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A Whimpy Dog’s Diary: A DOGS DAY OUT

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Today was a special Sunday. My family decided to dedicate the entire day in my company. I couldn’t be happier than that. It started off with a bowl of milk and our ritualistic walk in the morning. Oh! boy how I like to hit the turf. We must have walked for 5-10 minutes. Then I met Gota the young Pug living down the lane. He didn’t seem very interested in knowing me. Same to you I whispered. Then pushed on to complete the last lap and came to familiar territory beside a slow running canal. Mummy sat on the culvert indulging in thought and I sat beside her and watched the vehicles go pass by.

Back at home from the balcony grills I watched over the two other dogs who I see as my mates. They are Sandy and Spot a German Shepard and a Dalmatian pup. We exchange pleasantries and caught up with the latest news. It seems their freedom is quite limited these days and they have been confined to the back garden of the huge mansion.

On my part I am lucky I have no restrictions. Mummy believes in the freedom of dogs as much as the freedom of any other creature. She tells me I am part of the family and I should fit right where it’s comfortable for me.  I heard her say once “When I see into the eyes of a dog I see a living being, a friend and a soul”. There are not many things we disagree because we seem to have hooked on the right attitude from the very beginning.

In the evening Mummy and Master (the boy) took me on a ride in the car. The shutters were half way down so I could slightly poke my face out. I love to feel the wind under my skin (fur) and watch the landscape swish pass. We reached the playground in Kotte where dogs aren’t actually allowed on the turf. Lately several signboards have been erected informing the public. But dogs are allowed to walk along the road.

I walked alongside my master all the way to the Parliament and back to the place where the car was parked. I was feeling elated, imagine what benefit it must be for my health. Also the fresh air and the vast space gave a refreshing feeling. I sheepishly threw a grateful look of thanks. Mummy gave me some water and patted my head to say ‘you deserve it good boy’. Then while me and the boy sat languishing on the side walk she dashed for a quick jog around the perimeter. I watched the vehicles go past, not knowing how to count that many. I noted families, children by the dozen arriving at the park. Parents unpacking bikes and toys for the children to play. It’s a pity dogs are not allowed inside the park. Sigh! We should have one of our own right? Mummy was back hot on her heels and it was time for us to go.

Pets have wonderful patience as they watch over their owners. They can trust us. We sympathize and empathize with our feelings. It is nice to be appreciated for the great friend you find in us. What you bestow on a dog, you will surely receive back in threefold. This is what I have heard.

Hiking in Ella – a piece of Heaven

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Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.

The Badulla bound train from Colombo-Fort is packed with tourists right round the year and Ella is supposed to be on the three top destinations visited. I had reached Ella around 6.30 am taking the night mail train with a couple of my hiking friends. Sadly missing out on lovely scenery whooshing past large extent of it in the dead of night. We were saved by a glimpse of the quiet dawn over shrouded misty mountains. It’s a new day and a big day – as we were geared to teeth for hiking. We were off the train and straight on our way to scale the Little Adams Peak our first of many trails.

From the station to the town and 2kms along the Nanmunukula road we walked with our backpacks that stocked the bare-minimum, to carry anything in excess would be a burden. This team was clear that the trip was for the young at heart and sturdy, no whimper is to be tolerated. A road prominently marked for 98 Acres Hotel takes right and traveling along for 1.5 kms we pass the magnificent hotel complex. The hotel is apparently very popular among tourists. Those who had done the Little Adams Peak trail were returning pink faced and looking content. From there we take a stepped path along the ridge scaling 200 meter further up.

With strong winds blowing across the open area, the morning chill biting at the ankles the steps although not great leaps were found to be slippery. Years of girls scout training clipped-in on cue and help reduce feelings of uncertainty and fear. I had immediately taken the crawl position for safety. It was not yet time to enjoy the picturesque scenery. First I had to scale the ridge and take in that wow moment later.

Some say the Little Adam’s Peak is nothing like the Holy Mountain but did you know that it shared a similar shape. The peak offers wonderful 360 panoramic views of beautiful blue-green mountains melting into picture postcard creamy blue skies. It’s simply breathtaking and enchanting. Through the mist we could discern the Ella Rock another half-day hike if you wish, and also the Ravana Falls linking Indian Epic, the Ramayana and below the escarpment and through a fall of 400 meters you could spot the Wellawaya-Ella road snaking up the terrain.

Boulders and various rocks give place for seating and opportunity for the youngsters to be done with ‘Selfies’, 360-panoramic captures, Twittering and FB and Whatsapp updates. It absolutely true that Nature provides us in its bounty a piece of heaven and a place to yearn for, but for those without their senses glued to ground realities will surely meet an uncertainty death, tripping over whilst snapping those wonderful pictures.

Hunger pangs alerted that we have not had anything since boarding the train. We quickly took one last glimpse of the scenery and were bound downwards into the comfort zone of that most fantastic hotel. Where we stopped to buy a drink and while away. The 98 Acres is a luxury hotel that offers comfort hidden beneath its most deceiving rustic looks. From the train we saw dozen sloping roofs done in hay, each room built of wood and glass, a gallery showcasing the mountain landscapes. An idealistic spot for honeymooners yet rooms so exorbitantly priced probably suiting foreign tourists than local clientele.

Remembering this was no picnic but a hiking tour we regrouped at a cheaper outfit available in the town. A small shower came and petered out. Having replenished ourselves with a hearty breakfast of sausages, omelets and toasties we headed on our second trail. Walking towards Kitul Ella station we picked a local guide for the expedition. He led us on a gravel path some 300 meters beyond the quaint railway station. We crossed a stream that is supposed to feed the Ravana Falls and hiking further 2 kms and a little more we were able to reach the Ella Rock.

This time we opted using a local guide who could relate to the place like his own grounds. The young boy was around eighteen years of age and appeared to be fairly knowledgeable in natural history. Taking us through a Eucalyptus forest where the floor was barren due to the slow decay of its leaves he tried to explain the downside of these trees. They are said to emit compounds that inhibit other plants growing in the same area. Pines with razor sharp edges strewn everywhere we had to watch our steps. The tall tree growing so fast and endlessly the low realms had no branches and on top everything seemed knitted together, allowing very little light. Yet no plant was taking root in the bed of rough residue. Except for brightly coloured mushrooms and fungi like neon lights, eerily lighting up the path.

When the forest gave way to the summit it was a grand opening of breathtaking views. The boy pointed a finger at various peaks and ranges and named each one rather cleverly. Among them was Hakgala (double M), Thotupola Kanda, Numunukula range and the Little Adam’s Peak we had traversed early on. You would never regret benefiting from a local lad as your guide. They know too well and appear to love their surroundings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The guide also showed us the starting point of the Ravana falls, its beautiful long cascades resembling the areca flower with withering petals. The tumbling cascades is said to hide the cave in which the gallant King Ravana of Lanka hid Princess Sita according to legend. The Ravana falls form part of the Ravana Ella Wilderness Sanctuary and is around 6 kms away from the Ella Railway station.

Interestingly the boy relates to an opening to the very same cave found a kilometer along the Ella-Bandarawela road and a further 1.5 kms along a narrow path uphill to the Ravana Ella temple. We were too beat up to take upon another expedition. The boy claimed that archaeological excavations had revealed evidence of human habitation dating back 25,000 years.

From Whimpy’s Diary: Life is better with a dog

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Sometimes no words are needed to say how you feel about someone. The bonding with my mommy is something very special. With her and a few others I share telepathic communication that only animals can claim to have.

When mommy fell ill last week I knew it deep inside, even though I tried to tell her ‘Take a break. Please stay’ she had to put on a brave face and make it to that all-important workshop. By night fall mommy came home tired and just slumped on the couch grumping that every bone in her body was weary and aching. A million tiny darts hitting pinching nerve ends she complained. I licked her forehead and her fever measured 98 degrees!

‘I told you so, but you wouldn’t hear of it. Now look what you’ve gone and done’. Up with it I urged her because both of us were starving. I put my paw in her hand and pleaded for her to get up, with my nose I showed her in the direction of the kitchen. That night she fed me but for herself swallowed a bunch of pills and went to bed. For many days to follow I watched over her, every time the fever came up I filled my tongue with water and sloshed on the burning forehead. With my wet nose checked her vital points. She was so feeble I could push her over with my snout and slip into the warm crater she emptied on the feathered mattress.

When she was much better later in the week she gave me a cool bath to beat the April heat. I was so grateful knowing how much she must care for me to make it priority on the first signs of recovery from the viral flu. Then while she rested in between bouts of fever she did the most wonderful thing.

Good care is the best way to communicate your love for a pet. She gave me a full-body massage that no dog would complain. Reading a book on dogs ‘Whole Health for Happy Dogs’ out of sheer boredom when she could focus on nothing else, she learned of this new technique called ‘raindrops’. So using only the tips of the fingers in tiny pattering strokes across my body she caressed gently until I fell asleep. Deep in my slumber I kept smiling because of the pleasure of the raindrop strokes that mommy made on my side. I was nudged back into this world only when she flopped me to massage the other side. The funny fluffy feeling started all over again tingling every nook and vein into vigour. She continued ‘raindrop’ patter me till I went into deep, deep slumber again. O boy that must have been seventh heaven floating on puffy pillowed clouds, drifting in a mild summer breeze.

Benefits of a massage for a dog is similar to its effects on humans. It increases circulation and boosts energy points. In addition massages can be used for increased bonding between dog owners and pets and building of trust.

Thank you for the warm and gentle touch.

Mothering ways the choices we make

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We are losing sight of what Success is. Humanity is working hard to allow individuals to creativity and joyful living rather than simply working to survive. A full life includes laughter, play and love.

If I make 4% less money than my peers but aint plagued by depression and stress; if my children go to sleep, giggling and know the incomparable warmth of a little body melting into mine; in complete trust and dependency I will be deliriously happy.

It is not that career success is unimportant or unnecessary. Far from it. It is simply that it is not the whole picture. To have only a career and barely enough energy to see my child is not a good choice for me.

Women who don’t work have to think hard about how the role they have within the household is going to impact their children’s perception of what it means to be a woman to be a mother. Or else should your children grow up with the maid at home? Who will inspire their young minds and paint vivid pictures in their memories?

I’d like to answer: I hope my being at home will signal to my children that loving them, enjoying them and enjoying myself is more important than an extra 4% of income. I hope it tells them that woman’s role is more important than work. Remember we work to live and not the other way round.

I hope it tells women that we have to strive for real change: for a society that values caring and structures of paid work appreciate the role of motherhood. So that both men and women can support each other in fulfilling parenting duties.

To conclude here is a lovely poem to illustrate our children’s longing for us – Slow Down Mommy by R. Nigh.

They have only got you to fulfill their needs of love and security. Mothering is an investment in our offspring – spend quality time – speak softly and gently – and above all listen to their voices.

It’s your gift to your children. The feelings felt by children during their formative years are etched life-long inside. Your speech become their inner voice.

You will be the candle that sheds lights into their futures…

 

 

Beside a lake in Kandalama where tranquility abounds

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Perched on a rock overlooking the Kandalama lake

Dambulla in Malate District is considered a central location for goods and people coming from all directions. Around 12 km interior from Dambulla town is a languorous lake and village by the name of Kandalama. While one famous hotel calls itself by the name of a different lake the other uses the Sinhala alphabet ‘ක’ or Kandalama.

Before Kandalama became a renowned place for travelers Dambulla was well known as a historical site for the 3rd century BC Golden Temple that is perched on a tall magnificent rock. Where King Valagamba is said to have been protected by Buddhist monks from his enemies for over a decade, the cave temple found today is a result of the King’s gratitude. The Golden Temple complex was recognized by UNESCO in 1991 as a World Heritage site.

I remember making it up the large rock as a child of about 5 years. It is these visits that beckon me revisiting the rock temple again. It is also a place of great tranquility that appeals to my heart.

The noon sun was scorched mercilessly as I clambered up the weathered steps cut on the rock. The cool breeze made it somewhat bearable to climb until I reached the top. After which the caves become a welcome break from the heat. There are five caves actually. All of them are dim lit by the natural light coming through the entrance. The caves hold precious statues of the Buddha and Bodhisattva (the Buddha in previous birth) and receives veneration from pilgrims. Above, the ceiling is adorned with intricate paintings that date back to the 11th century.  Since then many other kings have added to the precincts. For example King Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa kingdom is said to have gilded the caves while the Kandyan kings restored them and had them painted.

The Golden Temple Complex in Dambulla – a World Heritage Site (1991)

Knowing the history of a place add value to a visitor. For me it gives great honour to be walking where generations have gone before me.

Going back a millennium Dambulla was still, a central point for those living in this island. Archeologist claim they have discovered burial sites of human skeletons that are 2700 years old in the area, at Ibbankatuwa near the Dambulla cave complexes.

On our way to Kandalama we did two things before we reached the hotel. We went off the beaten track in search of the mysterious Kaludiya Pokuna and ventured along the tank bund to find a quiet spot. Both of these made us exuberant whereas the luxury hotel offered us some comfort.

Since Dambulla has turned to be an important location on the map due to the attention given by our ancestors, it suddenly became rather important that Kaludiya Pokuna forest reserve and the ancient ruins in Kandalama was also explored. The forest reserve had been well protected for many years and is home to a number of endemic flora and fauna. The gravel path across woody areas led to a clearing where the ancient ruins (from 2nd century BC) of a monastery was. It is possible a hospice too was available at that time, considering the number of medicinal plants and trees found on site.  Pass a pagoda of some significance in total brickwork and a little beyond you would stumble upon the said pond – Kaludiya Pokuna. The water in the little pond was as you can guess, dark.

Gravel path to Kaludiya Pokuna across the woods

Many birds, some rather rare ones such as the Stork-billed Kingfisher and Sri Lankan Spur Fowl (Haban Kukula) can been spotted in this compound.

Some archeological sites make me very depressed. I suspect it is the clinical presentation of restored artifacts placed upright that really put me off. Usually the area is cleared leaving no signs of the digging and plastered with green turf using rather modern landscaping techniques. I mention this because at this site like all other ancient sites of lesser importance such distilling has not reached. This makes the experience all the richer for the discerning traveler or historian.

Peeling ourselves from the site we proceed towards the hotel and stumble upon an exquisite place. How wonderful for the wandering traveler to find a rock no less important than the Sigiriya rock because she followed the path of a magnificent eagle. It was a Grey-headed Fish Eagle lurking close to the water’s edge hunting for its meal. Stunned by its appearance I quietly got off the vehicle to capture it,. Wings spread full span and surfing like a kite at very low elevation and then its dives effortlessly to rise with a prize (fish) caught in its beak. The path  led up to a rock which to my surprise was like a paw of the lion in Sigiriya – well helped by a little imagination of course.

I hurriedly clambered up on from the talons (claws) to the paw in the form of a lovely flat rock overlooking the Kandalama Lake. And there I was triumphantly taking in all of the beauty – the lake, the aquatic birds stepping daintily across the leaves and white lotus blooms nestling among a profusion of floating plants. Reeds holding up majestically their banners and waving with every passing wind. The place offered the ultimate tranquility. Beside the lake of Kandalama I lay for a while, my eyes closed to dream. Through the canopy of Tamarind I took one last glimpse recapturing the scene.

There I was, like a lonely kite lost in flight – lost in space and time.

 

By rail to Adhisham

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36Ever since I was bitten by the travel bug, my dream was to travel to the misty hills by rail. The actual journey to the mystic mountains begins after Kandy. The train chugging uphill builds a child-like excitement of waiting to charge through the tunnels. Then billowing clouds of smoke the train howls down the line.

Taking the train is an inexpensive way to get across the country. The journey provides wonderful cultural experiences as well. During the journey, I had the chance to sit and mingle with several families. The real adventure in travel is to manage with the bare necessities and making do with the tit-bits offered by peddlers that board the train. By the time we reach Kandy one has enjoyed a variety of knick-knacks. Hot-hot wades dripping with fat, corn-on-the cob and mouth-watering fruity composts of ripe pineapple, guava and mango just to name a few. These items are often passed down the aisle, shared with other commuters over pleasantries.

To while away the time on my travels I always pack in a novel or two with me. Some of the books having been on previous journeys are dog-eared and soiled, get to ride along as a symbol of good omen. Pale purple train tickets, souvenirs saved from past trips are used as bookmarks. You may agree that a book is never read twice in the same manner. It is also the case with rail trips, each ride a roller-coaster packed with fun and excitement.

After Gampola and Nawalapitiya the train starts an uphill trail. I move towards the carriage door from which point I can enjoy the passing scenery more intimately. T37he sound of the warning whistle as the train makes through several tunnels back-to-back, is echoed and ricocheted like the wailing of a banshee in the ink black darkness. Since it’s already dark I close my eyes and patiently wait for the touch of sunshine on my skin and the feel of wind in my hair, to appear. Each time I memorize the burst of feelings as the train emerges into the greenery. Then the unending trail is back again.  For the umpteenth time I have bent precariously over the side to capture the train curve around itself, snaking through tea plantations and over bridges. We pass Watawala, Rozella and Hatton all of which are well known for high-grown tea. Green carpets laid over undulating landscapes where tea factories done in corrugated sheets stand out. Returning back to my seat I take stock of the places we passed, exhilarated, exhausted I wait the passing of a few more stations.

The stretch between Nanu Oya and Idalgashinna is by far the best in terms of views. I am back at the doorway. Great mountains are seen covered in Montane forests, tall trees in shades of emerald green and burnt sienna with wisps of clouds trailing like a bridal veil. What animals lay beneath the layers of foliage was not seen however it reminded me of the movie King Kong (2005). Soon it was my turn to get off. A pastor who was in conversation with me at that time quickly pointed a finger to the top of the mountain where the dream house was said to be built b35y the Englishman. The train coming out of a tunnel was too swift in taking the side of the mountain and I miss the one position in which the bungalow can be viewed from the rail tracks. However for those viewing from the escarpment from Adisham, it is easier to look down and spot the passing train.

Just 4 kms from Haputale town along a winding road is a Tudor style house built in 1931 by Sir Thomas Villiers. The Adisham Bungalow is now serving as the St. Benedict’s Monastery. From the station I took a trishaw to get there. Temperatures drop drastically in Haputale during the night and it becomes warmer in the morning only around 9 am. I had to made do with the light jersey and knitted shawl I carried. Traveling light is something I always strive. It makes my planning so much easier to want less. So I adjusted to the cold weather, cold water and plain food served at the retreat. Adisham was planned to actually get me out of my daily routine and help slow down. I made it an opportunity to be closer to nature during my stay, to  stroll in the garden, smell the flowers, watch the birds and enjoy great views from the top of the mountain. Beside the bungalow and 10 acres compound is a forest reservation. Many rare birds visit the compound. To spot these birds you need to be out in the chilling mornings and late evenings. This is also the best time for pictures as the ambience light is just right. Later during the day I walked down to the station to venture on the rail route, further up to Diyathalawa, Ella, Demodara and Badulla. (more on this in a later post)

A small portion of the house which used to be the quarters of Sir Thomas’ chauffer extends as a retreat for visitors. The rest of the bungalow to date is maintained like an English Cottage. In fact Adisham is the name of Sir Thomas’ birth place in Kent. Around the bungalow is a large garden extending to the sloping edge of the mountain and an orchard on the opposite side. From the harvest of a myriad fruit trees comes jams and cordials made of Marmalade, Strawberry and Peach. Visitors are only allowed during weekends and holidays. This allows the small population of clergy engage in their ministerial studies peacefully. During the mornings at the chapel I saw only a handful of novices performing daily devotions. In the vast precincts of the Adisham Bungalow those who make it to the retreat are able to take a respite from the chaos and stop to smell the roses.

33Amazing views from the retreat in Haputale

Kithulgala water rafting – not for the faint hearted

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white-water-raftingWoosh! and I am gasping for breath and clinging on to the side of the raft, a thin wiry fellow from the back is the hero who deftly manures the raft into a safe landing, having braved the rapids through the narrow gorge known as the Devil’s fault.

Kithulgala is a small wet town in Kegalle district. Enjoying the benefit of two monsoon rains it was once one of the wettest places in the island boasting of rain forests and a gushing rivulet that cuts across the ravines to join Kelani River. Climate change and dwindling rainfall has seriously affected the landscape. In addition the construction of a hydro-electric project further uphill by CEB is restricting the water flow of the tributary. This has resulted in other smaller rivulets in the area drying up.

A popular watering hole found little past the 44th kilometer point along the Awissawela-Hatton route (A7) is a dainty white Walawwa or bungalow by the name of Kithul Villa. Although we reached the place in roughly two hours covering over 80 kilometers from Colombo city, we were told that the water levels were too low for rafting. At the bungalow we were shown to a small stream that the local people use for bathing. There we found a quiet spot to dip in the cool water of a natural pool where we could sit on large stones and lend our feet to the nibbling of small fishes. Also the locals had placed the bark of a Kithul tree to direct the flow of the water into a make-shift shower (peella) that  allowed us to bathe. The boys teased the girls saying that leeches are found in abundance when bathing in a peella, the leeches would suck blood until them were too full to cling on to the skin and then drop off. The girls squealed frightfully and I think a few leeches curdled at the sound they emitted. We remained there for a long while trying to discern the different bird calls. The evasive Emerald Green Dove made a startling appearance, forgetting our presence, been utterly shy flew away into the forest minutes later.

Then we got news of the water been released from the dam and made a move to the rafting spot. These were a bunch of new adventurers who transported us in several tuk-tuks to the starting point. Due to the low level of water we were going to try only three of the five rapids found on the journey. We would start at the mouth of the biggest cascade known as the Butter Crunch. We were suited with life jackets and helmets and given an oar each. At the water’s edge before boarding the raft we were taught the preliminaries of rafting – how to paddle forward, backward, relax and hold the rope and get into the boat. Each boat had a guide we liked to call our heroes since they are experienced in tackling the rapids.

The two boats – one red (Red Indians) and the other yellow (Bandits) were secretly named by the only juvenile aboard took off with the blowing of a whistle. We paddled in rhythm to get closer to the first one of the falls, and then furiously to meet up with the rapids. The Kithulgala rushed downwards throwing the canoe sideways and narrowly escaping been toppled. As I look back to ensure all my mates were still aboard, the wiry boy at the back was bent backwards like an arrow swerving the boat into a safe landing. We passed on placid water now flowing gently over a glassy lake, the scenery was breathtaking with tall mountains emerging in view and on either sides of the river bank was thick forest. Flocks of swallows (locally known as Wahi Lihiniya) were seen hovering in circles and rising up excitedly – their call is supposed to premonition rainfall. Unlike in the elusive rain forest of Sinharaja many rare and beautiful birds can easily be seen in Kithulgala.

Kithulgala is famous for the filming of ‘The Bridge over River Kwai’ in 1957. A special bridge is said to have been constructed for the film on World War 2 and blown up during the final scenes as the train was crossing the river. They left nothing behind other than the concrete foundations for us to remember this epic film.

location-where-the-film-was-doneThe sound of rushing water cautioned us of the next rapid known as the Devil’s Fault which we faced with bravery that would shame any marine. Having cleared that we rowed awhile to get through the Rib Cage that nearly throttled us between two large ridges, the water rose half a foot inside the boat and we were soaked to the skin. Beneath the suspended bridge we were tossed out of the boats to swim at leisure. The water was ten feet deep according to the skipper. I found the life jackets helpful to keep afloat. We drifted a while downstream and finally piled into the raft again to reach the end point. The trail ends at the Plantation hotel having covered 5 kilometers along the river.  To make the ride memorable we grabbed the camera for a final shot of the entire team including the two boys who guided the rafts – our heroes.

Just two hours’ drive from Colombo, Kithugala is a wonderful place to enjoy a day-trip. Apart from water-rafting, there are a myriad of other adventure sports, hiking and bird watching made available. While you are there don’t forget to taste authentic Jaggery and Treacle made from the Kithul tree that is found in abundance in this sleepy town, whose name is also derived from the very same tree.

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The Bridge Over River Kwai (1957)