Chapter 4
The Start

WHEN should one begin a diet? That is an important question.

The sort of answer that has a wide appeal is: "You can carry on till forty. Then you should think of being careful about your food," or the practical individual answer: "Wait till you get indigestion."

The real answer to the question is that one should not oneself have to start a diet. It ought to be there as the Hunza diet is there. One ought to step into it as one steps into existence. One ought to get its benefits as one gets the benefits of air. One ought not to have indigestion, but be like the Hunza, only conscious of one's abdomen through the sensation of hunger. As to care after forty, the Hunza are vigorous in age as they are in youth. So it was that Mr. Skrine saw the Mir of Hunza at polo when nearly seventy. As captain of his side, after a goal, he had to gallop at full speed half-way up the ground, fling the ball into the air and smite it towards the opposing goal. "I saw the Mir, who in spite of his years is still a wonderful player, perform this feat, known as the tampon, eight times in succession and never once did he hit the ball less than a hundred yards."

So the answer to the question, "When to start a diet?" is that one should be in it from the start. It should be there at conception, as the air is at birth.

Practically, in western urban civilisation this is not so. No one can rely on his abdominal organs and physique generally to that degree. We have got off the track and we have to get back to it, and how to do that, with the Hunza as a guide, will be shown in the last chapters. There also we will find pretty surprising things about starts.

Meanwhile, let us take the start here as individual, the conceiving of the individual in the environment of a right diet.

To do this, let us follow the great Lord Lister's favourite dictum: "Be strange to the familiar." We are all so accustomed to thinking of ourselves as Harry This or Beatrice That that it is difficult for us to be strange to the familiar and remember that we were all once nameless microscopic specks.

It is as a microscopic speck that the individual life of a man, an animal, a fish, a tree, in fact any sort of life, starts. That is what we realise when we make ourselves strange to the familiar as regards the start. We don't start at birth.

There is the speck, ready to become a human being or fish or bird or tree. Each speck, therefore, is specific, but to each there is something common. The speck that is to become a human being becomes it through foods. The speck that is to become a fish becomes it through foods. The speck that is to become a tree becomes it through foods.

The specific qualities of each speck making one into a human being, another into a bird, belong to these great mysteries of being which we cannot penetrate and before which each, making himself strange to the familiar, must halt. It is then that we realise in the highest sense we know nothing except that there is this mysterious power that can change these minute specks, apparently so familiar, into the immense diversity of living things.

So of specificity we can say nothing. But the development of each specific unit depends on one thing coming to it from the outer world, namely food.

The human speck requires shelter, steady warmth, and the removal of waste products; the speck of a bird variable warmth and protection; the speck of a tree a fortunate security but no special provision of warmth. All of them require suitable food. Place the speck in arctic cold or torrid heat, on alpine heights or ocean's floor, let it be air-borne or buried in the soil, in each the speck shares the common factor of food.

So, making ourselves strange to the familiar, we might say: "At the start I was dependent for my health, not on physical exercise, the clean winds of the countryside, Viyella vests, stout boots, a touch of Kruschen in the morning, a good conscience and the approval of my neighbours, but on food. Food is primary."

What is primary remains primary.

At the start, then, the all-important thing for health is the foods (of which oxygen is then an unseparated part) which are brought by the mother's blood.

A healthy mother, eating healthy foods, is then a prerequisite for the good start. The rule, however, of the quite healthy mother is not absolute, for, if there happens to be a deficiency in her diet, it is she who suffers, not the child. If, for example, there is not sufficient calcium and iron for the pregnant woman and her foetus in her food, it is the growing life that seizes its full complement and the mother who gets pale and weak through deprivation.

Generally speaking, it is unquestionably the healthy mother who gives the speck a good start. This good start the Hunza people get. They get it as an unquestionable birthright or conception-right. And the good start is transferable by diet. The mother rats fed by McCarrison on the Hunza-Pathan-Sikh diet never aborted nor was there infantile death.

On the other hand, female rats, fed by McCarrison on the foods of the poor Bengali or Madrassi, foods comparable to "the poorer class Britisher's diet," sometimes failed to give their conceptions anything more than a start and a brief course. They sometimes only got as far as producing false starts. They got inflammation of the womb and ovaries, and this led to abortion or premature birth. Sometimes there was no start at all, and they died without delivering themselves of their offspring. "Often I have seen deficiently fed rats that die in pregnancy," said McCarrison in his lecture, "and often also rats that come to term only to die with five or six foetuses in the womb."

That faulty food led to no starts or false starts was not, of course, discovered, but emphasised by these experiments. As long ago as 1906 Mr. S. M. Babcock in the U.S.A. planned out his famous Wisconsin experiment. Three groups of cattle were fed on the complete ripe plants of wheat, maize, and oats. Chemically these corn plants produced the same diet. Was it really the same? The results were as a fact very different.

The cows fed on maize, which is the only one of the three grains of purely American origin, did well and their calves were normal. Those fed on oats did moderately well. The wheat-fed cows did badly. They became rough-coated and gaunt. They produced thin, undersized young two to four weeks too soon, and the young were either born dead or they died within a few hours. This does not mean that the whole wheat plant is bad food compared to the whole maize plant. It only means that for these cows the whole maize plant provided a diet and the wheat plant failed to do so, for it is clear that on it the race of these cattle would have died out. But as a food, that is to say, just a part of a diet, wheat may well be superior to maize.

There are hard indicators of the adequacy of the start and the mother's diet in the teeth. The teeth are formed whilst the foetus is in the womb and are within the gums at birth. Either before or when they erupt they can be made to tell the story of maternal diet and the start.

In his book Nutrition and Diseases (1934), Sir Edward Mellanby records this story, based upon Lady Mellanby's admirable work on teeth, with experiments on those of dogs: "If two comparable bitches are fed, one (A) on a diet of high calcifying qualities, the second (B) on a poor calcifying diet, the teeth of the offspring are affected in two ways:

  1. The actual calcification of the teeth taking place in utero of the foetuses of A is better than in the foetuses of B.
  2. After birth, if the diets of the puppies of A and B respectively are low calcifying qualities, the teeth of A's offspring -- the well-fed mother -- stand up more effectively to the bad conditions and are better formed than those of B's offspring. In other words, it would appear that if once the mechanism of calcification gets a good start as the result of perfect conditions in utero (in the womb), it is more difficult to upset by subsequent bad conditions."

What's bred in the teeth appears through the gums. Teeth, then, may be taken as the most convenient indicators of whether the mother's blood carried sound food or not. Even if dietary conditions after birth are not good, they are still indicators, for if the mother was healthy, it is harder for subsequent bad conditions to upset the good foundation. So written, it seems a truism which needs no scientific proof

Now, if defective teeth or even imperfect fitting of the projections and indentations of the upper and lower rows are indicators of the start, how many of us can boast of a perfect start? Even Ministers of Health who reassure us on the state of our national nutrition, would seldom dare to show their teeth in proof of it. Their tongues are safer advocates than their teeth.

There is really no need to prove the widespread defectiveness of civilized teeth. It is too well known. The statements and statistics naturally vary according to how strict is the measure, but they are all on the very large side. Thus a well-known American odontologist, that is to say a specialist in the proper alignment and fitting of upper and lower rows of teeth together, stated recently that he had never seen a perfect fit in the mouth of an American-born white child. That is one hundred per cent, and one can't go beyond that.

The statement of the League of Nations Committee on The Problem of Nutrition (Interim Report, Volume I) summed up the evidence before them on caries, or the decay of the teeth only, not misfit, in these words: "As regards dental caries, the enquiries carried out in various European countries have shown it to be present in from fifty to ninety-five per cent of the children examined. In a recent enquiry undertaken in Norway, only 160 out of the 25,000 school-children examined possessed perfect sets of teeth. According to the English report mentioned above, out of 3,303,983 children examined in 1933, 2,263,135 needed dental treatment."

This is sufficient to show, what scarcely anyone will deny, that the perfect start is somehow missed in modern civilization. Some may say that it is not the start, but the conditions after birth that are faulty. The two cannot be divided. A people whose traditions give them the perfect start give them also the right conditions after birth.

The great need of the right start is being recognised by authority in a somewhat feeble way. That is not authority's fault, for authority in England certainly cannot effect a radical revolution with a magic wand, or any other immediate means. One cannot leap out of a swamp.

Under the auspices of the Ministry of Health an experiment was organised from the Selly Oak Hospital and the report issued in 1936. This experiment did not go back to the start, but was an attempt to feed nursing mothers so that their children got sounder teeth. It proved abortive owing to the difficulty of finding out how strictly the mothers really followed the diet, etc.

A similar defect in the mother as a scientific object and witness is likely to make abortive a second attempt on the part of the State to approach the subject of the better start. It is that of giving the mothers and prospective mothers of the poorer classes milk. Here it is hard to be sure that the all-too-human mothers drink all the milk and do not share it out with the family or give some to an ailing child.

It is really essential to ask why such attempts are so feeble. Not only do they not go back deliberately to the start, but they ignore the very essence of a diet, that it is a whole and that is why it gives health, which is a word also meaning whole -- whole, hale, holy, health. Giving additional milk is patchwork, useful patchwork no doubt, but patchwork nevertheless.

Why then is there this lack of conviction about nutrition, why the lack of will towards it?

The answer to that question cannot lightly be given. It is involved in a trans-valuation of values, since that time when the modern world broke away from agricultural values and traditions and set up urban, money-making values in their place. The civilization of urban dominance may be better than the old. That is not the question here at issue. But it has within it intrinsic dangers. That no one can deny. And one of three dangers is the ill-judgment, the subjective judgment, of those of ill-physique. We have to-day as many ill-balanced judgments as we have men of the poor start.

Let me give an illustration. A few years ago I attended a big medical meeting, such as are held annually in the Empire. I had come from a country of balanced poise and movements, and after I had listened a little to the learned experts and professors upon the subject of health I became more and more inattentive to their speech and more and more interested in their lack of physical balance. I found myself taking notes, not of the lectures, but of the lecturers. They showed a lack of spontaneously assumed poise when speaking. They would stand crooked, place a foot on a step, withdraw it again, twist their fingers, scratch their heads or eyebrows, twitch, or kink their mouths sideways. It was also noticeable that these evidences of ill-balance were more marked in the laboratory workers than whose who came from the country. One, whose occupation, and no doubt liking, took him much into the open air of the country, throughout his address placed his straight body firmly on well-planted legs with complete nervous control. Incidentally, his speech seemed to me the most wholesome and spacious in regard to the subject of health. Later I found that he had had an exceptional start and childhood.

I take it that what these speakers denoted would be roughly characteristic of most of us under like circumstances of self-consciousness, in the lack of poise and easy movement, which are characters of perfect physique. And this might well be expected, for few of us have really had a perfect start.

We cannot recapture that start, and in realising its value we may well feel that as adults we have missed that glory of the body, that easy poise and movement, that serenity of mental and physical rightness, that sound nerve, which might have been ours. We can, with care and knowledge, improve ourselves, but certain limitations have been set upon us which cannot now be overcome. So much we know.

What is less known is that because, physically, we are not as we should or could be, our outlook on health is not whole. It is conditioned by this lower state of physique and health. We have become accustomed to look from this lower state, and the level we see we call normal, though in reality it is low grade. It is not to be supposed, for instance, that any of the professors and experts whom I heard and watched speaking upon health regarded themselves as other than normal. I also am regarded as normal or perhaps extra healthy, but at no time could I have walked sixty miles at a stretch and back again as an ordinary thing to do. At no time could I have joined in that speedy, terrific dance which Skrine witnessed. So, I think, is it with nearly all of us.

One cannot leap from the mire. We shall take time to lay firm ground to the whole meaning of health again. But we can comprehend it. It is not only the good start and the good continuance. There is much more to it than that, as will be seen. But the good start is one of its essential principles. Unless the mother is healthy and carries healthy blood to her conception, the wholeness of health cannot be attained.

Chapter 5
Continuity and Heredity

IN his Mellon Lecture, in 1922, McCarrison perceived a contrast and sought to explain it. He had come from northwestern India to Pittsburg, America's city of steel, and he told his hearers in Pittsburg, as already quoted, that his particular people in north-western India never had the "abdomen over-sensitive to nerve impressions, to fatigue, anxiety, or cold." Indeed, they had no abdominal sensitiveness at all except that of hunger.

Before him was the contrast. "Their buoyant abdominal health," he went on, "has, since my return to the west, provided a remarkable contrast with the dyspeptic and colonic lamentations of our highly-civilized communities" The first were last, and the last first; the forward backward, and the backward forward -- what was the reason of this reversal? Another revolution, one would think -- some profound revolution of values.

That was not the reason McCarrison gave to his Pittsburg hearers. To them he gave a practical set of reasons which his audience would appreciate. The first of these was something our particular civilisation had lost. "Infants are reared as nature intended them to be at the breast. If this source of nourishment fails, they die; and at least they are spared the future of gastro-intestinal miseries which so often have their origin in the first bottle."

Now, the feeding of infants on the breast is clearly as much a part of the whole diet as is the feeding of the foetus by the mother's blood -- with the exception that oxygen is now separated and breathed, and is not a part of the milk as it was of the blood.

Otherwise the breast milk of the Hunza woman is as much derived from Hunza food as is the blood of her womb. Her breast feeding is only a continuation of the period when she is an intervener between her offspring and the Hunza diet. The breast milk itself is a specially manufactured method of conveying that diet to the child.

The Hunza mother gives the breast for three years. She nourishes the child and protects herself from further pregnancy. To become pregnant during lactation is considered unfair to the suckling child, and socially has attached to it a sense of indecency.

Milk, being the purveyor of a diet, is itself a diet. Any one can live on milk. An adult can live on milk only, though he would not have the strength of a man, but that of a child. If he wanted to have the strength of a man on milk he would have to take a very great deal and have the big belly and the other inconvenience of the well-fed baby, but it would be possible.

There is no other thing that is the exact counterpart of milk. The breast takes the nutriment as it is circulating in the mother's blood for her own good in the normal way of things, and separates out a pleasant-looking fluid. This milk is a liquid preparation of foods made by the mother. Except as regards oxygen, it is practically the same as the maternal blood which fed the foetus in the womb.

This, I think, shows the very vital importance of breastfeeding. It is a continuation. The same process which was going on in the womb is still going on. The radical change at birth was not a change of foods, but a partial change of method. The oxygen which was previously supplied by the maternal blood is now supplied by the child's own lungs. But the character of the foods remains the same. It is a typical continuity, such as is the salvation of anything young and delicate; it is a sheltering of young tissues by repetition and familiarity.

Any change in the nature of the foods, therefore, is risky and alters the line of life. Such a change does not occur in Hunza, says McCarrison. If anything unusual happens, it is the failure of the thing as a whole. It just ends.

A change is risky, and it in itself may well bring life down to a lower physical level from the time it takes place; to the level of those "dyspeptic and colonic lamentations" which often start with the first bottle.

How risky is the break in continuity is really astonishingly shown in figures quoted by the League of Nations Committee on The Problem of Nutrition from which we also quoted in regard to caries of the teeth in the last chapter.

"Complete breast-feeding of infants is of very great importance," reports the Committee. "Impressive evidence of this was supplied by a large-scale enquiry from the Infant Welfare Centre of Chicago, in which 20,061 infants attending the centre between the years 1924-29 were closely followed up for the first nine months of each infant life. Of these 48.5 per cent were wholly breast-fed, 43 per cent partially breast-fed, and 8.5 per cent wholly artificially fed. The artificial feeding was carried out on a definite plan, and all the infants -- artificially fed and otherwise -- were attended by the officials of the centre. The mortality rates of these different groups of infants were as follows:

Number of
Total Deaths
of Deaths
of Infants
Wholly Breast-fed
Partially Breast-fed
Artificially fed

"It will be seen that the mortality rate among the artificially fed infants is fifty-six times greater than amongst the breast-fed. The difference in the death-rate between these classes of infants was largely due to deaths following respiratory infections, and to a less degree, gastro-intestinal and other infections. Thus, whereas only four out of 9,749 of the breast-fed infants died of respiratory infections, eighty-two out of the 1,707 artificially-fed infants died from this cause.

"No clearer evidence could be obtained to enforce the advantages of breast-feeding as compared with artificial feeding. Similar impressive evidence on the value of breastfeeding was afforded by the enquiry of the League of Nations into the causes of infant mortality in six European countries and four South American countries, which also demonstrated the part played by bad feeding in infant mortality. Where this mortality was low the digestive troubles usually caused by bad feeding were rare; where it was high, digestive troubles were very prevalent -- they were the outstanding cause of death, and it is by reducing them that mortality can be reduced. Conversely, where breast-feeding was general, the 'nutritional peril' was usually small; where artificial feeding predominated, it was great."

It will be noted in this testimony to continuity that the conclusion drawn is one of mortality. It is the obvious one when that continuity is so badly shattered that the last extremity of the infant's fight for life is reached. The severity of this measure conveys that survivors fail to attain the physical perfection which can be reached by certain groups of men. And if this is missed and poor physique takes its place, how many social, national, and political troubles may thereby be engendered? Who is to measure them? Who is to deny that in these days they seem to have reached a maximum, which threatens the very disruption of our type of civilization? Who can deny that the failure of breast-feeding is but one symptom amongst a number, and that the divorce of the baby from the breast, the divorce of the mate from the hearth and the divorce of society from stability are not associated as regards their profounder causation?

But, it may be maintained, to one stage we have not yet got. We do not let our children who cannot get breast milk die, and that is the custom of the Hunza. "Sooner our low grade of physique and our liability to many diseases than the abandonment of little innocents," we may say.

The position is not so immediately harsh as it at first appears. It does not mean that if the mother fails the baby dies. There are in the joint families in Asia other women prepared to suckle the child. The grandmother may take the place of the mother. Moreover, good breasts suckle more than one child.

Amongst us there is the infant mortality due to ill-feeding, so strongly commented on by the League of Nations Committee. That is not so with the Hunza. Our intentions may be better, but our results are worse. Result has to be placed beside intention to get a view of what is sound humanity. Had we the high physical quality of the Hunza and the men of Sparta, how should we look upon infantile life -- as something destined to high physical efficiency or to be preserved, however feeble, at all costs? The hardness of heart of the Spartans in exposing their new-born infants on the hillside was the necessary corollary of the high standard of their efficiency, which permitted Sparta to be an unwalled city for seven centuries. To grow up a weakling amidst such brethren was to bear a constant stigma. It were better not to be born.

So too amongst the Hunza, the child was a child of their tradition or it was nothing. They had no substitute feeding for it. Continuance, by breast- feeding, was the way to the independence of individual life, and there was no other. There was no general sanctity of human life, whatever it chanced to be; only a sanctity of its quality, its holiness in the old sense of health.

The breast milk of the Hunza women must unquestionably be of excellent quality. The breast milk of the mothers under the observation of the Infant Welfare Centre of Chicago must have been superior to any mixture of cow's milk or any patent food which could be supplied. We now come to a question of vital importance to the whole subject of nutrition.

It is this: Could the breast-milk of these women of Chicago be made to give sound physique to their offspring? Or, to put it in terms of modern classification: Could a mother of C3 class, if undiseased herself, be enabled to give uterine and breast-feeding which will ensure an A1 baby? Could the relative degeneracy of modern mothers be wiped out in one generation, or is it handed on by heredity? Is it now ingrained in the race and inevitable?

McCarrison's Coonoor rats were not degenerate rats. They had not inherited any physical defects and weaknesses. They could be made degenerate by being given a faulty Indian or British diet. In the published Cantor Lectures there is a photograph of seven of them hung up by their tails, as if they were in a butcher's shop. They are arranged in degrees of plumpness and size from left to right.

The plumpest was fed on Sikh diet prepared and cooked in the native manner. Next comes the rat fed on foods as cooked and taken by the Pathans, then the Mahratta-fed rat, the Goorkha, the Kanarese, the Bengali and the Madrassi-fed rats.

Each of these rats represented the average of a group of twenty rats fed on the particular diet for 140 days, corresponding to a period of twelve human years. The rats were of the same age, sex-distribution and body weight, under the same hygiene and in similar cages.

In further photographs of live Sikh-fed rats and live rats fed on the foods of poorer-class Europeans, the average representative of the twenty Sikh-fed rats, weighing 188 grains, is a bright alert-looking animal; the representative of the poor European diet, weighing 118 grains, is a poor little creature with tired eyes. One photo of him, however, makes him, at first, look the normal, expected rat, were it not placed alongside of the Sikh-fed rat. Then one can compare details, and one sees, for instance, that the poor European-fed rat has fallen arches to his feet and his neck is weak; there is no firm curve from the forehead to the back. One feels that rat would sooner sit and work at a bench or at a desk than make his muscles glow with hard work upon the field.

One rat is healthy and whole, the other is degenerated, which the dictionary defines as "to fall off from the qualities proper to the race or kind; to become of a lower type, physically or morally; to pass from a good to a worse state."

We know that this degeneracy of the representative poor European rat is acquired from his food. He started the same as the Sikh-fed rat. It was just bad luck, over which he had no control himself, that he fell off from qualities proper to the race, and that bad luck was poor foods.

More than that McCarrison's rats did not show. They showed acquired degeneracy. They did not show whether this acquired degeneracy could be passed on from parents to offspring through heredity.

The reason why they did not show this is that the experiments were not designed to show it, because the general question as to whether characteristics acquired by progenitors can be handed on to progeny had already been settled, though with shades of dubiety still hovering in some minds.

Professor Weismann, some fifty years ago, stated that acquired characteristics could not be inherited. The first speck of life's first step in life is to divide into two definite parts, one of which is to be the individual and the other the permanent characteristics to be handed on to the offspring. The individual and what he is in life does not alter the characteristics he hands on. He is only a temporary carrier of the seed's characteristics; he is in no way, not even in part, one who can alter their primal character by what he does.

For example, if he is a white-skinned man who, by exposure in the tropics, became a brown-skinned man, he will not from a white wife produce a brown-skinned child. But, if he marries a woman of a brown-skinned race, then, of course, he may produce a brown-skinned child. But this is not due to his own acquired brown skin, but to the racial brown skin of his wife.

Weismann also had his rats or rather mice, and for twenty-two generations he cut off their tails with a carving knife. This had absolutely no effect upon the tails of new-born mice. Before they were cut off, from generation to generation they were the same. A great number of other experiments to test this statement of Weismann have since been made. As the question of heredity is of the utmost importance to that of nutrition, it is fortunate that this question of the inheritance of acquired characteristics has been settled.

The sins of the fathers are not visited by heredity upon the children. "It is quite impossible to believe that the lives and habits of the children have a genetical effect upon their children," writes Mr. Eldon Moore, in his book, Heredity, Mainly Human (1934). Professor J. A. Thomson in his well-known book on Heredity (1926) says the same thing with Scotch caution: "There is little or no scientific warrant for our being other than extremely sceptical as to the inheritance of acquired characteristics."

The answer, then, to these all-important questions is that the effects of faulty feeding are not permanent in the race. They are not stamped into the race ineradicably by heredity. On the contrary, almost at a stride they could be abolished. Treat one generation rightly in the matter of food and bring and keep the next generation within that same correct feeding, and the change would be effected. This, the right nutrition of man, however, is not the whole of the possibility. There is the further question of the right nutrition of the animals and vegetables he eats, which subject will engage our attention towards the end of the thesis.

Meanwhile, we know that the poor-European or poor-Madrassi-fed rat is made the weakling that he is by the food he gets. His degeneracy is acquired. As to man, one sees the same phenomenon in photographs printed with the Cantor Lectures of the Hunza man, the Sikh man, the Mahratta and the Pathan, on the one hand, and the poor Bengali and Madrassi on the other.

Heredity plays no part in the actual physical condition of any of these men and animals photographed. It is food and food only.

There can be a purgatory of ill-being in this life due to ill-feeding. Nowhere is this more evident than in the miserable pariah dogs of Indian cities. They are scavengers, timid and dispirited, ever hoping to snatch a piece of food without hit or kick.

As youngsters on the way to failure they are often so diseased and ill-looking that even an Englishman, with his good feeling towards dogs, rarely gives one a kind word. If he does so, after the first suspicion the dog wags his tail feebly and sends a shy glance of friendliness, which is the ineffable expression of the strange bond that has so long united dog and man.

If this canine smile of the poor beast wins the heart of the Englishman, what is the result? Well-fed and well-cared for, the dog blossoms into a sleek-coated, healthy dog, with all the good-fellowship of his kind.

This happens although the dog belonged to a class of beings who have for centuries suffered the purgatory of ill-feeding and disease without parallel. Yet, provided there is no serious disease, all this degeneracy that seemed riveted to his class rapidly disperses.

Such is the bearing of heredity upon the effects of foods -- it is none. Food is a condition -- a primary condition -- of environment. A good or bad condition of this environment is mainly dependent upon man himself. It is within his power to make almost miraculous changes.

Next chapter

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