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Indian Literature > Review of a novel India was One -by An Indian

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message 1: by Biswanath (new)

Biswanath Banerjee | 137 comments Generation Y may not ever realize how it bleeds when your country is partitioned-wired fences going straight through your home and right through your hearts. It is very hard to make them realize what partition did mean to the people of India-especially in this era of LPG (liberaralization, privatization, and globalization). That extremely difficult task has been accomplished with extreme ease by An Indian in his novel India Was One.
The prologue of the story is a bit dramatic where Jai and Kahani-our protagonists of the story are found so near, standing side by side in two adjacent hills, yet so far-they are now from two different countries. The portrayal of their appearances and their state of mind is emotional and can easily touch your heart.
The curtain of the story is lifted in a monsoon season, under overcast sky, with light drizzle, around a canteen in a Mumbai college campus area. If you wonder it’s a perfect recipe for a romance to develop-then you’re quite right. But what amazes us, is the framing of the environment, like an artist the author has drawn an immaculate landscape of the wet weather all around. Narrative in his, own language is as followed-
“A few students were walking hurriedly towards the college under an umbrella, while some were wearing hooded jackets with their bellies looking big from the books they had tucked inside their jackets. Others were holding newspapers to cover their heads and had folded the legs of their trousers to keep them from getting wet as they tip-toed around the puddles that had formed. Some hawkers were selling hot fritters in a top covered cart open from all sides. Steam emanated from their woks as the wet battered bhaji hit the hot oil, making a sizzling sound. As soon as they came out of the frying pan, the hawker sprinkled them with a generous portion of dry spices. A few customers were savoring
them while the others were just taking the shelter of their covered carts to stay dry.”
Campus pictures, senior versus junior conflict, bunking of lectures, canteen hang outs are all wonderfully penned down by the author. Splashes of revealing of cultural diversity that made India so unique gives the campus life a new dimension. It’s like a mini India-where the main theme is unity in diversity, where the role players (students, of course) are culturally, mentally and linguistically so different-yet one invisible thread tied them together. In this conducive environment, the romance between our central characters flowed like a stream-well, it’s not wild storm, but a gentle, cool breeze. The story gains momentum with a trekking journey from Mumbai to Matheran, a romantic evening at Khandala and a memorable train journey from Mumbai to Bhabnagar. Descriptions are vivid, but the speed of the story is thoroughly maintained. However one thing we’ll like to mention-author might have taken some more freedom to describe the ‘rustic’ India during the train journey narrative.
There is a detailed description of a cricket match between two arch rivals-India and Pakistan, which forms the plinth of the next chapter. Description is detailed –too long, that sometimes we got afraid that the flow of the story might get struck. Another point-why the match is always between India and Pakistan? And why always Pakistan always loose? It is expected that a powerful columnist like An Indian will explore with some liberty in framing such cricket matches. Every nook and corner of the beautiful game has been explored testifying the fact that the author must be an avid fan of cricket.
There is a perfect framing of the Hindu way of marriage-a colorful marriage that has mesmerized the world with its culture and tradition for centuries. The honeymoon trip of our central characters is themed in Rajasthan. It’s not an easy task describing the picturesque state-with sand dunes, forts, camel safaris, wonderful dress, culture, sun sets, and ethnicity. But that has been crafted by the author with the skill of a master craftsman.
The story flows like a fountain-from marriage to honeymoon then return to Mumbai, then flying to the U.S.A, working of Jai in a corporate environment ,Kahani turning out to be a ‘skilled’ housewife-all pointing to the ‘they lived happily ever after’ type conclusion, until a news in the CNN stormed through their life.
What was the news? What effect did it have-not only to their lives, but to the billions of Indian? Will they be able to live together? will they ever be able to unite again? What will be the ultimate fate?
Hold your breathe! You have to read this classy novel in order to get all the answers. A contemporary fact like attack on Taj Mumbai has been described. Removal of fences along the border by the citizen reminds us of the removal of Berlin wall. Plight and suffering of common men, due to partition has come alive through description. The turmoil, the despair, the perplexity all painted –reminds us some of the classic works like Cracking India or Train to Pakistan.
No doubt that with a strong storyline and a crispy, palatable way of storytelling makes the novel an enjoyable one, but more than that the novel is a realization. What makes India-the land, sea, mountain, river or the ethnic diversity or the cultural cross difference or different states with apparently no similarity at all? The conclusion of the story tells you all
“You can travel the length and breadth of India, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Mumbai to Kolkota, and not see a single Indian. You will see Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians Jains, Buddhists, etc. You will see Maharashtrians, Gujaratis, UPites Biharis, Bengalis, Tamils, Telugus, Malayalis, etc.
Or you will see Indians.”
Will we ever say proudly-‘I’m an indian?’
We’re sure that in near future we’ll be able to see more of his works.
If you want to read India, it’s a must read for you.


message 2: by Paul (new)

Paul Mohan | 8 comments LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR
By Paul Mohan Roy

Love thy Neighbour
R.Paul Mohan Roy

True to their south Indian tradition Mr. and Mrs. Iyer started searching a suitable marriage alliance to their daughter, Hemalatha Iyer, when she completed her bachelor’s degree. She was then twenty. The surname Iyer — the caste label — got tagged to her name when her father admitted her into a Delhi college. It evoked laughter and ridicule among her friends at Chennai, and however much Hema regretted, it got stuck to the records and she was always called Miss. Iyer.
When Hema reached twenty two Mr. Iyer was worried about his daughter’s marriage. It became a father’s anxiety and he shared it with his wife and friends: ‘Is she not old enough to be given in marriage’? Hema was curiously observing all the details of the family’s search for a suitable groom according to her mother’s terms and her father’s preferences.
‘Are you not old enough to find your man’? Her Delhi friends would tease her. In Delhi it was possible and quite acceptable too, Hema knew, but it was something unthinkable to her parents hailing from an orthodox family in South Tamil Nadu. The family believed all marriages should be fixed on the basis of stars and their conjunctions in horoscope. Hema was often reminded by her mother a marriage outside their professed caste (Smartha Brahmin) and sub-caste (Iyer) would bring pollution, and it may even invite wrath of the gods
Mrs. Iyer was particular her daughter’s horoscope should match with the groom’s, perfectly, and their family astrologer in Chennai should say OK. Accordingly, horoscopes were received from well-wishers, referred to the astrologer and received back, all first glanced at by Mr. Iyer and then left to Hema’s mother for a final decision, who put most of them ‘under consideration’, a safe way to say rejected.
Hema’s marriage was the central theme in their daily evening conversation and it became a routine after-dinner ritual. The father would grow eloquent over his daughter’s achievements in school and college: her meritorious pass, her medals and prizes in several competitions. The mother was proud of her daughter’s accomplishments: Hema’s fair-as-a-fairy skin colour and her culinary expertise, the two much-talked about marriage criteria among the Tamils. Often she would say that God Himself was in search of a groom to Hema. God, she believed, would bring the man at the right time. To clinch a suitable match one has to wait patiently was the mother’s refrain. Mr. Iyer listened to his wife’s fanciful preferences and rejections, patiently, since he knew he’d no say in the subject. To Hema it became sickening and in the course of time, she slowly withdrew when the topic was marriage.
While speaking of horoscope-matching, Mrs. Iyer insisted on a maximum-point star configuration, to reach a final deal. She was telling her friends that her daughter’s Mangal, according to the Chandra lagan chart, was sitting in the seventh house, which meant the Mangala dosha formed by Mars may delay the marriage. Though delayed, the mother made her husband believe the much-awaited groom may spring from the next street.
Whenever a horoscope showed a near-perfect match, she would say the boy had too many siblings which meant Hema would have to live in a large extended family of in-laws, a life she herself detested, the reason why she persuaded her husband to move to Delhi. If an only son’s horoscope was brought and found matching, even before the astrologer’s opinion, she would say Hema should have a minimum of one sister-in-law to flaunt about the love of her own family. When all the planetary positions were favourable the astrologer’s approving word was negated on newer grounds: Either the boy’s family belonged to a step below their social status or demanded jewels by way of dowry — diamonds and gold — beyond their means. Hema remembered her mother’s seldom-used ornaments kept in a bank locker, but still believed her statement.
As time was not waiting for the mother’s perfect choice Hema was growing and reached twenty four. The father wondered why his wife stalled all the proposals under one pretext or other. When he realized he’d no way to understand his wife’s wisdom on matrimonial issues he took a different decision in the interest of his daughter: He admitted Hema in St. Stephen’s college Delhi for a master’s programme in management studies.
To Hema there was no end to husband-waiting days. She was happy to be a student once again and away from the mother’s recollections of marriages in orthodox families and how and on what grounds they were negotiated. That all such marriages endured was her coda, Hema was forced to believe. Meanwhile the father didn’t give up his discrete search for a prospective son-in-law.
One day, he brought home his colleague and his son for evening tea. Mrs. Iyer was clever enough to understand her husband’s intent. She served south Indian snacks and coffee in a matter-of-fact way, wearing a gloomy face and keeping a low profile. Hema was detained in the kitchen, away from the visitors’ sight, though she succeeded in stealing a sneak preview of the handsome man. The mother managed the scene as if she was not aware of the callers’ purpose. They had talked everything under the sun, their office and their lady bosses, laughed a little on often-repeated jokes, and pretended that the coffee gave a real south Indian taste, but not about Hema or her marriage. The young man and his gentleman-father left disappointed, without seeing Hema.
“Does not the boy look good? Did not you notice he is handsome — he is an MBA — and is in a good job with an MNC? They are from Kolkata”, the father said and opened the topic during the dinner, carefully avoiding the word marriage.
“Shiva, Shiva! So you’re ready to dump our daughter just like that into a fish-eating Kolkata family. Oh! Heavens forbid. What amount of pollution it’ll bring into our family? All through our generations we’ll be polluted”, Mrs. Iyer yelled at the top of her voice. She was adept at inventing new reasons to reject a proposal, but this time she became blunt and her sharp half-chewed words spurted out rapidly. They stung her husband. She was wrangling, back and forth, on the perceived ill effects of marrying a Kolkata Brahmin. Mr. Iyer lapsed into silence and went into his room.
Hema was wondering how her father was tolerating such whimsically delivered nonsense. Her mother’s line of reasoning was a mystery. Pitying her father, Hema retired to bed.
The father was worried about his daughter’s plight at the hands of his wife. That night he didn’t sleep. Around three in the morning he developed breathing trouble, felt pain in his chest, a heart attack perhaps, first a mild one followed by a second massive one. Hema and her mother rushed him to a nearby hospital only to be told he was brought dead. He was fifty seven, three years away from retirement.
For the better part of her life, Mrs. Iyer lived in the luxury of wielding a self-assumed authority on the family, over her husband and two daughters. She took it for granted that her husband would live for hundred years. She never dreamt an event like this would turn her widow overnight. The widows in her long extended family, there were three generations of them, paraded before her eyes, the elder ones with shaven heads. She shuddered to think she too had joined those family outcastes.
The dead man’s body was laid on the floor. Mourners were few, the friends and colleagues of Mr. Iyer. The last rites associated with the disposal of the dead were brief, but heavy. Mrs. Iyer felt the void. She’d no strength to cry. The present became meaningless, the future bleak.
Hema was shell shocked. She could not imagine her father was dead. She’d not thought death would be so sudden and quick to steal him away and leave her at the mercy of an un-loving and un-lovable mother.
The fish-eating Kolkata Brahmin neighbour and his son were among the mourners, of whom the mother later told Hema that their very first entry into the house not only polluted the house but they’d also brought death to their doors. Hema could not believe it. Even as a mourner the young man, with no name to remember, looked handsome.
Days of mourning were heavy with silence and noise. Mrs. Iyer and her daughter were confronted with the same questions from the mourners to all of which they gave the same reply mechanically: The father was healthy; he was not ill till the last day; he’d a sudden attack; the doctors had nothing much to revive a dead man. Death as an exit door, some philosophized is a gift from God.
It took her several days to understand the problems posed by the turn of events. Her father’s friends and colleagues helped to sort out the issues. But some frankly opened the old stories: that Mr. Iyer was too soft towards his wife; that it was his wife’s fault which drove his elder daughter to elope with the neighbour’s son; that Mrs. Iyer was inwardly happy because she was uniquely placed to retain her family jewellery intact.
Hema now remembered her sister with her Punjabi husband, standing near the dead body of her father. The dead had such power to restore relationships among the living, Hema thought. How such a young and handsome Punjabi would bring pollution was her unanswered question. Pity it didn’t strike her mother, she kept thinking. The mother did not dare to look at her first daughter and her husband who she thought had brought misfortune to the family. The mother didn’t even recognize her presence. The sister hugged Hema for a good while and the two had a brief moment to themselves, to weep and shed tears in privacy. They consoled themselves and shared a strong faith that the father was living in their collective memory.
Among the few relatives who came to visit the Iyers, Mrs. Iyer’s sister’s daughter Paru — Parvathy was her name — stayed back. Paru was a school dropout, a girl in her late teens, round and chubby and looked more mature for her age. She was detained on Mrs. Iyer’s promise of some sort of higher education, and possibly some small job in Delhi. It remained a promise, not even remembered to act upon. Instead Paru ended up being a message bearer between Hema and her mother and an unpaid domestic help, ever since Mrs. Iyer fell ill and confined to bed after the death of her husband.
The mother stopped talking of Hema’s marriage, for she said that it was taboo during the period of mourning which should last one full year.
Hema completed her master’s degree with good credits, found a job with a fat pay pocket and liberal perks and felt more secure and independent. She came to grips with the harsh realities, a sickly mother and a young cousin sister to take care of, amidst her own womanly desires and dreams of a married life. Her mother’s feigned words of care and love Hema started to ignore, and she was confident of meeting her man as her sister did to the envy of her mother.
The father’s death was a challenge to Hema. But her mother felt she was pushed into a cloistered wilderness from which there was no escape route. Days became silly abbreviated number of months and years and Hema was ageing.

Hema moved into a new house she bought in the posh South Delhi, allotted a little room to her mother to live all by herself, and rode a Maruti to her office. She was now twenty nine smart and free, still marriageable and away from her mother’s watchful eyes.
On her thirtieth birthday Hema noticed a couple of grey hairs sprouting above her left ear, which she was able to hide by pulling down a patch of dark hair, but not from her mind. That day their family astrologer cum match-maker from Chennai called on the Iyers.

message 3: by Paul (new)

Paul Mohan | 8 comments Love thy Neighbour continued
As more than the stipulated period of mourning had passed, he thought it was time the family would consider marriage to Hema. In the middle of his long conversation, Mrs. Iyer half reclining in a long sofa, he casually referred to a prospective groom in Delhi. He said the man was in his thirties (anything between thirty and thirty nine), an officer and the only son in a family of south Indian origin, all the other points matched — the caste, the sub caste, the Gotra other than Hema’s and the horoscope. The boy’s father had died years ago, the mother still looked young and healthy, the match-maker said. Hema’s mother listened carefully, weighed the import of each word and said they would consider the proposal and convey their decision over the phone. Hema was silently watching the whole proceedings without showing any interest as if she were not concerned.
As soon as the astrologer left, the mother opened the topic subtly in her characteristic negative note. “Hema, did you note what that man said of the mother of the boy? Did not he say she is still young and healthy? This means you’re going to be a daughter-in-law for a pretty long number of years”.
Hema was silent for a while and wished her mother would stop at that. But the mother did more talking than the occasion demanded. She found several reasons to drop the proposal chief among them were the fact that the mother of the boy looked young. She harped on the imaginary longevity of a middle aged mother-in-law as a minus point and it would be a hindrance to Hema’s happy married life!
Hema got enraged.
“Mother, there’s a limit to your being unreasonable…I don’t find a word to describe your stand. If you want your daughter to marry a man without his mother and father, go and kill that widow. That would solve your problem”. That were the last words Hema ever spoke to her mother. Paru was unobtrusively watching, even enjoying, the little war of words between a mother and her daughter.
“Hema, don’t shout at me. Have not I saved you from that fish-eating Kolkata Brahmin boy your father suggested? Have you forgotten how they brought death to our doors? Had you married him…I shudder at the thought of your eating fish. Had not I saved you from being polluted”? The mother screamed back though she had no strength to raise her voice.
Hema now vaguely remembered that Kolkata man and his son — a young and handsome man in their house for the first time. She recollected how she had a glimpse of him through the corners of a curtain and saw him sipping coffee. She remembered how her mother showed signs of disgust when she heard his father was speaking about the dinner he took in his friend’s house with fried fish.
Hema left the hall. The mother cried aloud justifying her stand. Her anger now turned to her sister’s daughter, Paru, and shouted, “What’re you doing here. Go and mop the floor and mind the washing machine”.
The house was divided, and some imaginary lines were drawn between the three women. The wall of silence between Hema and her mother was raised further as they stopped talking, and Paru became the only channel of communication.

One Sunday evening, Hema heard some commotion, followed by loud outcry from the neighbour’s house, as if someone was in death throes. The uproar was deafening and a blurred human voice was quite audible. It was a man’s pleading for help.
“Help help. Please help me”. In her busy schedule Hema had not seen the people living next door and she had no idea who it might be. Now the noise was joined by a shrill girl’s high-pitched wailing. Hema asked Paru to rush and see what was happening in the neighbour’s house. Paru ran out and returned with news that the neighbour’s wife was attempting to commit suicide by hanging. She asked Hema to come out and do something to save the woman.
“Hema, please come. Let’s help them”, Paru cried frantically.
Hema cut short her phone conversation and rushed into the neighbour’s house followed by Paru. The woman, evidently the neighbour’s wife, was still hanging from the ceiling fan; the noose was made of a sari threaded into a tight rope. The man was seen holding the dangling legs of the woman in her nightie.
He pleaded, “Please help. Please hold her legs. Let me take that stool”.
Hema was quick to react. She motioned Paru to come to her help. Both, with their outstretched palms lifted the legs a bit above and held the woman that way for a few seconds till the man put a wooden stool in position. A child, evidently the neighbour’s daughter, was crying for she couldn’t understand what was happening to her mother. The man climbed onto the stool and lifted his wife one foot further up, hoping to loosen the noose. He asked the women below to search for a knife in the kitchen. Paru acted swiftly, rushed in as though she was familiar with the place, came with a knife and handed it over to the man. With one swift stroke he chopped off the rope right above the woman’s head. The man and his wife fell down, the woman writhing in death pangs. By this time a small crowd had gathered and a man rang up for ambulance and another informed the police.
The two ambulance men displayed their professional smartness, took the woman in a portable wheeled stretcher, alerted the hospital staff and motioned the husband to follow. The neighbour looked at Hema and thanked her in a chocking voice. Acknowledging her help he requested the two women to accompany him to the hospital. Dragging the child and Paru, Hema ran out and entered the ambulance.
When the neighbour’s wife was taken into an intensive care unit Hema felt a sigh of relief and was readying to leave the scene. The neighbour again thanked Hema for the timely help and requested her to take care of his little daughter, Noor, till he come back from the hospital.
When she was about to leave, a police officer came and enquired the hospital staff and then turned to the man and asked politely how it all happened. The neighbour explained in great detail and said how the two women, Hema and Paru, helped him. The officer wished the rescue a success. As he wanted to see the scene of occurrence he took them in his van and drove straight to the neighbour’s house.
On reaching home, Hema and Paru entered their compound, stood at the veranda and watched the neighbour taking the officer into his house.
The man demonstrated how his wife was found hanging and how the two women in the neighbouring house helped him in the rescue. The officer looked up at the fan and the dangling half cut sari-rope and then at the floor, and alternatively into the eyes of the man and his daughter Noor’s. “So you’re telling me a story and you want me to believe it. Wait. Let me have a word with your neighbour”, the officer said. Through the window he saw the two women still standing and watching.
Now the officer stepped into Hema’s house and started a formal enquiry. Paru volunteered to narrate the event faithful to every small detail: she heard an outcry for help, informed Hema and helped to keep the dangling legs up in the air, retrieved a knife et al. To Hema it was sickening to repeat verbatim what she had seen and how she helped a gentleman to save his dying wife. The officer, after listening to the two women winked his eyes accusingly and said, “So you want me to believe this story. Your neighbor has well tutored you to say what you’ve said. Good. Miss. Iyer, let’s now move to the police station and record the three versions of the story”. Hema was speechless for a moment.

The next two months the neighbour — Mohamed Ibrahim, that was his name — his parents and his little daughter Noor, Hema and her cousin Parvathi went through the ordeal of answering strange questions raised by the law-enforcing officers from the police and judiciary who suspected foul play in the death of Ibrahim’s wife. Fortunately Mr. Ibrahim produced old medical records to prove that his wife had a suicidal tendency and that she’d a history of three failed attempts in the past, one in her youth and two after marriage. It put to rest all the problems his wife’s death had created.
On their trips to police station and back home, Ibrahim’s parents, who came down from Dubai to help their son, claimed they were Hajjis and talked of their integrity for they have drunk water from Zamzam, Mecca’s sacred well. They looked at Hema and Parvathi as untouchable infidels.
Ibrahim, in partnership with his father in Dubai, was running a small export business. In course of time his four year old daughter Noor became a pet in Hema’s house. Except Hema’s mother, Hema and Paru loved the little girl. Noor hopped in and out at all odd hours of the day and shared coffee or ice cream with Paru. Though Ibrahim had engaged a domestic help to take care of his daughter, the girl spent most of her time in Hema’s in the company of Paru. During the evening hours after the maid left, Noor was in the care of Paru and sometimes the girl slept on Paru’s bed and later, after the arrival of Ibrahim, she was gently taken to her own bed by Paru. Most evenings this became a routine.
One day Paru fell sick and didn’t stir out. Noor, after playing the whole evening in Hema’s house slept on Hema’s bed. Hema returned at nine in the night and found to her surprise the girl was sleeping in her room. Hema walked on the veranda, keeping the girl on her arms and waiting for Ibrahim to return from work. As she herself was tired and sleepy, put the girl again on bed, took dinner and sat waiting for Noor’s father to come.
The neighbour knocked the door at eleven, came in for the first time, and took his daughter on his shoulders and said good night to Hema. His eyes made a quick survey of the room as though he was searching for someone in Hema’s room. Even in sleep the girl’s hands embraced the man, automatically and pressed her cheek against her father’s.
Hema saw the love and tenderness with which the neighbour took his daughter and patted her back. His eyes showed he was grateful to Hema and her family. But Hema’s face subtly reflected her unhappiness about the new routine set by Noor and she suggested that he engage a full-time maid to take care of his daughter.
For a while Hema was lost in thought and remembered her own father and imagined how he would have cared her when she was a small girl. What would have happened if her mother had died at that tender age, and how her father would have treated a motherless child? A series of emotionally predictable scenes, involving a loving father, played on her mind.
Paru was not well the next day also, afflicted by a strange fever and intermittent vomiting. Hema’s mother shouted at Hema from her room and requested to take Paru to a doctor. Hema in turn shouted back to say she would do it in the evening and left for her office without waiting for further instructions flying from her mother’s room. On her way she fixed up an appointment with a doctor.
Evening Hema drove Paru to the hospital run by a doctor couple. Paru was referred to the lady, a gynecologist, and Hema took a seat in the visitors’ lounge.
Hema was visibly upset over the turn of events after her father’s death. Does everyone on earth undergo such ordeals? Do fathers and mothers have such unusual relationships that affect their daughters’ happiness? She could not find easy answers, but then these questions engaged her as she avoided looking at the long line of patients.
There were bright lights. She saw herself reflected on a glass door. Its corners bore stickers of chubby children smiling at her. When she looked into her own worn-out face she noticed she was no longer young or beautiful like her cousin. One of the wrinkles ran along a curved line right on her cheek. Her hand mechanically pushed back the growing grey hairs into the black ones. Surrendering to the ravages of time was not her choice.

message 4: by Biswanath (new)



message 5: by Paul (new)

Paul Mohan | 8 comments LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR Continued
by Paul Mohan Roy

She justified her face getting a dull and faded look.
A nurse came straight towards her, and disturbing her reverie said, “Doctor wants to see you. This way, please”. She showed the way to the doctor’s room. Paru was lying on a patient’s table, her eyes fixed on the ceiling. Hema was anxious to get informed of the disease and leave with prescribed medicines.
“Congrats”, said the doctor. “Your cousin is pregnant”.
Hema forced herself to cast a smile at Paru. And Paru smiled back hesitantly, her eyes reflecting innocence; there was no guilt in them.
Hema’s attitude to her cousin now took a new dimension. She secretly envied Paru as she once did towards her own sister who loved their neighbour’s son, a Hindu Punjabi, and eloped with him. Now Noor would be happy to have a new mother and a little brother.

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