Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why are women mean to women?


This is a question I have always asked myself several times based on the various 'encounters' I have: Why are women more mean to women?


1. Researchers say that women try to take down other women whom they perceive as rivals for male attention.

2. This happens in order to 'eliminate competition.'

3. The more attractive a woman is, the more likely she is to be a target for contempt.

Independent of the research findings, I want to share here some of my experience:

Some years ago, I was stranded in Mumbai airport because the pilot couldn't land in Delhi due to low visibility on the runway. So, the flight was diverted to Mumbai.  I was traveling alone and recovering very slowly from a bout of jaundice that had left me very weak and worse, my cellphone had developed some technical problem and I was unable to make calls. We reached Mumbai airport at about 12 am but were immediately whisked off in a bus to a hotel that was an hour away. 

I knew my husband and my parents would worry a lot. I asked several ladies who were using their cell phones if I could make one call. The funny thing is that each lady had an excuse like "I am not comfortable giving my phone to strangers" and "Sorry, maybe another time" and "I wish I could help but it doesn't seem I can" and "My phone has no charge." The last excuse is interesting because the person saying it dials in thrice after telling me this to talk to her folks.

It's fine, really. But at that time, I was tired, ill and almost in tears. Seeing my state, a gentleman who was talking on the phone to his wife, quickly told her that "I will call you back" and then said to me, "Why don't you use my phone and call your husband?"

It's that simple. It takes less than a minute to practice compassion but that makes a big difference to a person who needs it desperately at that hour. You reinforce that person's belief in the goodness of  God and the Universe as positive energies that send messengers just when you need help the most.

Another time, I had forgotten to take my cellphone when I went out with my family to a big mall. As it was on a holiday, there was a constant flow of people and I got separated from my husband and son. I looked everywhere but couldn't locate them. So I requested three different women if I can make a call and I explained why I needed to call.

I got the coldest and most scathing looks from them. These are well-dressed, fine speaking and 'educated' women I am referring to. 

Then I put forward the same request to a man and he immediately gave me his cell phone to make that call. 

None of this is being said to convey that men are better individuals than women or anything of the sort. But even at most workplaces, I still find it easier to work on projects with men than women. There are no temper tantrums, no fuss about who said what five years ago, no trivial issues raked up at crucial points when things get botched up and so on. 

Another fact is that women, knowingly or unknowingly, bring their own personal issues and prejudices to the workplace. This tends to affect the quality of their interactions with those they work with and the overall decision making process. Unless women are able to condition their minds to  switch off from their personal problems, they are likely to behave in continuity of those problems at the workplace.
One of the finest teachings that has helped me to ''switch off from my personal zone" when I reach the workplace is this:

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba says, "Work is worship. When you do any task, see it as an offering to God. "

This teaching has helped me beyond any words can express. The moment I am at my office desk, I am able to completely forget the personal side of me - my home, my child, my family - everything actually vanishes from my mind's vision and only my work matters. I also believe that this ability has helped me a lot in gaining the confidence and trust of those whom I have worked for in the past and in the present.

And I owe that ability, that confidence to be able to let go - to my beloved God and Guru - Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Why Fear When I am here By Your Side?

The year is 1987. The place is Blantyre, Malawi in Africa.

A ten year old forlorn-looking girl sat by the school's pool side. Tears hover in her dark eyes, her chin trembles just a little and she looks defiant and defeated at the same time. 

If you look closely, you know that there is nothing remarkable about her features unless you see plain mousiness in new light. Her skin is the color of almond - slightly brown, neither too dark nor light. Her hair is a short mop of curls that you know cannot be tamed, just like her heart. 

Her father had bought her something for a school activity, telling her with utmost seriousness, "This costs a lot in dollars. Keep it carefully. Don't lose it. I don't think I have the money to buy you another one like this." 

On the very first day of bringing it to school, she had misplaced it and couldn't remember where she had last taken it. In her memory, she felt that it is by the pool. But she had looked all around the pool several times. It wasn't there.

She felt her heart break. She couldn't possibly go back home and tell her father that she had lost his gift on the first very day. How would he trust her with anything again? No, she wouldn't go home from school till she found it, she decided.

But what if she didn't find it? She felt worried and she thought "Krishna, why don't you help me please?"

She didn't really believe in Krishna the way others did - idolizing him and all that. She liked talking to him and sometimes, he talked to her too like two normal people talking. Krishna was more of a friend, an inner charioteer. You simply don't go around idolizing your friends, do you? You talk with them, you listen to them and you learn to keep their confidences and accept them the way they are. And in times of trouble, you expected them to pitch in and be there for you. At least, to listen, if nothing else.

She thought again "Krishna, I thought we are friends. Why don't you help me?"

Then she saw the flash of orange robe, Afro-colored hair. Nothing had ever prepared her for this moment. She didn't even like this person whose picture was in her parents' prayer room. And now, he had followed her to school? How gross!

She decides to ignore him. But he sits next to her. She notices that the edges around her where he sits is wet but his robe doesn't get wet. How does he do that? It makes her curious.  

He has a very gentle voice, it soothes her frayed nerves when he asks her "I am listening. Talk to me."

She looks at him in irritation, "I have nothing to say to you."

He smiles. "I know you don't like me. You don't even smile at me when I am at your home. Why are you angry with me always?"

She is startled by the question and says, "I am not angry with you. But I don't want you in my home or in my life, that's all."

"Why not? I have come especially for you." He replies.

The way He says 'Especially for you' makes her sit up straight. No one has ever said that to her before. Is this funny man making fun of her like others?

"Do I look like I am joking?" He looks seriously into her eyes. "Didn't I come here just now for you? Look, I want to help you."

"Why?" She asks defiantly. "We aren't even friends."

He laughs. There is a musical quality to his laughter. 

"So lets start at the beginning then. Can I be your best friend?"

It is her turn to laugh now. "We aren't even friends. How can you decide on your own to be my best friend?" 

He thinks about it and says, "I never decide anything for anyone. I ask them, give them several choices and they decide but when their decisions go wrong, they tend to blame me for giving them the opportunity to have chosen in the first place."

The ten year old girl looks baffled. What is he saying? Nothing makes sense to her.

His face is shaped like the moon, his eyes are full of light and laughter. When he smiles, it is as though the world is full of light and sunshine. There is a dimple in his cheek. She likes people with dimples.

The orange robed monk tells her then, "I want to be your best friend because I want to listen to you talk. I promise not to judge your choices or give you any advice. I know you don't like being judged or given any advice." 

Now she is startled. How does he know these things about her that even her parents and teachers don't understand about her?

"I came for you. I know everything about you and I always want to know more of what is happening in your life as you grow up. I don't want anything from you. I have come to give, not take. I have come to listen, not talk or preach. I am simply always there for you and I want you to understand that." The orange-robed monk does not sit close to her, there is an arm's length distance between them but when he looks into her eyes, she sees the Sun in its depths. 

For the first time in her life, she feels the warmth of safety around her, like a cloak. It feels real, this  strange cloak.

"I also know that the way you are feeling right now isn't just about that object you lost. It's about how this school and the students make you feel about yourself. They make fun of you because of your color, your hair, your language and your nationality. They make it difficult for you to breathe this air or walk the grounds here. You are afraid. You are unhappy. You need a friend you can trust." Then he pauses and says something that no one has ever told her before. "The worst bit is that you believe you are plain, unintelligent and unable to impress those who matter." 

Tears are flowing down her face now. She is appalled he knows her so well. How does he do that?

Then he tells her, "I am not saying this to bribe you into a friendship with me. But you are my daughter. I will protect you like the eyelids protect the eyes and it is my duty to fight your battles when you are vulnerable. Why fear when I am here with you by your side? So I give you three blessings. Listen carefully.

First: As you pass through each year of your life, you will look more and more radiant and be admired for how you speak and carry yourself in the presence of people who matter - the decision makers - because you will begin to reflect Me in your thoughts, words and deeds. The day you become arrogant or egoistic about it, I will cease to be there for you.

Second: Do not ever fight with anyone unless it is a matter of Dharma. When you fight a battle, I have to step on that battle field for you. That isn't fair to the other side is it because they don't know I fight your battles? Because where I step in, victory is always mine. I don't ever want you to misuse this blessing.   

Third: Whenever you want to see me or speak to me, I shall be there for you always and even when you are wrong, I will be by your side because you are My child. That will never cease even if we stop being friends."

He gets up swiftly, touches the top of her head briefly in blessing and then he's gone.

She stares at the vacant space that had been earlier bright with the orange colored robe. She feels a strange sense of peace around and within her.

It's time to go home now. She gets up. She knows now she has dreamed all this - the funny man in the orange robe, the promise of friendship and all that.

As she stands up, ruffles her crinkled uniform and is about turn, she sees that object she had been looking for all along throughout the day.

It is on the very spot where the monk in the orange robe had been sitting and talking with her.

All she feels, in that moment, is an echo of his words, "You are my daughter. I will protect you like the eyelids protect the eyes and it is my duty to fight your battles when you are vulnerable. Why fear when I am here with you by your side?"

She grabs that object, runs back into the school premises from the pool side and as she is on her way home, she feels giddy, happy and a sense of confidence for the first time that her life is about to change forever. It did. 

And the three blessings He bestowed on her continue to protect her.

What My First Job Taught Me & Why I didn't Learn Anything From It

When I first started my career, I made some grand assumptions about how I would transform the world, make it a better place and not compromise on my ideals or the values that define me as a person.

One year into my first job, I saw through my stupid notions and knew it is all bullocks! You know there is nothing else you can really do but turn a blind eye to the small-skirted, hardly-can-write-a-sentence, cleavage showing girl who is definitely closer to the top brass/caucus than you can ever possibly be. Even her voice, which when she talks to a person of the same gender is sharp like a seagull's mean cry, becomes - the most and only accurate way to put is like this - sexually provocative as though she is in the middle of an act...it's exactly what can turn the toughest man into mush in minutes. I have seen this happen countless times and wished a thousand times I didn't exist to see this repeat itself over and over again. 

But especially in the field of law and print book publishing, men will be men and there are women who know exactly how to leverage it at the workplace. Sadly, the women aren't really women anymore. 

When I joined my first job, I met and trained many freshers from law college - ambitious, smart and all set to conquer the world by hook or crook. It's no longer about right or wrong. It's about getting the life of your dreams and trampling over other people's hard work and dreams too. 

The paradox remains that there are still women like me who believe that hard work, commitment, integrity and sincerity at the workplace are all that it takes to excel at work. I believe it is even when the world, during my first job, reflected something else altogether.

No, I am not being sarcastic here. I am telling you what is happening in many workplaces. And in this post, I am sharing what I refused to learn from my first workplace.

In the days thereafter, you learn the art of pretending to be blind everytime the chick falls on her knees spangled in  a most embarassing way in front of the management comprising (obviously) of males and you know that your principled stand and professional attitude are definitely not going to impress in comparison. At best, it will bring about some boring yawns. By the end of the first year, you even master the zen of maintaining icy silence to survive your first job and many that come thereafter. You change nothing in the process - except yourself and tweak the idealistic person you once happened to be.

But still some people like me are so nutty they won't mend their ways. They continue to be humble even around the young chicks that come out of college, chewing bubble gum at the workplace and rings on not just their nose but chin, navel and waist and you sigh as you learn to balance your humility with their 'we-know-it-all-because-we-need-less-clothes' attitude.

If you actually wear clothes to work more than skin, learn to lose gracefully to those who know next to nothing but they think do. And yes, they know the game better than you do because it takes a great deal of relentless practice to have the cleavage angle perfectly turned out. I mean, how many of you can get it right every time? I doubt it. It takes relentless practice and razor sharp timing.  Admit it, it is more superior to any thing you can possibly conjure up in your own head such as creativity or innovation!

Still I wouldn't go that route. It's just not me.

And if you don't believe me yet, trust me. I know many people like that from my first job. They are smarter, more successful and know what it takes to reach the highest positions in the shortest span of time. They embrace life with no regrets. Unfortunately, I learned nothing valuable from them and continue to be the old-fashioned professional that I am.  

By the way, I can guess your next question. Here's my answer: I don't remember which company that I had joined first...pun intended! 


Funny, I have no regrets about being me. Right now where I am, I am very happy. Isn't it all that matters? 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Wake up time: There's no Woman in the Moon

How I love this awesome quote! Here it goes: 

Even the moon gets to put its feet up once a month. Man in the moon, of course. If it was a woman in the moon, she would never sit down, would she? - Allison Pearson

True, isn't it? Well, this almost sums up my typical day and don't you dare envy me for it! Okay, read on first:)

Sneak Peek into a Working Woman's Busy Routine
When your curtains filter in that soft beam of early dawn, DON"T even dream of snuggling back into the warm covers for even FIVE seconds...just run out of the covers as though your house is on fire...that way, you will get some exercise and burst off some sleepy calories too!

Rush to kitchen, make tea so that your fingers don't turn numb by the time you eat breakfast. Remember to twiddle your toes through the winter socks to make sure you know that you are still alive and kicking, if you know what I mean. Tip in the brat's ready-to-drink-after-boiled-milk and make sure you are generous with the sugar and the chocolate powder or else you may have to drink it yourself because the brat may conveniently forget! Check if the brat's books are all in the school bag with homework done tidily of course, scrawl a note to Ma'am in case you want her to notice your brat is still there in her class and not blended in with the whiteboard she jots on!

Done? Hahaha, not yet! Wake UP the BRAT!!!! (30 mins of exercising effort as you get into all kinds of push ups and plank positions to lift the little guy, who otherwise, is as light as a pillow!) Once you get him all readied into a little gentleman, don't forget to look for the sparkle on his black shoes too. Do a final check on what goes in his bag just to be sure all's decent. Get him to say his prayers, drink his milk and be right on time to hop into the school bus.

Phew! Stretch those tired muscles a bit, drink your tea, get ready to go to work.

But it's not that easy if you are a working woman (no giggles here, ok, ok, i am dead serious!)

CHECKLIST FOR EVERY WORKING WOMAN

YOUR DRESS:  Don't be a nutcase like me who simply can't color-coordinate. Okay, maybe, I am being melodramatic here. But I've had my share of fairly embarrassing moments such as wearing my kurtha inside out and not knowing it the whole day. So it's best that you check the state of your dress before you get out of home.

YOUR HANDBAG: Check your wallet and make sure you are decently loaded (pun intended!) Is everything in its proper place in the handbag that is in itself vast like a marketplace? You can fish out nearly everything from a working woman's handbag. Yes, you heard right. There's house keys, new moisturizer that is as good as new because we put them in the bag but never really use them once they are in the bag because when we do look for it, we get the housekeys instead! And yes, the black, the cobalt blue, the shimmering grey and the forest green eyeliners plus the lip gloss that you keep just in case there is a last minute cocktail party that you never get invited to but your friends do so there, they can borrow it and be eternally grateful to you! 

YOUR PERFUME: Make sure you are carrying your own with the lid on or else it will spill and you lose more than a lot of money, you will have to chuck your handbag with all its contents too. Make sure it is your perfume and not the insecticide or the men's AXE deo spray.....that would be a clear disaster at the workplace now, wouldn't it. [Secret Just Between You and Me: I know of several women who wear the AXE deo spray anyway]

YOUR PAD: Don't get me wrong. I am only talking about that spare notepad you keep in the folders of your bag so that whenever a EUREKA moment comes, you don't need to tumble into the bathroom tub and make a mess of things, you know water is precious and all that. You can use your note pad right there at your desk with a decent pen by your side. Make sure your name is on it or else some one may simply decide to adopt it :D 

YOUR FOOTWEAR: Now this is priceless. After a whole night of event coverage,  I've actually walked into my office for an important meeting wearing two different kinds of sandals! DON"T LAUGH! I know you are, ok? Thankfully, my best buddy Anu spotted it. She skipped her lunch hour to buy me  a matching pair of footwear right on time and saved me from disgrace at the workplace. So, always check your footwear before you rush out of work. Stick a post-it on your mirror if you need a reminder.

THAT DEADLY SWIVEL: Before you rush off, look in the mirror and do that one sporty, deadly swivel to make sure all's fine at the back. No pun intended. Sometimes the outfit you wear rides up at the back and makes you look quite bad. Don't risk it. That's all.

Have a great day. And you know what, despite all these little niggling issues, I think it's great to be a woman.

If you don't believe me, see this pic. I am happy, aren't I? So should you. So, let the rainbows light up your sky, let the passing clouds move on and you should keep smiling. 



Yes, that dazzling smile only you can wear. Trust me, just wear your smile. 


Monday, November 11, 2013

Practice doesn't always make perfect

Brace yourself to read something crazy. You know what? I have always believed that when you have years of solid, dedicated practice with something, particularly in spirituality and in sadhana, it will come to you exactly when you need it.

Recently, a funny thing happened. A bus on which I was traveling suddenly overturned and no, I am safe, fine and nothing happened. Not a scratch or injury. 

But the funny thing is this: Instead of thinking of my Guru instantly or the mantra that I chant relentlessly, I thought of someone. I won't name the person because that is not relevant here. But, truly this is something I wouldn't have expected of me: wanting to reach out to that person just then. Those were my last thoughts at a critical moment.

How ridiculous it seems to me, as a spiritual seeker, that all that I could think of at that time was about someone! Not God, Guru or anything else.

Guess my practice of sadhana is simply not sincere enough. Or else, why would that happen?

Somehow this has shaken me. Still wondering about this. Seriously.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Shweta Menon Molestation is no Big Mystery, Happens with most women in Kerala

Last week, Shweta Menon hit the headlines across the nation and became the most talked about topic among Keralites in particular. I am not a fan of Shweta Menon and I can barely connect to the genre of movies that she does. But that has nothing to do with the fact that I feel quite angry and outraged by the way things have been snowballing against her simply because she had the guts to expose what had happened with her in broad daylight.  

Shweta Menon Molestation: The Reported Story 

The reported story is that Shweta Menon attended a local boat race as the chief guest and after the event, she told the media that a local politician had sexually misbehaved with her during the event. Hell broke loose after she said this. 

Immediately after hearing this news, I told those who were with me at the time, "Within hours, she will withdraw her complaint." Okay, so no one believed me. 

I was told 'No, she's a fighter and she will not spare the politician' and 'She has mass support and she will fight this legally.' 

I was 100% certain that Shweta Menon will withdraw her complaint. Come on, if nothing else, I have lived in Kerala for a good number of years and I am sorry to put it like this but I am very certain about the sick mentality rampant there when it comes to issues such as eve teasing and sexual harassment.

The clear lack of an institutional response to safeguard the rights and welfare of women is most urgent in Kerala and the need of the hour there but it doesn't seem likely to materialize anytime soon.  

Shweta Menon Molestation: What made her change her mind?

Some plain but very obvious guesses:

1. Her family would have been frightened for her safety (and theirs) given the kind of political threats, blackmails they would have been tackling in the hours after she gave her interview.

2. Her industry colleagues who are probably more familiar with the rules of the political game would have advised her against taking on a powerful politician.

3. There were direct threats given to her by different politicians through media interviews, particularly hinting at Income Tax issues. For actors and celebrities, that is the Achilles heel and Kerala's politicians are smart enough to use that power to get what they want - which in this case - is to make the victim look like a characterless woman who deserved being molested. 

As a Keralite, I hate to say this but that sick mentality is unfortunately rampant in Kerala. If a girl/woman is expressive about her views, she is labelled a rebel, characterless, immoral and so on. If a girl/woman interacts or has discussions with men openly on issues that are controversial, again, you meet the same fate. And last but but not the least, if a girl/woman makes the BIG mistake of showing confidence about herself and her views, then that nails it for the moral police and the society in Kerala. 

Shweta Menon Molestation: What about the other women in Kerala? 

There have been many instances of harassment and sexual molestation I have heard about in Kerala and all of it shocks and appalls me. 

For instance, in Kerala, there are many 'respectable' male doctors who are known to take advantage of the fact that their women patients have to strip before them. They touch them in the most inappropriate way and act as if it is part of the medical examination. 

Trust me, I am a doctor's daughter, a doctor's sister and a doctor's sister-in-law so you can bet that I wouldn't say this if I didn't know from reliable sources. And for the same reason, I NEVER go to a male doctor even if I have a cold. Unless it is my father, brother or cousin or they take me for the medical examination. The tough thing is that it is next to impossible to prove that a doctor is touching you inappropriately because that is part of the job! You cannot prove it in court unless you are ready to totally undergo a humiliation trial in front of a hundred people!

But sexual harassment in Kerala doesn't stop there.

I recall a friend (a Bank Manager in a pvt bank in Kochi) telling me that she had worked in Bangalore and had got transferred to Kochi. Her job involved visiting the bank's high profile customers, introducing them to some of the bank's latest financial products and getting them to commit to those. She told me that in seven out of ten visits, the men conveyed sexual hints such as they would sign for whatever investment plans she offered them and they tended to ask, "What will you do in return for this favor?" 

Here is the clincher: These men are not riff raff. They belong to Kerala's higher socio-economic strata - they are well to do, have families of their own and most are in their early 40s and they are hinting this openly to a working woman in the comfort of their own homes.

Another friend who set up a legal practice in Kochi told me this in utmost confidence, "If you are a fairly good looking woman who is doing independent legal practice, get ready to tackle sick male lawyers (esp in the top slot) and even those at the helm of deciding cases may be dropping hints to you."

I felt like throwing up. Honestly!  It really sickens me that men in any society, particularly in Kerala, can treat working women this way.  

Shweta Menon Molestation: What's going wrong with Kerala?

Now the question (coming back to Shweta Menon) is: If this is what happens with a popular actress who has clout, industry and mass support, can you imagine what the situation is like for ordinary girls and women who are forced to put up with sexual misbehavior and dare not report it? Legally, how does one even begin to fight this problem? 

Keralites would have admired and supported the actress if she had fought this case through thick and thin because she is someone who could have done it. It is her personal choice that she withdrew the complaint and we have to respect that too.

The saddest thing about this whole incident is that it has shown that men in Kerala can get away with molesting a woman in broad daylight and they can silence her if she protests.

Personally, it is this sick mentality that I find most ugly and unacceptable about Kerala's so called 'educated' society. I am not saying all men in Kerala are like that. But unfortunately, it is increasingly so and I don't see anything changing for the better unless women show more guts and men who aren't sexually harassing women come forward to openly support them and institutions also strengthen their support for those who are victims of sexual harassment.

On a sarcastic note, I would say that 'Peedanam' or 'molestation' should be made Kerala's trademark synonym because the warped mentality of men in the state seems to be increasing day by day. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against men but somehow an increasing number of men from Kerala offend all women by staring not at their faces but at their bodies when conversing, dropping sexual hints in conversations and not respecting some basic body space in interactions, among many other issues. And this is the case even with many of the Malayali men who are living outside Kerala! Note: I am referring to an age group here: those in their early 40s onward. 

My only hope is that the next gen youth in the state may have a different perspective towards these issues. I have interacted with a lot of tweeps and youngsters through social media. I also attended a Twitter festival in Kochi where I experienced, with delight, an openness between youngsters and saw that they treat each other with respect as individuals. My only hope is that they may be able to change the way things are in Kerala and turn the tide against those who indulge in sexual harassment. 

But, is that too much to hope for? Time will tell.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Life's Lessons: What happens when you make mistakes of another kind?


We always know when we have blundered. The niggling voice of conscience is like a splintered wood embedded in our skin - it can't be lifted that easily. - Ismita Tandon Dhankher  (Source: Femina magazine)

Sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons but later a sliver of doubt resonates deep within and we find ourselves caught in a dilemma of sorts. The mind nudges you in one direction and the heart tugs you in another. Which one do you choose? Probably you would go with what is logical and feels right for your happiness, welfare and that of your family. 

But if you are a spiritual seeker like me, you would probably test your own level of perception and action by doing the unthinkable and seeing what it brings back into your life. In my case, I always go with the flow of the heart even in the trickiest situations. Yes, it means that I make more mistakes than others do. I like learning from those mistakes because it's all about engaging yourself with a learning curve. We never stop learning. And that realization is the best step forward in charting our growth in life at incremental levels.



Then there are also mistakes of another kind - the kind of mistakes that we camouflage into believing that it is not a mistake, that it is another step of reaching towards our happiness and we find ways to justify it even when deep within we are aware that it isn't the right thing to do.

What do you do in situations like that? Do you turn to God, loved ones or close friends for guidance? Do you step back to contemplate on the situation at hand and try to see it with more clarity as witness would so that towards the end you can take a logical decision? And finally, how do you assess your plan of action particularly when it may impact relationships that you value as sacred?

I would love to know your thoughts here. 

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