If Only, Papa was a Soldier

I lost my father about a year and a half ago. He was an extraordinary man who lived an ordinary life. I know, every son feels the same about his father. But these are not my words completely, this is what people who knew him, always said about him. He lived an ordinary life, but an ordinary life of honor.

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My father worked in the Indian railways, and at the time of his death, he was a Senior Section Engineer, Signals.

Dad lived his job, quite literally. He was in charge of one of the largest, and the most difficult to manage, sections in this zone of Indian Railways, and that is probably why he was stationed there for almost 24 years. That 100 km long section, he knew like the back of his palms. When Dad was first transferred here, he was an ESM. Moving from an ESM to SSE is like moving from a shift worker to a CXO in an MNC.

As I was growing up, everyone around me had led me to believe that Government servants had relatively lighter workload, compared to their corporate counterparts. But that argument could never convince me entirely. Probably because I had seen my father toil.

Dad never took breaks. Unless absolutely necessary, he would not take leaves either. He would go to office even while suffering from Jaundice. He would get called up at odd hours, when there were signal failures (here, he paid the price for being the most capable among his colleagues), but he would still go. He missed some of the most important events of my life, but I had never seen him miss a Call of Duty. He always believed that people who work for the government are the servants of general public. And public servants must never shy away from their duties.

My father was an exceptionally polite gentleman. It was hard for him to offend anyone. But, at his job, he did have a few altercations, mostly with his seniors, over matters of principle. When I was young, I thought of Dad as an overly idealistic and unreasonably honest man. His colleagues, and even his juniors, had earned way more that he could. But as I grew up, I realized that he was busy earning something else; it was the admiration and awe of the people around him. His dignity was unquestionable, his character spotless. And a testimony to that dignity, was the number of GM awards he won during his tenure.

As people grow towards higher positions, their jobs become more administrative in nature. But my dad somehow never wanted that to happen. He was so engaged with his work that he kept doing those ‘hands-on’ jobs. He would walk along the tracks for hours, he would climb up the signal poles, he would help workers lay underground cables. SSEs are not supposed to do that. They are supposed to instruct other people to do that. Dad didn’t care, though. For him, work was work, no matter who did it.

But wait, Dad was 58 years old. He kept sweating his guts out, day in and day out, but some day, the body had to give in. And it did

There was an Inspection scheduled in his section in March last year, and hence, the work was doubled. I could sense that my father was overburdened. He came home exhausted everyday, sometimes huffing and puffing as he climbed the stairs to our apartment. He was lost, worried and tired, all the time. He would just come back from work, eat, sleep and then go back the next morning. For those few days, he was almost living like a robot.

That day, as his colleagues told our family after his death, he was having chest pain while he was in a meeting. ‘Sharma Uncle‘, one of my father’s oldest colleagues, told him to go home and take rest, but Dad shrugged his suggestion off, saying that there is still a lot of work left, with very little time to complete it.

He came home that night, as his usual tired self. It was a weekend, I went to my cousin’s place for a night out (and how I regret it now). My Dad had severe chest pain at around 2 AM. Mom was calling me up, when Dad told her not to, as he did not want to disturb me in the middle of the night, in case I was sleeping. Damn!

The next morning, I got a call from Mom, asking me to come home as soon as I could. I came back, Dad was on the bed, holding his chest, yet suggesting to me that it was just normal chest pain caused by acidity. But my cousin, who is an MBBS student, and I forced him to come with us to a doctor. And once we had his tests done, we realized that the night before, he had had a heart attack!

Now, Just put everything aside for a moment, and think about this. The pain of a Heart Attack is one of the most excruciating physical sufferings a human being can ever encounter, and yet, this man curtailed it so that his ungrateful son doesn’t have his sleep disturbed.

That just summed up my father.

A day later, while he was still in the ICU, he had a repeat attack. I was there, beside his bed, along with a couple of doctors who were trying to comfort him. The nurses took my mother out of the ward. The doctors looked worried, the intensity of their efforts increased, so did that of my Dad’s pain. He flung up and down on his bed, a couple of times, almost as if he had been thrown on a trampoline. Then, all of a sudden, his body movements came to a frightening halt. His eyes closed slowly, and the last person he was looking at, was me.

All this sounds too familiar, doesn’t it? We’ve all seen it, heard or read about it through some or the other medium. Let me tell you, it’s nothing like anything you’d ever have seen or read. The experience sucks the soul out of your being for a while, and that image stays to haunt you for life. Watching your father close his eyes for the last time, is a sight I’d wish no one ever gets to see.

My time stopped right there. Someone broke the news outside the ward, and I could hear my mother wailing in agony. I did not have the courage to face her, I almost did not have the courage to breathe anymore. That day, a man died, and so did his son’s will to live.

The next few days were sheer torture. Just as we were trying to come to grips with what had happened, almost every railway employee in my father’s section, regardless of the department, did not go to work. It was a silent revolt, catalyzed by my father’s death. A lot of stuff was written against the railway authorities in the news papers; the reporters tried to make us take names. When we didn’t, they cooked up fictional accusations against a few of my Father’s seniors, and published them in my name.

My Father’s death shook the Railway authorities up, at least for a little while. There was almost a collective sense of disbelief. And then, it faded away from the short lived public memory.

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Although this became a big issue in the Railways and the Print Media at one point in time, the most important aspect of the story got lost in smoke. It was the recognition of my father’s selfless service.

My father was fondly called ‘Singh Saab‘, by his seniors, colleagues and juniors alike. Everyone knew that ‘Railway’ was Singh Saab’s first family, his wife and son always came second. And everyone was of the opinion that Singh Saab could almost give his life for the Railways.

Well! In the end, he did. He literally did.

But that part of the story never came to the fore. Because he died working for the railways. And that is why I now wish my father was a Soldier.

When a soldier dies on the front, doing his job of protecting his motherland, not only does he achieve martyrdom, he also attains the reverence of his countrymen for eternity. His death is grieved upon, his candor is pledged upon. And all of that is richly deserved, because to lay your life down for your country, is the most supreme form of sacrifice.

Though my father was not a soldier, he always lived like one. I’m not trying to say that his work killed him, but his unending dedication towards his work, probably did.

Yes. Fighting on the front is patriotism. But so is doing you duty, in public service, and fighting the system from within. My father didn’t die in uniform, he did not have any medals over his chest, nor was his body brought home wrapped in a tricolor. But if giving everything up, including your health & wealth, in Public Service, is a measure of Patriotism, then my Father was a Patriot of the highest order.

And, through this post, I want to tell my Father up there, and all those Government Officials who hold their guards, firm and honest, in spite of everything that happens to and around them, that you have my respect, and everybody else’s too.

I’m not trying to take away any of the respect that the soldiers get. It would be foolish to even think of that. All I’m asking for, is similar recognition for people like ‘Singh Saab’, so that the next time, a son isn’t led to believe that his father is overly idealistic and unreasonably honest.

The Classical Conditioning of Notions

About an year ago, while I was traveling in the Delhi Metro, I witnessed a unique episode. Inside the coach, these sign boards appears over every corner seat

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When I boarded, there was already an old aged Sikh couple sitting in the opposite row. A few stations later, a boy of almost the same age as mine, entered the train. The guy was carrying a lot of luggage. He was sweating heavily, huffing and puffing. He looked around in search of a seat, but there was none vacant. However, as the train rolled into motion, the old man got up, and asked this guy to take his seat. The boy hesitated initially, but the old man forced him to sit. I, and my fellow passengers, were a little surprised by the gesture.

Coincidentally, the old couple got off the train at the same station as I did. So, I casually went up to the man and asked him “What made you vacate your seat for a much younger individual?“. His reply was an eye opener. He said “I don’t think the sign boards tell you to give the seat to the person older than you. It tells you to offer it to someone who needs it more than you. And frankly, that young man needed it more.” And he walked away with a smile and a little pat on my shoulder, while I stood there feeling stupid.

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At times, our notions become really stringent, and stupid. For every idea, we draw a picture in our minds. A picture that creates the recall value of that idea. And while that might not be such a bad exercise, the trouble is that the picture gradually becomes inseparable from the original idea. In fact, sometimes, it supersedes the idea itself. Just like old age and the idea of being weak.

Right through our lives, we nurture many such notions, some of them extremely illogical, and ridiculous at times. Like Black brings in the idea of evil. Like the idea of the eldest being the wisest. Like trendy people being seen as immature. Like Bachelors being considered irresponsible, or children presumed to be illogical. That’s how it’s apparently supposed to be. It is amazing, and appalling, to realize how easily our minds get conditioned with such notions. Doubts do creep, but there never occurs an urgent need to ration them out because everyone else around us is conditioned too.

To become socially fit, we adapt the norms that we once used to question. We give up the chances of being exceptional, in order to become acceptable. The classic example of this dichotomy is seen in parenting. All parents want their children to stand out, and yet force them do things exactly the same way as everyone else.

In trying to fit in, we compromise on our beliefs until they become completely obsolete, and on their tombstone sparkles the set of socially enforced norms, called “Traditions”. There is a certain section of the society that always tries to safeguard these at any cost. These men fought Galileo & Copernicus when they had claimed that the sun was the center of the solar system. They had rubbished Mendel’s theory of genetics. They opposed the abolition of child marriage, they tried to safeguard the “Sati Pratha”. They have forever tried to kill creativity, subdue logic, to suppress free thinking, to destroy opinions that contradict the status quo. They simply can’t accept being questioned, and wouldn’t even hesitate to hurt someone who challenges their paradigms. But in truth, a society that isn’t ready to be questioned is either headed towards a collapse, or a revolution.

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There is no sure shot way for a society to be objective, always. However, one may do that on an individual level by constantly asking oneself  ‘WHY?’. By focusing more on the purpose than on the action. By following norms in principle, rather than in letter.

You may stand alone at times. You may confront your own people too. You may be called weird. That is a price you might have to pay. The price of being unorthodox. But then, orthodox people seldom create history.

 

~Pratap

Because Hatred is easy to spread !

For a couple of years, my blog has remained rather inactive. And there’s a reason to it.

I’m decent with social networking and sorts. In fact, I have always been an early adopter of technology in general, but the last couple of years have been a little harrowing. With the upsurge of social media, individuals have started to posses unprecedented power of expression, a power that is being abused relentlessly these days, in the form of unnecessarily strong but ill-informed opinions.

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And, with my mellowed emotions and milder choice of words, I began to feel slightly out of place, and I must admit, a little discouraged too. Nevertheless, I’ve mustered up some courage again, and will write from now on.

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Social Media, we all know, is an angry place. Because it’s the only world where you can talk without interruption, don’t have to face immediate retaliation, and you always have the chance to retract what has been said. That rarely happens in the real world. Powerful ! Isn’t it? But it doesn’t end there.

It also gives you a unique opportunity to find out people with similar set of opinions. And that helps in aligning an individual opinion with a collective one.

So you must be wondering ‘what’s wrong in that?’

Well, a lot is wrong. Because that sense of alignment has now gradually transformed into a form of divide.

If you are an Indian, you have to hate everything that is even remotely related to Pakistan, by default. If you are a ShahRukh fan, you are supposed to abuse Salman at every opportunity you get. If you like Modi, you have to despise all that Kejriwal says and does. If you’re with Arsenal, you simply can’t like a Chelsea player, doesn’t matter how good he is. Gone are the days of mutual admiration transcending boundaries.

It has become much easier, with the advent of social media, to monger hatred and seclusion in the name of fandom, ideology or even nationalism. Because the voice of an individual can hide easily within the crowd. Because the veil of anonymity can be worn anytime. And because there will always be buyers for hatred, even if there are none for affection. Not a great space, is it?

This has now gotten woven into our DNA, somehow. There is no “I guess I don’t like it that much” sentiment these days. It is either “I just love it” or “I just hate it“. And we may even be able to hold ourselves back when we like something. But when we don’t like something, it will be all over social media. There is no ‘in between’ zone. The virtue of indifference is almost extinct. Taking a side on any issue is imperative. And hurling the other side with incessant hatred, looks like the only resort.

We are, now a days, defined by what we hate, and not by what we love.

Because hatred is easy to spread. Because negativity sells the most. Because harsher words get easy attention, more eyeballs, more likes, more shares, more re-tweets, more reach. . So we use them at every juncture. We bash celebrities, sportsmen, artists, politicians, films, books, countries and even religions, without realizing that our opinions are subject to the our interpretations; our interpretations of the limited understanding and information that we posses.

We curse things, places and people, with all disdain, without even having the slightest of knowledge about the issue. Why ? Because the ‘Fan Group‘ or the ‘Political ideology‘ we belong to, says so. And hence, we form an opinion first, and then start researching (selectively) over the issue, which is a dangerous exercise.

Once we are in that vicious trap of conforming to the collective thought of a section of people that we once chose to follow, we find it difficult to differ from them at any point of time.

That, in my opinion, is what is wrong.

Collectivism is great, because we can only do well in unison, and not alone. But collectivism should never result in confinement and isolation. It should create bridges, not boundaries. And it should never come at the cost of an individual’s choice of opinion and expression. Alliance is meant to uphold an individuals feelings, not crush them

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I am not saying that I have never been guilty of the same. I also don’t think my opinions are always the most informed ones. I am just saying that we all are at fault. Us, and everyone else. And somewhere deep within, we all know that.

Let us, thus, contemplate – what are we turning our social space into?

I know it is virtually impossible to wait for the truth to reveal itself, before forming an opinion. But I don’t think it is that difficult to be a little lenient in our expression, in our choice of words, and in our eagerness to hate.

Can we not remain open to take back our words, once found wrong? Can we not resist the temptation to use strong words? Can we not avoid hate post? Well, I don’t have a universal answer to these. But I’m sure, everyone can answer for themselves.

Let’s bring back courtesy, shall we!

 

PS: Last month, I faced the biggest tragedy of my life, and I had a lot to say and write about a lot of people involved. But my resolution for this year was to avoid hate post, so I didn’t write a word. And it felt terrible initially. But looking back at it now, I feel proud of it. Holding back may be painful, but it has a value of its own. A value that is invaluable.

 

 

 

So Much for Logic !

Ever since life took that abrupt crotch, putting me right in the midst of the “Brightest Minds” , a realization that I’m probably not as ‘bright’ has been clambering unconsciously, somewhere deep within. And it gets reaffirmed by the opinions and sentiments I hold about mankind. One such reflection inspired this post.

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There are people in our lives who may never conquer the world. They might not even come close, should they decide to make an attempt. Or, for that matter, they may never accomplish an absolutely extraordinary feat in life. In all probability, they would never make it to the the headlines of a national daily, or be the buzz creators of social media.

Yet, they’ll have just enough – the right amount, of the right ingredients, in the right proportion – to never fall short when it comes to ‘giving’. Their offering is almost effortless, one that happens occasionally out of obligation, but predominantly out of spontaneous desire. They simply have to bestow, something that can be felt but never captured, that which is intangible yet concrete, and which borders on the mystical. Sadly though, in the world of palpable symbolism, this offering loses it’s significance.

My mother, for instance, might never make it to the Bournvita quiz contest or the Spellathon. Neither will she ever posses the best GK in the town. But she’ll know almost everything I am in and about, sometimes even more than me. And that carries a greater weight in her life than anything else. My father may never have enough to gift me a yacht on my birthday, but he’ll do just enough to make sure that I never feel like I’m missing out on anything in life. My sister might not act or talk logically at all times, and yet, she is the first person I’ll consult before taking a potentially life altering decision.

In our day and age, we have probably started giving in too much to the values that can be expressed in numbers. The status of people coded in their IQs and EQs, their worth found in the zeroes of their Cheque books, their creativity judged by number of hits or their character evaluated by the size of the group they are a part of. Alas ! Their individual compassion has no scale to be measured upon, and thus holds no explicit value.

Honestly, the reflections of personality are notable, while those of character are tacit. But personality is a matter of choice, that which we make but certainly can’t sustain. And character reflects legitimacy and purity, that which eventually surfaces and stays.

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With experience, comes the enlightenment that our flawed paradigms of human evaluation are nothing but a hoax.

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It would be so much better if we could let logic take a back seat, and let empathy drive all choices that may shake the deeper recesses of our lives. If we simply revered humans, not on the basis of the contours of their brain mapped on scale, but by the expanse of their heart sensed in those latent vibes. For they may engulf all anxiety and suffering, and yet, not shed a penny.

But then ! An acceptable chronic social con is much easier to endure, isn’t it ?

And therefore, So Much For Logic !

Being Classy !

I don’t like talking to him” she said. “That’s perfectly ok” was my reply “but for what reason”.

She continued “Well, he is just not our class…. you know…..hanging around with him won’t be of any good”

It was a setback for me. Because both the second and the third person in the above conversation were my friends. And I wasn’t aghast by her decision to shun him, but by her reasons.

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IMAGE – its what we screw our lives up to protect. Right from the time we learnt how to read and write, we have been safeguarding a virtual effigy of ourselves. Something, that we know is not our true self, but what we want the world to believe we are. Because we opine that the world judges us on the basis of it, and because we do the same when we judge others. And while it appears quite frivolous at a glance, we are all guilty of the same.

Inside the chambers of our minds, we all pass judgements – that person isn’t classy because he doesn’t speak proper English. She is down market because she wears old fashioned clothes, he is a dimwit as he knows nothing about Hollywood movies. That guy is stupid because he doesn’t understand RAP, this girl is imbecile because she laughs too loud, he isn’t well educated, she comes from an ordinary family – we’ve all been the subject or the object of these verdicts.

The basic error that the human mind commits is that it muddles up personality with character. The choices one makes – the music one listens to, the food one eats, the clothes one wears – form his personality, his Image…. while the character is much deeper.

Our personality is a function of the environment we are in, while our character is a function of our values….. and just that. Sad though, that in our world, the former takes precedence.

We judge a person’s class on account of his choices and not his values. Whereas in my opinion, class is just an aura of confidence, that is being sure without being cocky. It is self-discipline and self-knowledge. It’s the sure-footedness that comes with having proved you can meet life in the face. Class bespeaks an aristocracy. Class has nothing to do with money, education or ancestors. Some wealthy “blue bloods” have no class, while individuals who are struggling to make ends meet are loaded with it.

Class is what stays upright when everything else falls apart. Class is in the dignity, not in the decorum.

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The true Class of a building is in the cement, and not the paint.

I am not too fond of judging people anyway. But then, I believe it is quite hard not to. However, we must at least get our parameters of judgement right before drawing those conclusions. See a person – not a rank, not a title, not a degree – just a person. And you may probably do a better assessment.

And having a personality to cover up the shortcomings of our character isn’t such a bad thing either. We don’t necessarily need to show our real self all the time, but we can at least appreciate the ones who do.

There lies the onus !

~rbn

Follow Instincts…. or Father Regrets !!

Why do you do things so impulsively?” asked one of my friends, the other day. “Because I believe that impulsive decisions are most accurate.” I said. Giving me a weird glance, he asked “What if someday, something goes completely wrong?”
My answer was “If I keep worrying about what might go wrong, I will keep missing out on what can go right”
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Almost everyday, life dishes out choices in front of us. For once, our gut tells us to go for the dicey one. But more often than not, we tend to take the safer path, the one with smaller but virtually guaranteed returns, discarding the one that we believe is riskier, either because of atrocious experience, or simply because it was less traveled. In that, we don’t realize that we are actually creating reasons to regret. Because someday, someone will take the path we discarded, and conquer it. Then, we would be left thinking “If only”

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When I was starting this blog, I was warned I might end up looking outright stupid in front of everyone. My answer was,“I not doing it for anyone, but myself”. What we regret most in life is the decisions we made looking at ourselves from somebody else’s eyes. We are concerned more about What they might say? instead of How we might feel?. The day we stop thinking about ‘THEM’, and instead do what we believe, we will have less reason’s to regret. Anyone can give you suggestions, but nobody takes responsibility when they fail. If you have to make you choice, trust your instinct… you will succeed at your own merit, or fail at your own peril. Any which way, you would not regret, because you followed your heart.

Take chances, trust people, pursue your interests, fall in love… It’s true that you might be hurt. Quite a bit. You might fall, you might fail. But it’s also true that you will love, and be loved, and that carries a weight of its own. A greater weight, in my opinion. It’s like that pie chart of life. In the end, you will look back in life and see that the greatest piece of it was love, happiness and success. The problems, the failures, the breakups, the sadness… those will be there too, but just smaller slivers, tiny pieces.

Strangely though, it is for those tiny pieces that we sacrifice the chunk, while the truth is that we hardly regret things we do. Mostly, we regret ones that we didn’t – the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we took too long to make.
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Don’t shun the exam, just because the subject seems difficult. By not attempting, you ruin whatever little chance you have of succeeding. Don’t be afraid to take chances, you can’t outwit fate by standing on the sidelines placing little side bets about the outcome of life. Either you wade in and risk everything you have to play the game or you don’t play at all. And if u don’t play, u can’t win.

As Steve Jobs said “Have courage to follow you heart, your gut, your instinct…. they somehow already know what is good for you”

It is up to us, whether we follow our instincts, or keep fathering regrets.

PS: Security is a superstition, anyway. You are never completely secure…. not even now.

~rbn

Because we generalize too soon….

While I was in New Delhi recently, I had an interaction with a Canadian lady who had just landed in India. After about an hour of light hearted conversation, she said “You Indians are really cheerful“. To which, I politely replied “You still can’t say that lady, you have only met one Indian in me…. there are many out there who aren’t so

She was taken aback by my response “So you mean to say Indians are dull”. I clarified, saying “I didn’t say that either, I just meant that like any other society, we are also a mix of all kinds of people. You simply can’t categorize us as one type

She left a few minutes later, half confused and half enlightened.

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During the conversation, I came across a strange bent of mind that we humans have – The eagerness to generalize the specifics. We have this amazing knack of forming a certain image for the whole group of people (or things) purely on the basis of our encounter with one or two of their members.

We are quick to pounce on any and every opportunity that we get to characterize them under our predefined perceptions, and then generalize those for the whole group. And that can be a hazardous exercise.

Mahatma Gandhi was a Gujrati, but so was Nathuram Godse.  Imagine how different would the notion of Gujrat be for two people who make sweeping assumptions on account of these two contrasting examples, while neither of these paint the real picture. Within every assemblage, there is good, and there is bad. There is beauty, and there is gloom. There is justice, and there inequity. But in truth, the reality lies somewhere in between these extremes.

We don’t throw away the match box, just because the first stick doesn’t ignite…. we try every subsequent one until the box goes empty. But where does this spirit go while dealing with humankind ?

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The tendency to generalize stagnates one’s mind. Perceptions are simply the virtual pills we take to comfort our intellect, when it is unable to comprehend the authentic.

Having said that, I do believe that its too difficult not to be metaphysical. But before generalizing, at least make sure that your sample size is large enough…. that is what mathematics tells you. Make sure you try every matchstick before you discard the box as a whole…. and also make sure that your hands aren’t wet while you do so.

That is how you will know… or at least come close 🙂

PS: Biology is one field where specifics form the generic… but life ain’t just simple biology.

Of Happiness, Grief, Beauty, Love, Pain, Serenity and Serendipity

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