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News Category: Fellows


A Focus On Tribal Issues In India : Meet The Mittal Institute’s New Fellow


More than one in six Harvard College freshmen in the recently-admitted Class of 2022 are first-generation students – that is, they (and possibly their siblings) are the first in their families to attend an institution of higher education. Later this month, meanwhile, The Mittal Institute and the HBS Club of the GCC will welcome dozens of college students from all over the developing world to Dubai for the second annual Crossroads Emerging Leaders Program – they, too, are all first-generation students. Universities can be daunting environments for anyone, perhaps more so for students who have no family experience to draw upon.

The Mittal Institute’s new Arvind Raghunathan and Sribala Subramanian South Asia Visiting Fellow for 2018/19, Roluahpuia, understands this well. A native of Manipur in northeast India, he was also the first in his family to attend university and admits there were challenges convincing his parents that an academic career is a worthwhile option for an exceptionally bright young man, rather than earning a good living straight away. 

“In a sense, I was disobedient,” he says. “I wouldn’t say my family was unsupportive but the reality is that it takes many years to complete a PhD and there is financial pressure. But this was my passion and I needed to take this bold decision.”

Roluahpuia in his new office at The Mittal Institute

Roluahpuia achieved a PhD last year from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in India. He is interested in identity, nationalism, development and borderland studies. His PhD thesis is an in-depth ethnographic account of the Mizo national movement in northeast India. Now, having worked as an assistant professor for a year at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, he is the latest Indian scholar to be awarded the Arvind Raghunathan and Sribala Subramanian Fellowship by The Mittal Institute and will spend a year at Harvard. The fellowship supports recent, South Asia-focused PhDs in the humanities and social sciences.

Roluahpuia is from a tribal background. In India, indigenous tribes account for around a tenth of the total population – more than 100 million people – and they are largely at an economic and social disadvantage. Around one third of the population of Roluahpuia’s home state Manipur is tribal, according to the 2011 census. But tribal issues, he says, are at the fringes of academia in India. “My interest is in tribes, although there’s no such thing as ‘tribal studies’,” he says. I think about questions of identity, of development and of nationalism, and also of territory and conflict.”

“In India, the academic focus on tribes has been relatively scant,” he continues. “There may be plenty of historical and anthropological works but we are still rather uninformed about contemporary tribal politics.”

Having just arrived on campus – and in the US for the first time – he makes it clear that it is too early to forecast the rest of his year at Harvard. He will keep an open mind and allow himself the space to benefit from the many opportunities that will come his way.

“It’s a big leap for me, personally and professionally, and the fellowship was unexpected”, he says. “But in the first few days here, I have already felt the exciting academic and intellectual atmosphere.

“The issues that I touch upon in my own work are very much global in nature. There is a lot to learn from other parts of the world. I can listen, share my ideas and fully participate in the academic exchange.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting Artist Profile: Imran Channa


Lik Likoti  Oil on canvas, plywood box, 76x52x8inches, (each box) Imran Channa, 2012, Lahore.

 

Spring 2018 Visiting Artist Imran Channa is a contemporary artist from Pakistan. His art practice interrogates the intersection between power and knowledge. Channa’s primary focus is on the documentation and dissemination of historical narratives and events. He explores how fabricated narratives can override our collective memory to shape individual and social consciousness and alter human responses. 

In this interview, we discuss how he first became interested in installation artwork and the benefits of making art abroad. You can learn more about his work by visiting his website

 

What was your artistic background like?

I started my artistic practice soon after I graduated from The National College of Arts, Lahore in 2004. Then I enrolled again in their MA program and graduated in 2008. Since then, I have been continuously practicing and showing my work nationally and internationally. Besides my art practice, I am an art teacher at the Department of Fine Arts and Visual Arts at National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan. The combination of teaching and practice has led to my approach being more research based.

 

You also do a lot of installation work. When did you start that?

During my studies at The National College of Arts I trained as a painter and as a result I was making a lot of 2D work, but when I presented my work in galleries I always felt that works were detached from their surroundings. I became more interested in the surroundings, in ideas about place, locations and contexts. It became a starting point for me to think about and create installations that were more site specific.

My first installation was Lik Likoti, which means hide and seek. It consisted of large (about 4 x 6ft) oil paintings on canvas, based on historical photographs. I placed each painting inside a loading box and that’s how they were presented. The viewer couldn’t see the whole painting, only a fragment of the painting was visible.  

This type of work elicited a strong reaction from galleries, collectors and audiences. I realized that it is important to question the notions of contemporary art produced and displayed in galleries in Pakistan, because lack of funding and alternative or experimental art spaces means that artists have to rely on commercial success to survive financially. As a result of this, the works that are produced are beholden to the demand of the galleries system. 

When I moved to the Netherlands for the Jan van Eyck Academie fellowship in 2016, I really engaged with my research based practice. I also started to further enjoy and experiment with the challenges of making installations. This has led to me digging and investigating a bit like an archeologist.

 

How did you begin to do your artwork on Partition images?

My work interrogates archives and amplifies the influence of subjectivity by relating historic photographs to the present . I started making work on the images of Partition that I found in Life Magazine. When we seek the visual evidence of this monumental event in history, it’s surprising that we only find a small body of photos, mainly captured by western photographers like Margarete Bourke White. These photos are a visual record of Partition; the tremendous scale of widespread violence, the physical and psychic displacement, all the horrors that Partition produced. I am interested in a lot if things- the endless persistence or presence of images, duration, time and memory.  For me, the photograph is a rectangular form that is disconnected from a flow of time. I believe that an interesting photograph doesn’t belong to any one time, but instead is a confrontation or provocation that invites us to consider the coexistence of multiple times.

 

Do you see yourself also going into other historical events in the future?

I came to Europe because I think it’s very important to travel for long periods of time. By creating a physical and mental distance from your country, you are able to take another look at reality, which you might have otherwise missed because you are so close to it. This experience has broadened the ways in which I approach my practice. I have visited many libraries, museums and collections, and this has shifted my attention to the way we look at images.  Now I am not only collecting and organizing archival material but also collecting and organizing experiences, and trying to present what was previously invisible.

 

The work you do with the Erasure, it’s a very physical act. Could you describe your experience, because you’re creating these very beautiful images that could be sold in a gallery, then you’re erasing it. What is the feeling that you have as you’re erasing these very detailed images?

A memory from my childhood is of erasing. It’s like you are hiding something when you have made a mistake. This has led me to think about collective erasure by societies when dealing with bigger mistakes made historically and how certain power structures need to dissolve, hide or erase historical documents in order to render the mistake forgettable.

I make exact copies of drawings with pencil on paper based on historical documents then deliberately erase them. What is left on the paper are just the traces of drawing. It’s actually a painful process for me as I’m putting a lot of effort in one drawing knowing that inevitably I will just erase it. I have adopted this creative process of destruction as I think it leads to a new kind of inscription. This work talks about both larger and smaller ways in which history is rewritten and how inaccurately or incompletely documented history continues to inflict psychological pain on people, altering modes of living. The process of fabrication is continuously affected by power and ideology, and in a way I become a part of those situations.

 

I know that you’ve been doing some archival research with maps. Do you know what direction it’s going in?

I am still in the process of collecting the materials.  I’ve been focusing on 16th century prints and maps, especially in Europe. I see them as active agents in the creation and dissemination of knowledge in 16th century Europe. I am expanding my focus on photographs and starting to look at images produced before the invention of the camera. My aim is to de-codify the symptoms produced by these objects in different times, cultures and locations.

 

What did you do while you were at Harvard? Could you describe some of your experiences?

I attended many seminars and events to fuel my conceptual and philosophical understanding of art and my own practice. I frequently went to the Astronomy Department at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics because in my practice the concept of time and its complex dimensions feature prominently. They had two evenings – one was a lecture on black holes and the other was an Observatory Night- when they opened their larger telescopes on the roof top for the public to observe and experience the stars and planets differently.

 

Do you have anything else that you would like to share about what’s next for you?

I have a lot of projects I’m working on right now. My studio acts as a poetic laboratory where images reincarnate, survive and sustain different kinds of lives. I aim to bring my interest in chemical sciences into focus. I am very interested in alchemy and the process of transmutation. Currently one of the things I am interested in is the small elements of life- like dust and water, as a container for memories.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

People’s Road: Connecting Rural Populations


Raile Rocky Ziipao in his Cambridge office

 

People’s Road: Connecting Rural Populations

By: Raile Rocky Ziipao

 

In ethnically volatile and militant prone states like Manipur, India, John Denver’s famous lyrics “country roads, take me home, to the place I belong,” does not always apply to villagers.

 

For over 30 years, the state government has neglected the Tamenglong-Haflong road. The construction of this road was included in the 6th Five Year Plan. During 1980–93, the Public Works Department (PWD) executed some initial work. However, the road remained non-motorable due to faulty alignment and non-completion. In 1997, the State entrusted the Border Road Organization (BRO) with the construction of this road but it declined, citing faulty alignment. Even after repeated assurances from the central government, including the former Union Tribal Affairs Minister Shri P.R. Kyndiah (2006) and Home Minister Shri P. Chidambaram (2011) during their visits to the district, the government did not build the road and the people’s dream of better facilities remained unfulfilled.

 

Inadequate basic infrastructure limits the movement of goods, people, and ideas, especially in the hill areas predominantly inhabited by Tribals. Even basic needs such as all-weather roads connecting villages, minimum electricity supply, healthcare centers, primary schools, and potable water remain inaccessible for most tribal communities in the state of Manipur. This demonstrates how over India’s seven decades of independence, the state has been negligent when it comes to addressing the problems of tribal people. Tribals are the ones that suffer the ramifications of the Indian state’s indifferent attitude.

 

Consequences of inadequate infrastructure include villagers carrying their sick on bamboo stretchers to the nearest health center. Oranges and Naga chilies (commonly known as ghost peppers in international markets) grow abundantly in Tamenglong, a hill district in Manipur. However, surplus agricultural products are left to rot as villagers are unable to transport them to the market due to a lack of road access.

 

After witnessing the hardships faced by people in remote villages in and around the supposed route of the road, a young and dynamic native-born IAS officer named Armstrong Pame took up road connectivity as an immediate requirement in the area. While posted as Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) of Tousem sub-division, he and his elder brother mobilized resources and local communities. They created a Facebook page seeking donations to construct a 100-km rural road.

 

Previously disconnected from social media, this rural village resorted to Facebook in order to establish infrastructure. A dedicated local resident, Haingiabuing Pame mobilized the village with the following statement: “I shall give all that I have to see the completion of this road. We have waited for too long. This has been my dream. Let us celebrate when it is finished.” The response from across the globe was overwhelming. The local communities took ownership of the road and contributed in a variety of ways including labor, materials, bulldozers, fuel, food, accommodation, and more.

 

The People’s Road connects the states of Manipur, Nagaland, and Assam in India. It was completed in seven months (August 2012–February 2013), after the state government neglected it for over 30 years. Inaugurated on February 17, 2013, and opened for public use, the motto of this road stands as “together we began, together we built and together we finished.” The monolith commemorating the inauguration of the road reads:

 

THE PEOPLE’S ROAD

Dedicated unto the glory of God with the celebration of the people’s endeavour by Armstrong Pame, IAS SDO, Tousem. In the presence of all the donors, volunteers and well-wishers, may the present and the future generations remember every single drop of sweat, tears, and contribution rendered for the construction of this road from all over the world.

Date: 17 February 2013, KATANGNAM VILLAGE

 

 

Despite considerable odds, the tribal people from India’s most remote district resisted marginalization and surmounted structural obstacles by constructing 100 km of road. By doing so, they succeeded in carving their own path to mobility where the state failed miserably. The collective labor of the community achieved what the second most powerful man in the country could not.

 

The condition of the Tribals’ infrastructure development in Manipur stands as a testimony of the state’s failure to discharge its duties and responsibilities. Rather than facilitating the needs and political aspirations of the Tribes, the State suppresses and pushes them to the periphery, thereby forcing Tribes to look after themselves. The Tamenglong’s construction and maintenance of roads for livelihood, economic sustenance, and the maintenance of the ecological balance between people and nature have become the model in other parts of the state.

 

If the state or development practitioners need a consultant on building roads, they should ask the true trailblazers – the Tribal people.

 

Raile will speak about “Roads, Region Formation, and the Question of Tribes in Northeast India” in Delhi on June 27. 

Q + A with Hasna Jasimuddin Moudud: The Secret History of the Silk Road


Hasna holding a piece of Indian pottery design from India Gate, Mongolia

 

Poet and lover of secrets, Hasna Jasimuddin Moudud, has journeyed the Silk Road in search of mysterious connections across centuries and borders. She is the author of “Mystic Poetry of Bangladesh” and “Where Women Rule: South Asia.” She is currently a Mittal Institute Research Affiliate, a former Senior Fellow at the Harvard University Asia Center and a former Visiting Fellow at the Harvard University Ash Center.

In an interview with SAI, Hasna shares the inspiration behind her quest to traverse the Silk Road in an attempt to uncover the lost links between Mongolia and India via Bangladesh. 

Hasna will give a seminar on her poetic journey titled “The Silk Road to South Asia: From Mongolia to Bangladesh” on Tuesday, March 27th at 4pm.

How did you first become interested in studying the Silk Road and Buddhism?

The Silk Road is a road from the past that connected people through trade — both in open material and secret spiritual goods. In translating 1,000-year-old Buddhist mystic poems, I discovered how the poems traveled from Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan to Tibet and Mongolia through the Silk Road. The poems are lost now but preserved far away. Art, books, and secret tantric teachings traveled the Silk Road through secret passages in the Himalayas.

My interest in poetry grew through my father who was a great poet. We lived near the Kamlapur Buddhist monastery. After my long-awaited visit to Tibet, I learned how people from far away revered Atisha. However, besides the Buddhist priests, people in his birth country, Bangladesh, did not know about Atisha. I see myself as his daughter — and I am devoted to introducing Atisha Dionakara Srigana to his people in Bangladesh.

 

What are some of the questions that led to your trip to Mongolia?

I always felt that India had a very close connection with Mongolia, despite being so far away — deserts and mountains could not keep India and Mongolia apart. I wanted to find these connections by traveling to Mongolia. Last year, I attended the World Poetry Congress in Mongolia and found some answers.

My proposal that the Silk Road came through Bangladesh, connecting Mongolia with Bangladesh — intrigues people, for it is a secret history.

 

There is something poetic about your physical journey to discover the lost connections between Mongolia, India, and Bangladesh. I noticed that you also have published on poetry. Could you describe the role of poetry in the way that you conduct your research?

I sometimes call myself a writer and a poet, who loves nature. My research is about restoring and conserving the world’s lost and natural heritage.

It is exciting to imagine how these Silk Road riders rode off, some to make money and others not, with a great sense of necessity — an urge to be a part of a race into the unknown — an urge shared with animals. It is a call of nature, just as the mountain and the sea often call me. Poetry opens roads to unusual places.

 

What has been the most surprising part of your research?

Sometimes information comes as a revelation and I do not have to research; it appears — like a piece of a poem.

Additionally, as a masters student of old English literature, translation, and manuscript reading, I have a self-acquired specialization on handling old manuscripts, bringing in new meanings and focusing on the world of their period.

 

What is a common misconception about the Silk Road?

That it exploits cultures and brings deadly diseases like the plague, or that the Silk Road belongs to one country.

 

Who are some of the people that you have met on your travels in Mongolia?

I encountered writers and poets, Buddhist priests, homemakers, and every-day Mongolians. People, who do not speak my language, but share the mysteries of the desert. I met a young man who is a founder of his school belonging to the Kadamba sect of Buddhism — he said that he would pray for me.

 

What is the research that you have been conducting while at Harvard?

When I first started working on the Silk Road — or Roads — it was not so well known. During the last five to six years, suddenly everyone is talking about the Silk Road, even Barack Obama. It now has many names, with political and economic connotations that offer many theories and interpretations.

However, the Silk Road is the Silk Road. My interest was to bring the Silk Road to Bangladesh.

At Harvard, I spent my time in the libraries and museums, discovering a different library each week. The seminars and lectures have enlightened me. My research is about bringing peace in the world, nothing less. Since the Silk Road is not always about a single country, I see ways in which the Silk Road can continue to build connections between cultures.

SAI Fellowship Deadlines are March 6, 2018


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About | Available Fellowships | Frequently Asked Questions | Past Fellows | News

 

 

The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University (SAI) offers opportunities for scholars and practitioners to utilize the university’s resources to contribute to self-driven, independent research related to South Asia. The deadlines for the 2018-2019 Aman Fellowship, Arvind Raghunathan and Sribala Subramanian South Asia Visiting Fellowship and Babar Ali Fellowship are March 6, 2018.

 

Inaugural Harvard B4 Fellowship Opens New Doors for Postdocs


Left to Right: Venki Murthy, Ramya Purkanti, Gayatri Ramakrishnan, Parvathi Sreekumar, and Praveen Anand

One year ago when Parvathi Sreekumar earned her PhD in Crop Physiology at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India, she never would have guessed that today she’d be halfway around the world, learning computational biology and bioinformatics to study bacteria in Philippe Cluzel’s lab. Yet here she is in Cambridge, along with three other research fellows from Bangalore who were awarded the inaugural Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings (B4) Fellowship, co-sponsored by the South Asia Institute (SAI) at Harvard University and the Institute for Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB) in Bangalore. The four fellows, selected from over 52 applicants, earned their PhDs in different fields from different institutes in India, but all now share the unique experience of spending 11 months pursuing research in a completely new direction at Harvard. “Being part of this fellowship is broadening my research exposure and equipping me with new skills that I can go home and implement in India. I’m grateful that students from diverse fields are being given an opportunity like this,” says Sreekumar.

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Arms, armor, and weapons


rrBy Meghan Smith, Communications and Outreach Coordinator, SAI

Sometimes, to shatter the glass ceiling, you need a weapon.

Rachel Parikh has plenty at her fingertips – and she wants to use them to break more than a few glass ceilings. As the Calderwood Curatorial Fellow in South Asian Art at Harvard Art Museums, she focuses her work on manuscripts, arms, and armor – yes, weapons.

She admits that even she had her own misconceptions about studying weapons.

“You often associate arms and armor with war, violence, and masculinity,” Parikh says. “I made my own PhD dissertation all about breaking misconceptions about Islamic art and South Asian art, so it was funny that I fell into this misconception about arms and armor.”

Parikh’s dissertation at the University of Cambridge focused on a seventeenth century Deccan Indian copy of a sixteenth century Persian manuscript called the Falnama (‘Book of Omens’). After completing her Ph.D. Parikh was a Postdoctoral Fellow at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she researched and cataloged objects for the museum’s Department of Arms and Armor.

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Mar. 20 – 31: Visiting Artists at Harvard


SAI is pleased to announce our Visiting Artists for the Spring semester, who will be at Harvard from March 20 – 31. During their time at Harvard, the artists will display their work on campus, meet with students, attend courses, and give a public seminar.

Check back on our site for details about the seminars.

Madhu DMadhu Das is a multi-disciplinary Visual Artist based in Mumbai, India; his artistic practice is primarily concerned with the projection of identity onto the social and natural world: in a way that the two are woven together in the Indian space (both mythic space and actual); Exploring both conceptual and material sensibilities through range of media including drawing and painting, photography, performance, video, site-specific interventions, collaborative community projects and interactive/performative installations.

In his work, human body often establish an improvisational relationship with object and sculptural elements in the space. The work has involved the spaces in both a narrative sense and as a site of memory to re-narrate historical events as a way of plotting connections between the particular and the universal. Subjectively, he adapt aspects of material culture as well as methods from anthropology, allegorical fiction as conceptual tool, which later extends to the space of the viewer, from the point of a storyteller, exploring exciting linguistic devices and imagery with a sense of irony and paradox.

Das received his Masters of Arts (Painting) from S N School of Fine Arts and Communication, Central University of Hyderabad, India in 2013. Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) from College of Fine Art, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat, Bangalore, India 2009. He was awarded the Inlaks Fine Arts Award, Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation, India (2015) and Shortlisted for Emerging Indian Visual Artists by Delfina Foundation, UK (2014).

 

IMG_0452Rabindra Shrestha is a Nepalese visual artist. Installation, detail pen and ink drawing, painting, traditional painting (Paubha), illustration, cartoon, and ceramic art are the different mediums of his visuals expressions. Most of his art is directly conceptual based. The collaborative line art project, Earthquake line and Finger prints with red line are some of his series in the Nepali contemporary art scene. Many people refer to him as a “Line Artist”. Shrestha’s works has been exhibited throughout the National Fine Art exhibition (nine times), Kochi-Muzirise Biennale 2014 (India), and Asian Art Biennale (Bangladesh). He secured the National Special Award (NAFA) from National Academy of Fine Arts three times, and was a winner of the US embassy Art Competition (Nepal).

 

Report: Exchanging Health Information


Network map of health data flow from paper records to consolidated databases, from the sub-center level upwards.

Network map of health data flow from paper records to consolidated databases, from the sub-center level upwards.

In September 2016, the Harvard South Asia Institute, with support from the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies, organized the two day seminar, Exchanging Health Information: Setting an Interdisciplinary Research Agenda. A new report contains a summary of the seminar deliberations and a roadmap for prioritizing research and policy formulation for health information exchange in India.

The seminar brought together experts in medicine, computer science, data science, public policy and law to identify a research and policy agenda that addresses implementation barriers to health information exchange. Building on international standards in health systems interoperability and learning from best practices from other industries, seminar exercises employed India as a use-case to anchor deliberations.

SAI recently spoke with seminar organizer Satchit Balsari, Fellow at Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and Chief at Weill Cornell Global Emergency Medicine Division, about the seminar and its potential impact.

SAI: Why was it important to bring together an interdisciplinary event, with experts from a variety of fields, to address implementation barriers to health information exchange?

Satchit Balsari: We have observed in many sectors that new technology best succeeds when it is in tune with user behavior and regulatory frameworks. When all three are in sync, we see widespread adoption. Problems come up when one of is out of step. The high level of provider dissatisfaction with some of the larger electronic medical records in the US, for example, is largely because front-line clinicians have had little input or control over the design and implementation of these EMRs. Standardization and interoperability to allow patients to move their records from provider to provider, or across institutions required legislation and incentivization. Retro-fitting has been expensive. Yet patients and doctors will tell you how incredibly important it is for health data to be more portable than they have typically been. Legitimate concern for data privacy thwarted portability in early years, when there may have always been technical solutions to legal concerns. Bringing together a wide range of stakeholders from clinical practice, law, policy-making and computer science allowed folks to understand the needs and limitations of each discipline, while formulating an inter-disciplinary approach to health information exchange in emerging economies.

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SAI to host weekly seminar series on Partition of British India


0126 Partition Seminars_The Harvard South Asia Institute is pleased to announce a weekly seminar series focusing on the Partition of British India every Wednesday evening through February and March. The series, part of the SAI research project ‘Looking Back, Informing the Future: The 1947 Partition of British India – Implications of Mass Dislocations Across Geographies’ will explore issues that have often been ignored in the context of the Partition as well as discuss their relevance and impact today, both in South Asia and in other parts of the world. Through two-hour seminars spread over eight sessions, faculty, students, and community members will be brought together to explore the various facets of this complex historic event.

SAI will produce a podcast series based on the seminars, in which distinguished faculty and visiting scholars explore the history, context and continuing impact of the Partition.

All seminars will be from 5:00 – 7:00PM in CGIS S050, 1730 Cambridge street, Cambridge, MA. Add to your calendar. *Locations subject to change, please check our site for updates.*

The seminars are free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

Seminar resources.

Letter by SAI Director Tarun Khanna: “We are embarking on a major research project to understand the history, context and continuing impact of Partition”

Join the conversation: #SAIPartition.

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