The Ghazal is a well-known genre of Urdu poetry. The translation of Ghazal into the English language poses specific challenges. Translating Ghalib, one of the greatest ghazal writers, into English, is a special case under consideration. Several translators have produced their versions of Ghalib's Urdu ghazals. The present study is an effort to evaluate the performance of six translators who rendered a particular ghazal of Ghalib in the English language. The study utilizes the distinction between 'literal' and 'sense-for-sense' translation as perceived by Nida (2000 ), and Vermeer (2000). The translations have been analyzed on the basis of three research questions which encompass the aspects of the type of translation, the form of the Ghazal, and the poetic appeal. The study offers useful insights into the translation of Ghazal into the English language.
Ghalib, Literal Translation, Poetic Form, Sense-For-Sense Translation, Translation Studies, Urdu Ghazal.
Literary translation is an act of communication cross different cultures. The history of translation is quite old,it dates back to the ancient classical period. Cicero, for example, from 46 BC, suggested useful points for good translation. Cicero, as a translator, saw himself as an orator, and not merely as a hack. He wrote: "I saw my duty not as counting out words for the reader, but as weighing them out" (2006, p.21). His remark shows that the proper role of translation was felt and realized even in ancient times. However, it was in the 1970's that translation studies acquired the status of an international discipline. According to Susan Bassnett (2014), it was James Holmes who first used the term 'translation studies' in 1972 in his article "The Name and Nature of Translation Studies". Referring to the difficulty of a translator's task, Bassnett has aptly observed: "The task of the translator is indeed a highly complex one, for it requires negotiation of difference that is both linguistic and cultural" (p.9).
'Ghazal' is a well-known genre of poetry in the Urdu, Persian and Arabic languages. It has unique features as regards its form and themes. In Urdu poetry, it has a long history extending over several centuries. In the sub-continent, the characteristic features of Urdu ghazal were established in the 18th and 19th centuries by the great classical ghazal writers. It is something closer to sonnet in the Western poetic tradition.
Mirza Ghalib (1797 – 1869) is one of the greatest ghazal writers. In the opinion of Ralph Russell, Ghalib is one of the greatest
Poets South Asia ever produced and the greatest poet of the Persian and Urdu languages. Russell writes: “If his [Ghalib’s] language had been English, he would long ago have been recognized all over the world as a great poet” (The Seeing Eye, 2003, p.viii). The point referred to by Russell has been discussed by Lawrence Venuti in his book The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. In this book, Venuti highlights “… the unequal power relationships prevalent between cultural and linguistic systems” (cited in Bassnett, 2014, p.14). Commenting on the popularity of Ghalib’s Urdu verse, K.C. Kanda writes: “If there is one poet of Urdu who has become a household name in India, it is Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869)” (2004, p.1).
Ghalib is one of those Urdu poets who have been frequently translated in the English language. He is a difficult poet to understand and even more difficult to translate. Referring to the features of Ghalib’s style, Ahmad Ali (1970, p.2) observes that Ghalib’s diction is complex and obscure. He used a highly persianised diction. Commenting on the choice and arrangement of words in Ghalib’s verse, Ali writes: “Baffling, difficult and even, let us say obscure, defying the reader, yet amounting to a challenge as well” (p.8). Ali feels that Ghalib’s style is highly elliptical. For Ali, the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry is similar to Ghalib’s in style and technique: “Ghalib’s elliptical style is as startling in Urdu as Hopkins’ is in English” (p.8). Another feature of Ghalib’s style is the uncommon arrangement of words. In Ghalib, the syntax is twisted and distorted, and verbs are made to qualify more than one clause, adding to the obscurity of Ghalib’s verse. Discussing the problems of style and technique in Ghalib, Ahmad Ali (p.18) concludes:
in spite of the impossibilities of his poetic technique and impenetrable obscurity one cannot ignore him or put him out of mind. Because what he says is universal, and because it had never been said in the way Ghalib says it.
Literature Review: What the Translators of Ghalib Say
The Literature Review section of the present study looks at the perceptions and objectives of Ghalib’s translators regarding the act or art of translating the Ghazal. The study focuses on the views of six translators of Ghalib.
(i) Among the earlier translators of Ghalib was Yusuf Husain whose Urdu Ghazals of Ghalib was published in 1977 by Ghalib Institute, New Delhi. Husain writes in the Preface that the translation was completed in five months, but it was supported by fifty years of deep study of Ghalib’s poetry. Husain has referred to two ways of translation: word by word and sense for sense. He explains his intention in the following words: “… to maintain a faithful accuracy to the actual words used by Ghalib, neither leaving anything out, nor adding anything extra ...” (1977, p.xiii). Keeping in view that the Ghazal has a highly specific form, Husain has hinted at the problems posed by verse forms in translating poetry. He decided to sacrifice rhyme because it imposes limitations; it reduces the choice of words, and sacrifices accuracy. The sequence of ghazals in Yusuf Husain’s translation is according to (the second edition of) the ‘Arshi Version’ of Ghalib’s Urdu verse. It also includes the selected verses from the ‘Hamidia Version’. Husain has translated 234 ghazals from the Arshi Version and 82 ghazals from the Hamidia Version; in total 320 ghazals have been translated. He also translated the Persian ghazals of Ghalib which were published in 1980 by Ghalib Institute, New Delhi.
(ii) Aijaz Ahmad (1994, p. xv) writes that it is very difficult to translate from Urdu into English because Urdu is “very much a language of abstractions”. The English translations of Ghalib’s selected Urdu ghazals were edited by Aijaz Ahmad in the form of a book which was published in 1994 by Oxford University Press, New Delhi, India. The book was first published in 1991 by Columbia University Press. The translations (called “Version from Urdu” in the subtitle of the book) are a result of collaboration between an Urdu writer (Aijaz Ahmad) and “… several gifted American poets who have experience in working with raw, literal versions” (p. xviii). Ahmad explains that their commitment has been to: “...a book of translations- versions, adaptations, imitations, or whatever else one calls them ---- which is, above all, a book of poetry” (p. xviii). Ahmad’s book offers more than one version of single ghazals, because it involves more than one poet working with the same body of materials. Their purpose was to get “a multiplicity of responses to Ghalib” (p. xviii). Ahmad and his team of translators seem to be guided by the assumption that: “There is no one right way of translating a poem: one translation may capture what another misses and both be, in different ways, good translations” (p. xviii).
Aijaz Ahmad’s plan of rendering the selected ghazals of Ghalib in the English language is quite an ambitious plan. Aijaz Ahmad, the editor of the book, Ghazals of Ghalib, provides the raw materials--- which include for each selected ghazal ‘literal translation’, ‘essential vocabulary’ and ‘general explanation’ for each selected couplet of the Ghazal. With the help of these materials several American poets (which included W.S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich, William Stafford, David Ray, Thomas Fitzsimmons, Mark Strand and William Hunt) produced their English versions of the ghazals of Ghalib. Some of the ghazals were rendered in English by more than one poet. Ahmad points out that the poets were free to choose their methods and the result is “… a true multiplicity of methods” (p. xxvi). It is difficult to call those English versions of the ghazals of Ghalib translation in the strict sense of the word. The editor of the book, Aijaz Ahmad is quite well aware of this fact. The co-translators did not have direct access to the original Urdu verses. They only relied upon the ‘materials’ provided by the editor. Aijaz Ahmad himself uses the words “… versions, adaptations, imitations” for these translations (p. xviii).
(iii) The second edition of Khwaja Tariq Mahmood’s Ghalib: Rhymed Translations of Selected Ghazals was published in 1997 and it contains English translation of eighty-eight Urdu ghazals of Ghalib. In his short foreword, Mahmood has given a “brief overview of Ghalib’s poetic achievement” (p. iv). He has also discussed some features of the Ghazal briefly as a genre of poetry. It is pertinent to mention here that Mahmood has said nothing about his theory of translation, nor has he expressed any thoughts on the features of good translation of poetry or on the difficulties faced by him as a translator of poetry.
(iv) Ralph Russell’s contribution to the field of translating Ghalib in English is quite significant. He is the author of several books on Ghalib and Urdu Literature. His books include: Three Mughal Poets (1968) and Ghalib: Life and Letters (1969) which is co-authored with Khurshidul Islam. His book Hidden in the Lute (1995) is “… an anthology of two centuries of Urdu literature in English translation” (The Famous Ghalib, p. ix). Russell is quite generous in acknowledging the greatness of Ghalib as a poet: “If his language had been English, he would have been recognized all over the world as a great poet long ago” (ibid, p.115).
Russell has a great understanding not only of the poetries and the poetic traditions of Urdu and Persian languages but also of the culture and patterns of thought of the people of the sub-continent. Therefore, his experiences , as well as his observations as the translator of the genre of Urdu Ghazal in general and as the translator of Ghalib’s Ghazal in particular, are of great value. His deeper understanding of the Ghazalhas made him conscious of the challenges involved in translating this complex genre into English language. His book, The Famous Ghalib contains his English translations of Ghalib’s Urdu ghazals as well as the useful essay ‘On Translating Ghalib’. While discussing the features of Ghalib’s ghazals, Russell observes:
It is not often possible to reproduce all those features of the Ghazal in the English translation and there are special difficulties where rhyme is concerned, for where Urdu has rhyming words in great abundance, English notoriously does not (p. 122).
At another point in the same book, Russell writes: “… the problems of translating the ghazal are formidable” (p.175). In translating the Ghazal, Russell seems to be in favour of “… the use, where possible, of rhyme--- even of the strict rhyme scheme of the ghazal ... and for the use of regular metre” (p. 176). However, Russell acknowledges the importance of compromise as regards the use of rhyme and metre in the translation of Ghazal. The restrictions of the form must be imposed,he writes, “... but never to the point where the restrictions choke the poetry...” (p. 177).
Russell’s insistence on maintaining rhyme (both rhyme and end-rhyme) and metre in the translated Ghazal, because it is quite difficult to maintain those features regularly puts him in a fix and he is forced to contradict himself. After having explained the importance of rhyme and metre in the translated Ghaza, Russell comments: “Nor is the absence of rhyme, imposed though it is by necessity and not by choice, much of a disadvantage” (pp. 181-182). Russell remarks that rhyme in a ghazal is important in the context of the ‘musha'ira’ (i.e., the gathering where poetry is recited to the audience), and that: “To an English speaking audience … the absence of rhyme is of no great consequence” (p. 182). However, Russell is quite justified when he emphasizes “… the need for compromise in presenting the ghazal” (p. 187). In the overall estimation, Russell seems to be quite conscious of the hazards and challenges involved in translating the Urdu ghazal in the English language. His deep attachment with Ghalib and his commitment to the role of a translator enable him to devise a theory of translation which may be regarded as a contribution to the field of translation studies, in the context of the Ghazal. Later on, in 2003, he published The Seeing Eye which contains selections from the Urdu and Persian ghazals of Ghalib.
(v) Love Sonnets of Ghalib, containing translations and explications by Dr. Sarfaraz K Niazi was published in 2002 by Rupa & Co, New Delhi; its third impression came out in 2004. It was published in collaboration with Ghalib Academy of America, Deerfield, Illinois. Sarfaraz K Niazi is the son of Allama Niaz Fatehpuri, a renowned author and critic of the Urdu language. The book contains English translation of 235 Urdu ghazals of Ghalib including 1460 couplets. Along with the English translation, Niazi’s work contains explanation of individual couplets; he has also added a detailed glossary of terms at the end of his work. It is significant to mention that in a book of translation of over 1400 couplets, expanding over more than 1000 pages, the translator has said almost nothing about his theory of translation or his approach towards his task. There are few remarks in the Preface (written by the translator) which make it clear that his intention is to keep “… the translation on a literal level because of the pragmatic difficulties of a rhyming translation” (p. ix). Niazi’s main contribution seems to be in the direction of the explanation of Ghalib’s Urdu ghazals. This may indeed be regarded as an achievement. Sarfaraz with his translation of 235 Urdu ghazals of Ghalib stands next to Yusuf Husain (1977) with the translation of 320 ghazals to his credit.
(vi) Mirza Ghalib: Selected Lyrics and Letters by K.C. Kanda (2004), contains the English translation of 104 ghazals, seven miscellaneous poems, and 68 selected letters by Ghalib written in the Urdu language. Kanda has published ten books, translating the best of Urdu poetry into English. Kanda makes it clear in his Preface that the book is primarily addressed to the average reader. He writes that his plan is “… to translate the original in a language that is simple, lucid and rhythmical” (Preface). He further says that his effort has been to convey “… the musicality of Ghalib’s verse by retaining the accessories of rhyme or assonance” (Preface). Just like so many others before him, Kanda has also not discussed in sufficient details the challenges that he faced and the techniques he adopted in his task of translating the Urdu ghazal in the English language.
The aim of the present study is to evaluate English translations rendered by different translators of a single Urdu ghazal by Ghalib. For this purpose, six translators’ versions have been selected. As mentioned earlier, they include: Yusuf Husain (1977), Aijaz Ahmad (Editor, first published in 1991, tenth impression 2006), Khwaja Tariq Mahmood (2nd edn., 1997), Ralph Russell (for theoretical discussion, The Famous Ghalib , 2003, and for translation, The Seeing Eye , 2003), Sarfaraz K. Niazi (2004), and K.C. Kanda (2004). The aforementioned translators have been selected for the reasons that they have translated fair number of ghazals by Ghalib, for example, Sarfaraz: 235, and Yusuf: 320 ghazals. The study has not included the translations (for example, those rendered by Mujeeb) which are limited to individual, isolated couplets that can hardly be regarded as proper ghazals. It follows, therefore, that those translators have been preferred who had a wider contact with the poetry of Ghalib. The translators in the edited work by Aijaz Ahmad based their versions on a faithful paraphrase in English provided to them by the editor.
Since Ghalib is one of the most famous Urdu poets and he has produced a lot of ghazals of fairly high standard, the choice of a particular ghazal by him which should serve to evaluate the performance of various translators was a difficult one because many of his ghazals could have been chosen for various reasons. Out of a range of Ghalib’s ghazals, his well known Ghazal that begins with the first line “عشق مجھ کو نہیں، وحشت ہی سہی” is selected for the present study. This Ghazal is chosen for the following reasons: (i) This Ghazal contains most of the qualities, especially of form, associated with the genre of Ghazal. (ii) This Ghazal may be regarded as one of the most representative ghazals of Ghalib, reflective of his typical style and his characteristic mode of thinking and feeling. (iii) The selected Ghazal is a good example of the unique accent of Ghalib which contains a subtle layer of irony which turns the apparent self-mockery into fine shades of criticism.
The original Ghazal selected for the present study can be found on page no 285 of the ‘Arshi Version’ of ‘Divan-e-Ghalib’ edited by Imtiaz Ali Khan Arshi and published in 1992 by Majlis-e-Tarakki-e-Adab, Lahore. According to Kali Daas Gupta Raza (1997, p.258), the Ghazal belongs to the post-1821 period in Ghalib’s life. The actual Ghazal consists of ten couplets. Yusuf Husain (1977, pp.206-207), S.K. Niazi (2002, p.565) and R. Russell (2003, pp.192-195) have translated all the ten couplets of the Urdu ghazal into English. Tariq Mahmood (1997, page no’s not mentioned) has translated nine, Kanda (2004, pp. 178-179) has translated eight, and Aijaz Ahmad version (2006, pp. 109-112) has translated five couplets of the Ghazal. The present study has adopted the five couplet selection of the Aijaz Ahmad version that consists of couplet numbers 1, 2, 6, 9, and 10 of the original Urdu ghazal. From each translated version, the selected five couplets will be picked up for analysis and comparison. The numbers used in the following versions of the translated Ghazal refer to the selected five couplets of the Ghazal.
The theoretical framework of the study is based on two forms of translation: the word-for-word translation and sense-for-sense translation. The distinction between ‘word-for-word’ or literal translation and ‘sense-for-sense’ translation that was referred to by Cicero as mentioned earlier, has proved to be the most fundamental one. Different translation theorists, for example, Eugene Nida (2000 ), and Hans Vermeer (2000) have continued to acknowledge the orthodox distinction between the two forms of translation: word-for-word and sense-for-sense.
For the purpose of analytical comparison, the following research questions have been framed: (i) Which pattern of translation has been adopted in a given version of the selected Ghazal: literal, i.e., word for word or sense-for-sense translation? (ii) What attention is given, if any, to the formal aspects of the Ghazal, i.e., metre and rhyme? (iii) What is the poetic value of the translated verses? Do they contain the fundamental aspects of poetry, i.e., an imaginative and emotional appeal and the characteristic poetic expression? Can they be regarded as the superficial paraphrase or prose translation of poetry?
Discussion and Analysis
In this part of the study, we shall take the selected six translators of Ghalib one by one and evaluate their translation.
(i) Following the chronological order, let us first of all take the translation of Yusuf Husain (1977, pp. 206-207):
1. I admit that what I have
Is not love but madness
By my madness is thy fame_____
So let it be.
2. Don’t sever thy relations
With us; if there be nothing else
At least there’s enmity_______
So let it be.
3. Although life flies past swift
As lightning, there is arespite
Enough for one’s heart to bleed ____
So let it be.
4. We will also cultivate the habit
Of submissive resignation; if thy nature
Is inattentive disregard __________
So let it be.
5. Ghalib, let there be sweet teasing
With the friend; if there is no union,
Then there is smothered desire______
So let it be.
The overall impression here is that it is the result of literal, or word for word translation. There is some confusion in the sense of translated couplet no’s 2 and 4 in the use of the pronouns “us” and “we”. It is obvious that the male lover (the protagonist) is here addressing the female beloved in this Ghazal. In the original Urdu ghazal, the poet has used both the forms of the first personal pronoun singular: the informal “mujh ko” (مجھ کو) and “meri” (میری) in the first couplet of the selection and the formal “hum se” (ہم سے) and “hum” (ہم) in the second and fourth couplets respectively. As the speaker throughout the Ghazalis the same individual person, the variants “us” (couplet 1) and “we” (couplet 4) in the translation might lead some readers to feel that the speaker is a plural subject in the said couplets. Each translated couplet consists of four lines with the last line “so let it be” rather like a refrain. The rhyme and end rhyme of the original Urdu ghazal has not been observed. Husain’s translation has been an effort in following the original Ghazal faithfully. In this exercise, the imaginative and emotional appeal could not be made explicitly. In the last couplet of the original Ghazal, the poet’s pen-name Asad is used, which in translation is replaced with Ghalib by mistake.
(ii) From Aijaz Ahmad’s edition (1991, p. 112), the version of Adrienne Rich has been selected for the present study. The version by W.S. Merwin includes four out of five selected couplets, and David Ray’s version does not follow the original closely. Therefore, the versions by Merwin and Ray have been ignored and Rich’s version has been preferred for the present study. Here is Rich’s version:
1. I suppose my love for you is a form of madness.
Why shouldn’t that madness play like fire about your name?
2. Don’t let a nullity fall between us:
if nothing else, we could become good haters.
3. Our time of awareness is a lightning-flash,
a blinding interval in which to know and suffer.
4. My method shall be acquiescence and a bumble heart:
your method may be simply to ignore me.
5. Don’t lose heart in this skirmish of love, Asad:
though you never meet, you can always dream of the meeting.
Rich has followed the form of the original Ghazal to the extent that her translated version consists of couplets and the original sequence of ideas has been followed almost line to line. This version contains no rhyme of any kind. Rich’s version, however, is not the word-for-word version. Where needed, she has taken the liberty, for example, in the first three couplets of the Ghazal. Rich’s version, therefore, has a certain poetic value as it contains the qualities of original poetry, i.e., spontaneity, and emotional appeal.
(iii) Khwaja Tariq Mahmood’s (1997) translation is given below:
1. Tis not my love, only my torment
Let my torment become your garment.
2. Break not the bond between us ever
Let dissent become the binding cement.
3. Like a fleeting steed, though life is
We need respite for a fleeting moment.
4. Willingly, we’ll do your bidding.
Even though nonchalance is your intent.
5. Asad, persist in pandering to friend
You are despondent, if no fulfillment.
As regards rhythm and metre, Mahmood’s translation comes closer to the Urdu original. He has also used rhyme which, though it does not exactly follow the pattern of the original Ghazal, conveys something of the rhyme scheme of Urdu ghazal. On the whole, Mahmood’s translation is an exercise in aword-for-word translation. There are fewer lines containing the quality of high poetic expression, like the one in the second line of the first couplet: “Let my torment become your garment”.
(iv) S.K. Niazi’s (2002, pp. 565-569) translation is given below:
1. So I love you not? Let it be solitude.
My solitariness bringing you fame, so let it be.
2. Break-off not the connection with me;
If nothing else, enmity, let it be.
3. No doubt, that life is like the swift lightning;
Enough time to bleed my heart, let it be.
4. We, too, will cultivate a habit of submissive resignation;
Obliviousness may well be your style.
5. Teasing should continue with the beloved, Asad;
If it is not union, then insistence on it, let it be.
It is clear that Niazi’s translation is hardly consistent as far as its formal aspects are concerned. The numbers of syllables fluctuate between ten and eighteen and, the refrain “Let it be” is not used regularly. Niazi’s translation falls under the category of word-to-word translation. In the first line of the first couplet, the substitute ‘solitude’ for the Urdu word ‘wahshet’ is a weak substitute. Niazi’s translation hardly has any worth as regards its poetic quality.
(v) Ralph Russell’s (2003, pp. 192-194) is taken from his book The Seeing Eye:
1. ‘It is not love, but madness!’ Be it so
My madness is your reputation though.
2. Do not break off the bond uniting us
If nothing else, grant me your enmity.
3. Life passes quickly as lightning. Even so
It gives you time to turn your heart to blood.
4. Well, I will learn the trait of calm acceptance
Given your habit is indifference.
5. Asad, lay constant siege to your beloved
If you can’t win her you can yearn for her
Ralph Russell’s translation is closer to the Urdu original as regards its metre, although rhyme is not used regularly. In the first couplet, “so” and “though” rhyme, but in the other couplets rhyme is not used regularly. Russell’s translation also, like the ones by the others, follows the word-for-word pattern of translation, and therefore, it does not succeed adequately in arousing the emotional response.
(vi) Our last specimen of translation is taken from Kanda (2004, pp. 178-179):
1. ‘Tis not love, but frenzy, yes, I concede,
Let my frenzy wild your fame increase!
2. Sever not your links with me,
If naught else, let ill-will be.
3. Life, though fleeting like a flash
Is enough to make one’s heart bleed
4. We too will learn to bow and yield,
Let indifference your habit be
5. Keep on chasing your love, Asad
Let yearning stay, if union recedes.
Kanda’s use of metre is his translation is not regular. The metre in the first couplet is closer to the Urdu original, but it is not used consistently. Similarly, though rhyme is used, it is not used according to a set scheme. Kanda’s version is a word-for-word translation of Ghalib’s Ghazal. The irregular measure and rhyme are rather misleading as regards the original form of the Ghazal. Though a good exercise in literal translation, Kanda’s translation lacks the spontaneity and uniqueness of tone which the original Ghazal possesses.
In the present study, an effort has been made to evaluate six versions of poetic translations by various translators of a single Urdu ghazal by Ghalib. The study highlights some of the problems in translating the Ghazal. It is evident that out of these problems, form poses the greatest challenge. None of the six translators was able to produce a version of the Ghazal with all its formal aspects (involving metre and complex rhyme scheme) of the original Ghazal. Majority of the translators used the literal pattern of translation. Even the sequence of ideas within a single couplet was followed faithfully. The Ghazal selected for the present study contains fairly simple vocabulary and ideas. This feature creates the danger of producing a dull and prosaic (almost paraphrase-like) copy of the original Ghazal. However, the selected Ghazal contains a clear shade of ironic tone and a deceptive attitude of indifference on the part of the poet. These features of the style are quite characteristic of Ghalib’s poetry. And these very features of tone and style pose the greatest challenge for the translators of Ghalib’s ghazals. The study has noted that the translators’ effort to create a faithful copy of the original ideas contained in the selected Ghazal of Ghalib created a hurdle in the way of producing a translation which may be regarded as having the distinguishing qualities of the original.
The original Urdu ghazal of Ghalib in the form of the five couplets selected for the present study is given below:
1. عشق مجھ کو نہیں، وحشت ہی سہی
میری وحشت، تیری شہرت ہی سہی
2. قطع کیجئے نہ تعق ہم سے
کچھ نہیں ہے، تو عداوت ہی سہی
3. عمر، ہر چند کہ ہے برق خرام
دل کے خون کرنے کی فرصت ہی سہی
4. ہم بھی تسلیم کی خو ڈالیں گے
بے نیازی تری عادت ہی سہی
5. یار سے چھیڑ چلی جائے، اسد
گر نہیں وصل، تو مسرت ہی سہی
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