘lengthiest book written in history’.

While I have nothing against being self doubting Thomasinas, since self doubt is very good for the soul and makes all of us better (and more humble) human beings; in the corporate world, being tentative is a strict no–no. As a consequence of this, women often assume that it’s outrageous to ask for a raise, double promotion, scholarship or volunteer for the challenging assignment or the next role. And we hesitate to ask for support from family, friends – because God forbid, ‘meri wajah se kisiko taklif hogi’ (I will be a cause of worry for someone close). All this ends up holding us back, and we end up boxing ourselves in a tight corner all of our own making!

Tentativeness gets seen as not only a lack of confidence but also as an inability to raise the bar, to accept challenges at work and deliver desired results!

To be fair – there have been some stray glimmers of hope in recent times. Not enough to make a revolution happen, but enough to get me excited. Increasingly around me I see for example, so many single women who are leading life on their own terms. They have CHOSEN not to get married not because they didn’t have opportunities but because they preferred either a solitary, self dependent life-style , or had selected a satisfying career which gave them complete fulfilment or they chose to focus on other pursuits beyond the normal ‘college-marriage -2.5 kids’ routine. One of our highest performing sales heads is a single woman from a fairly traditional background who starts her day by saying “hum jahan se khade hotein hain line wahin se shuru hoti hai” She has worked in the most difficult of markets, with extremely challenging clients in highly stressful environments and delivered stellar results. Some of the markets which she regularly visits have starkly retrograde views on women and there she goes with a  song and a whistle on her lips,confidently and nonchalantly!

However to convert these aberrations into a fast paced change, women need to fight their inner demons and become their own versions of Wonder Woman. The world deserves to see you in your full glory. The one who is comfortable in her own skin, will kick the s#!t out of biases, claim what is rightfully hers and enjoy a big piece of the cake – with both hands!

As a parting note, I would like to share this very moving speech from Theodore Roosevelt, titled ‘The Man in the Arena’. Tip – feel free to read it as ‘The Woman in the Arena’.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the (wo)man who points out how the strong (wo)man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the (wo)man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends (her)himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if (s)he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that (her) his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Plan B

Nobody seems to have a Plan B in their lives these days. And certainly not the younger generation for sure!

While traveling to school, we used to be given extra money for auto fare in case the bus didn’t come, and back up money to be hidden in an inner pocket just in case we lost the auto fare, and the telephone number to be used in the eventuality that both the bus didn’t come and the money got lost; and finally just to be safe the address of a distant cousin who stayed near the school in case all the above plans failed! So forget having just Plan B; at the drop of the proverbial hat, we had Plans C, D and E ready!

In stark contrast when young son and heir was zipping his way up and down the US in his undergraduate days; a country which at last count was 11645 miles and several time zones away from home, I was horrified to discover that he was traversing aforesaid miles/zones with just a credit card in his pocket and an attitude of complete insouciance. When I tried to explain the need to carry some cash in one pocket and some back-up in the bag and the telephone number of the aunt in Brussels, I was told that I was being unnecessarily hysterical and paranoid!

Reaching the airport just in time to board the flight, not checking 7 times whether the restaurant has indeed booked the table in our name, expecting the cook to be there on time and therefore making plans for the hour immediately after he finishes cooking is a very common part of the narrative of our children’s lives.

And maybe they are justified in their thinking.

When we were growing up it was in the milieu of an economically un-awakened and inefficient socialist environment. The new television, bought with such excitement, inevitably had something rattling inside it and did not work, the heel fell off your sandal after the first day of wearing it, the telephone needed to be dialed several times to get the connection through (though that still hasn’t changed courtesy Airtel and Vodafone), the Fiat car always stopped embarrassingly at the signal and one had to get out to push it right in front of the smirking neighbors and no one ever reached anywhere on time. Not the electrician, nor the carpenter and certainly not your cousin from Ludhiana! The philosophy clearly was- if it can stop working, it will! So you always kept extra ice in your neighbor’s fridge, 2 water buckets filled up as back up and dedicated a whole day’s leave to wait for the plumber on the 50% probability that he would turn up while valiantly reading DIY manuals as Plan B! Contingency plans for every eventuality were always in place, including back up hand written acetates for the slide presentation.

Life is certainly far more efficient now and increasingly requires fewer standbys. And maybe one of the key catalysts has been the new, young consumer pushing and expecting everyone around her including her service providers to be more proficient. An ultimatum we did not drive because of the low benchmarks we had set for ourselves and those around us?



Of old friends and cozy blankies

I had occasion to go for a dear friend’s son’s wedding recently. Yes! The decade of attending children’s weddings has well and truly begun!

As we spent the three days in fun and frolic (in a sedate manner let me hasten to add, given the decade I am referring to) it was almost as if I saw the last 25 years of my corporate life go past in a series of bioscopic pictures. Click: That’s my first chief and manager, looking far more diminutive than the larger than life person in my memory. Click: And there’s the obnoxious client turned good friend circa 1992. Click: OMG is that middle aged gentleman an erstwhile boyfriend? I can’t be that old! Click: Oh look – Descending to envelop me in a warm, perfumed hug is my husband’s ex boss’s wife who had decided long ago that she was my boss by association as well.

In those three days, I met up with so many people who had been part of some pattern in the tapestry of the last many years that it was quite overwhelming. Some people had remained close friends and some had condensed to passing acquaintanceship after an intense bout of interaction in a joint task. Then there were some I had lost touch with, though seeing them tickled a half-forgotten memory surprising me with the intensity of its recall.

The moments reminded me of the warm reassuring feeling you get when you have that childhood blanket wrapped around you or your favorite old pillow all squished into your unique shape next to you. All of us a bit run down and slightly worn now, but supremely comfortable with each another. No one felt the need to posture or hide that wrinkle or wipe the smudge. Because after all what can you hide from buddies who were part of those long bygone days when we still hadn’t yet learnt to hide the psychological freight of insecurity behind a façade, who had seen our zits at close quarters and watched us make our clumsy way through a new experience every day.

It was exhilarating, surprisingly emotive and equally comforting all at the same time! So here’s to old friends and older blankies! May they continue adding to the coziness all of us need sometimes in our lives.

Why Men Stretch the Truth!

We were driving into Chennai from Bangalore for a wedding last weekend, and the journey which was supposed to take around 5 hours, took 7 hours instead. This was because dear husband does not believe in maps, GPS, Google or in signposts. He tells me he relies on his inner compass, much like the homing instinct which birds use to get back to their nesting grounds. Well, all I can say is that we would be seeing Siberian cranes anywhere else but in Siberia, if their instinct was anything like my husband’s!

So naturally we nearly reached Cochin before we figured out that we had overshot the Chennai turn off by at least 100 miles and then we had to back track all the way. To make matters worse, we had his bosom buddy travelling with us, and both of them insisted on recounting sordid tales of their youth, getting nostalgic on old songs, and reminiscing about some PYTS they had both known throughout the long journey. The intensity of the discussions would peak at the crucial juncture when we had to take a vital life-or-death type of call on where to turn at the roundabout and because they were so involved in their conversation, invariably we would end up missing the correct turning!

Since I am such a good wife publicly, I could only seethe within but not without. And thus I spent most of the journey having very detailed and exhaustive mental conversations with my husband, on all the garden paths he had led us up, both real and figuratively, in the last two decades because of this pathological dislike of asking for directions!

As time started flying faster than the miles to Chennai, and we inched inexorably past my lunch time which everyone knows is sacrosanct, my temper started rising in conjunction with the drop in my sugar levels. Slightly belligerently therefore, I asked the buddy how far away we were from our destination. He promptly responded, “6 minutes”. I immediately cheered up at the proximity of being fed and quietly packed away the salvos, which I could in any case use some other day!

Half an hour passed and we still hadn’t reached. A couple more queries elicited “Almost there” from the buddy perplexing me further. Now if dear husband had given me these answers, I would surely have figured out that there was something fishy in the fair city of Chennai! But the buddy wouldn’t fib to me, now would he?

But apparently, dear buddy’s antenna had honed into the pent up feelings swirling dervish-like in the car (no doubt having experienced much the same whilst travelling with his own wife) and to defuse the tension and save his friend’s skin had made our destination appear closer than it actually was!

The ease with which the ‘6 mins’ rolled off his tongue continues to amaze me even now and I realize that this stretching of the truth, to put it elegantly, seems to be a special knack that men have. For example, just recently a colleague was wisely explaining to me that he chooses to announce that he is off on an official trip, only a couple of days prior to the trip, rather than when it gets planned a month earlier, so as to limit the recriminations from his wife who currently is taking care of a small baby at home!

On deep introspection, I have come to realize that this is an essential part of the survival kit that men need to be born with in order to deal with women, and between you and me, I sort of understand! Maybe! What do you think?

Foster Baby

Winston -Tinku flew off yesterday and once again I felt the pangs of being an empty nester!

For the last few months, I have watched with great interest a pair of hawks diligently building a nest just outside my window, then laying an egg, sitting patiently over it for several weeks taking turns to keep it warm, till one fine day a little baby hawk emerged from it.

I christened him Tinku but according to my son he looked quite rakish (see that spiked tuft of hair on his head giving him a dashing look ?) and thus he became Winston – Tinku.

Little Winston Tinku

Little Winston Tinku

Over the last months it has been quite a delightful experience watching him grow at such close quarters, with only a window pane separating us. I have seen him change from a shivering little helpless chick, requiring a parent’s body to even keep him warm, to a fat waddling baby, perpetually hungry, waiting eagerly for the return of his parents ,trembling with excitement as he greedily devoured whatever tasty morsels they got for him.

I have watched him as he has slowly grown into a teenager strutting around the parental nest , admiring his beautiful wings and the lovely speckled markings on his body, testing out the strength in his wings, waiting to finally fly off into the wide open sky beckoning him to take part in the adventure of life. Over a period of time I saw him grow increasingly impatient and also bored with his forced stationary status, one day lolling about in the nest looking petulant , on another day eagerly staring up at the sky waiting to take off.

Till finally one day he did.

Teenage Indolence

Teenage Indolence

And while their baby was growing up , I also saw the patience his parents showed in first building that nest on the ledge , making sure it was robust enough to handle any gusts of wind, and then sitting on the egg day after day, week after week till it hatched. I also saw the effort they took in searching far and wide for food by turn while the other parent ferociously guarded the baby. And finally I saw the courage they showed in leaving him alone, for longer and longer periods each time as they learnt to let him go.

Ready to fly

Ready to fly

But what got me truly thinking is the calm acceptance both parent hawks showed in taking equal responsibility in hunting and nurturing; equally participating in building the nest, hatching the egg and feeding the baby! No gender biases or ‘You- caregiver, Me-hunter’ issues there!

Now I only wish human beings would take a leaf out of a hawk’s life …

(Pictures by Avinash Nair )

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O my online delivery – whither thou?

Sheepishly but openly, I hereby admit to all of you that I am an extremely new entrant on to the online shopping bandwagon. In fact I was quite shocked to find out recently that Flipkart sells zillions of other things apart from books on the internet!

Whilst daringly baring all, I may as well let you know that this jump onto the digital bandwagon happened more out of necessity rather than any deep desire to be a part of the biggest revolution of this century. Left to my own devices I would very happily be shopping the traditional way; at kirana stores, Pali market, and the vegetable vendor on the road side and at Commercial Street.

But as I said, I was catapulted into the midst of this online uprising by circumstances thrust on me and quite beyond my control. What happened is as follows;

One day, in one of my infrequent albeit feverish desires to ‘bring in the new and throw out the old’, I decided to get rid of the Milton casserole which has been valiantly doing its job of keeping our rotis warm for the last 20 years. However, despite several attempts, I just couldn’t find a shop which sells items like casseroles. The last time I had come in contact with these infernal objects was at my wedding where literally everyone and I mean everyone, gave us casseroles as wedding gifts! And we had shifted into our house with a kitchen that was bereft of essentials like frying pans and serving dishes but stuffed to the brim with casseroles of every size and shape! I think probably that was when they went out of stock and have never been replenished in the market ever since! Because, as I told you, twenty five years down the line I was unable to find any shop which stocked them. I was grumbling about this at work one day when a bright spark in my office suggested I try buying it online.

So one sunny Sunday morning, I woke up early, got my computer, phone, charger, and credit card all lined up and went ahead and did exactly that. Surprisingly it ended up being quite a simple procedure I must say.

However little did I realize that the fun was just about to begin! Immediately within the first 20 secs of placing the order, I got a congratulatory mail, cheering me on by announcing in capital letters that I WAS SOON TO BECOME THE PROUD OWNER OF A CLASSIC AND UNIQUE CASSEROLE! 30 secs later followed another mail which told me that I would be informed shortly, when I was going to be blessed with the arrival of the casserole. The next missive in glowing and self-congratulatory terms, gushed “THE CASSEROLE HAS BEEN DISPATCHED” Yet another notification implied coyly that my life was never going to be the same again after the casserole arrived! Thereafter mail after mail inundated my inbox, with every second of the dispatch process being communicated to me, each time with an increasing amount of excitement and hysteria!

By the 22nd mail even I had started getting breathless with excitement at the thought of owning the casserole and soon the entire household was in a frenzy of anticipation waiting to behold the miracle that was soon going to unfold in our house when the package arrived!

“Modom is it Apurva Modom? “ I got a call on the momentous day the casserole was finally going to descend on us in all its heavenly glory. ”Yes? “, I said. “Modom , Iddliappam, veranukam , delivery address vereitisss ?” said the voice . “Eh excuse me? “ I responded. “Modom ,IDDLIAPPAM , DELIVERY OUSE VERITISSSSS?” repeated the voice loudly . He was obviously speaking some dialect of Swahilise- Tamil. I was about to type in the words in Google -Translate when it dawned on me that it was THE DAY! “Oh, courier?” I hazarded a guess “Ok, ok let me give you the address – Do you know the Hockey stadium? “No” said the voice grumpily “Umm, Do you know TV 9 office? “No”. “Accha, do you know Richmond Town at least?” I was getting exasperated by the minute. “No” said the voice accusingly and with great finality. “I am sure you know where Bangalore is?” Sarcastically I asked, with a mounting temper. “Yuss” the voice agreed sounding pleased with itself.

Holding tightly onto the thought of the much awaited casserole, I valiantly and repeatedly, explained over the next 15 minutes, where in the fair city of Bangalore, the voice (and the dispatched casserole) could find me. Finally the voice proclaimed “Ok Modom , keriavartania clearadiya cominga, thank you” and I heaved a sigh of relief!

It’s now been seven days and I am still waiting …..

Dear Men, On this Women’s Day….

Do me a favor. Don’t give the women in your life flowers, chocolates, inane messages on whatsapp , or diamonds ( ok ok I’ll make an exception on diamonds). Instead make an effort to listen to them, or better still, make an effort to ask them to speak up!

A McKinsey report, rather poignantly, for a research document, points out that 76% of men at middle management levels believe that they will reach the top, versus 58% women with exactly the same experience, talent and skill set! This under -confidence that women have, despite doing well, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in their successful ascent up the career ladder. And it lies like a serpent in their bosoms, waiting to strike at any moment; when the teacher asks a question in class, when they are sitting in the board room at an all-male table, when they are asked by their bosses to take up an assignment at a higher level, even when they have to negotiate for a salary hike.

However bright she may be, a woman is far more tentative than a man in literally every corporate environment and who can blame her? For her entire life she has been asked to be the silent and invisible gender. “A girl should not talk loudly, laugh boisterously, draw attention to herself, etc” was a message constantly drilled into her head while her brother could be as flamboyant and conspicuous as possible. Maybe it was in parts a desire in her parents to keep her safe by making her as less noticeable as possible or maybe in any case a girl’s opinion counted for so little that it was better she kept quiet?

Women were all made to feel and be lesser than themselves, and occupy as small a place under the sky; no wonder this has made them unsure about themselves and even if they know better they often choose to remain silent!

I remember a dear friend, once telling me that when he was the Chief Honcho at one of the largest research firms of those days, he would inform all the women in his team, that they were to visualize he had a ruler in his hand which he would whack them with, if they did not open their mouth during client meetings!

A rather tough love approach to solving the problem but one that I totally subscribe to! So if you are really sincere about wanting to give a gift to the women in your team, at home or at work, help them speak up!

Happy Women’s Day!

The Finger of Fidelity

Apparently scientists and researchers have made a stunning discovery recently that fidelity in humans, depends on the length of their ring finger in proportion to the index finger!

While the obvious irony, that it is the finger which is normally used to display the universal symbol of holy matrimony, has been identified as the culprit for faithlessness is certainly a point to ponder on; I am quite impressed by the time and effort all these great minds have put in to discover this breathtaking correlation.

A sneaky part of my brain does wonder as to why they didn’t have anything better to do with their considerable intellect, but at least this matter which has been plaguing us for centuries, has been laid to rest once and for all. Hallelujah!

So now all we have to do is check out the ring finger of all potential candidates for the husband slot, quickly identify, and just as promptly reject the potential stray-ers! Every suspicious wife can now sleep easy in her bed, finally able to cease her hitherto ceaseless speculation if the husband works late or comes back smelling of a lady’s perfume, secure in the knowledge that his ring finger clearly indicates that everything is above board!

And all a poor hen pecked husband has to do, is to raise his ring finger as an emblem of his honesty almost like the white flag of peace, every time the guns of distrust are aimed at him and the wife will transform to believing that the lipstick mark on his collar was accidentally made when a clumsy old lady bumped into him in the metro!

Think how easy this research has made it for all of us – to live, to love and to wed (and remain in the blissful state thereafter) provided we repose our faith in the length of the ring finger!

I sincerely applaud the scientists who have given us this momentous insight and as a result done immense service to mankind, womankind and the blessed state of wedlock.

Now having given us this information after so many years of hard work can the good scientists also develop in us the chromosome of trust to believe in this research?

Oh and by the way, the breaking news is that yet another set of esteemed scientists are ready with one more path breaking research on the personality of cockroaches! Hey Bhagwan!

Where have all the adults gone?

“My 16 year old daughter and I often wear each other’s clothes” says a 40 something acquaintance smugly, simpering at herself and her toned, lithe and spandexed image in the mirror, as we both stand next to each other in the ladies’ loo at the wedding we are attending. “My 18 year old and I are buddies first”, says another friend as he comes bounding towards us at a get-together a few days later, “Isn’t that true, son? Give me a high five” The poor child raises his hand in a desultory fashion and gets an enthusiastic clap from his grinning dad.

Everywhere I look today I see this thirsting desire to drink from the fountain of eternal youth and somehow touch the Philosopher’s stone otherwise known as botoxing , mentally remaining young, or being in touch with one’s inner child, in popular parlance!

In the continuing desire to maximize their youth and stretch the time they can continue to have “ fun”, couples today are either not having children or the job of parenting is getting outsourced to grandparents or to the school or to the live in help. Every party I attend, or afternoon lunch I go out to, I see ladies wearing tight tiny dresses which would have been more appropriate for a teenager, never mind varicose veins and lumpy thighs, and men who wear hoodies and compete with their sons at play station games and still hold onto their prized collection of toy cars and soldiers.

Personally I have nothing against people who are refusing to grow up and are firmly taking forward the maxim of 40 is the new 20 and 60 the new 40. Indeed recently for an entire period of a fortnight I religiously used a well- known brand’s night rejuvenating cream with a touching faith in its advertised abilities to make me look 26 again!

While I thoroughly applaud the sentiment and the effort that is being put behind the quest for eternal youth, equally I worry unceasingly about its outcome.

For if all of us become our children’s friend, who will become their teacher? Who will discipline them and teach them right from wrong? Who will show them the meaning of doing one’s duty and fulfilling one’s obligations? An important part of becoming an adult is accepting responsibility for ourselves and our actions and taking accountability for whatever is happening to us and around us. If we ourselves refuse to grow up and continue to see life as a party where somebody else takes the responsibility for clearing up the mess after us; how will our children learn to be any different?

In a world whose continuing desire is to be cool and young and irreverent, responsibility and duty will increasingly be seen as boring and serious. Can we really afford to boot out the solemnity that should accompany every promise we need to make and commitment we need to keep ?

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