Remembering Sathiawan Singh Malhotra

Remembering Sathiawan Singh Malhotra

    
Sathiawan Singh Malhotra

Mr. Sathiawan Singh, who accepted the Faith during the Ten Year Crusade period, radiated so much love and affection in all gatherings. Though of advanced age, he was one of those who had won the admiration of a vast ocean of friends from all age groups within the Malaysian Bahá’í community.

Sathiawan Singh was one who had labored hard for the growth of the Faith in Malaysia in the early days. He accepted the Bahá’í Faith through his younger brother Surinder Singh. Surinder Singh himself was so active in spreading the Cause around the country that he was affectionately called “The roving ambassador of the Faith.” Although hailing from the Sikh community, Sathiawan Singh was deeply moved by the Bahá’í teachings that at a Nineteen Day Feast held in Malacca town he accepted the Faith in 1961. He then had the audacity to take the Faith to the Sikh Temple in Malacca town where he publicly challenged his Sikh friends to investigate the Faith. When he took that bold action, he was immediately condemned and ex- communicated by the Sikh community. Not quite surprised with that  expected treatment, Sathiawan Singh spent the rest of his life associating with the Bahá’ís and getting involved in several  Bahá’í gatherings and activities. At a time when not many from the Sikh community in Malaysia had accepted the Faith. Sathiawan Singh proved to be a leading follower and promoter of the Faith.  Since accepting the Faith Sathiawan Singh was on fire with the love of God, serving the Cause with great enthusiasm and fervour.  Until the very end of his life, he continued to serve the Cause in every way possible, and within his means.


At the time of accepting the Faith in 1961

He accepted the Faith at a time when there were very few workers, with much work that had to be done. Whenever work had to be carried out for the Cause, Sathiawan Singh was almost always the first to volunteer his services. He holds the distinction of having been the personal driver for Amatul Baha Ruhyyih Khanum when she visited Malaya for the first time in 1961. According to what Sathiawan Singh related to the author, that one-week stint as her driver was the most memorable moment in his life. His association with Amatul Baha and the knowledge he imbibed from her during that period confirmed him in the Cause. Following the departure of Amatul Baha, Sathiawan Singh resolved to serve the Faith as never before. On many occasions he used to recollect those nostalgic moments, with a great sense of pride. He looked upon the those early years as a time of spiritual rebirth.

From the early days till the very end of his days, he made it a point to cook with his own hands and bring the food for Bahá’í gatherings, often unasked. Whenever meetings were arranged in his house, he would get very excited and go marketing and cook the whole day to provide his best. In many ways Sathiawan Singh was an example of true Bahá’í hospitality.

From 1960 to 1963 Sathiawan Singh was living in Kuala Lumpur. During that period, a great deal of manpower was needed to open up the state of Selangor to the Faith. In 1962, he was the Selangor State Representative of the Area Teaching Committee. As he was one of the few with own car, he played a great role in providing transport for Bahá’ís wanting to attend functions and go on teaching trips. In 1963 he served on the National Teaching Committee.

The First  Bahá’í World Congress held in London in 1963 was another turning point in his life. Earlier in 1961, when Amatul Baha was in Malaya, Sathiawan Singh had indicated to her his interest in cropping his hair and removing his turban. But Amatul Baha told him to come to the World Congress with the turban on. So, Sathiawan Singh was the only Bahá’í from the Sikh community, with turban on, to have attended the First Bahá’í World Congress in London. He naturally became the center of attraction for some 6,000 believers who had gathered from all the corners of the world.  He himself used to remark in a jest, “I was  the center of attraction as in a zoo. Many even took photographs me.” Upon his return from the World Congress, Sathiawan Singh stepped up his teaching activities locally. One of the first thing he did was to visit Perak state on a one week teaching campaign with a group of Bahá’ís.


First World Congress in London, 1963. L-R: Leong Tat Chee, Yankee Leong, Margaret Bluett (Australia), Sathiawan Singh, K. Rajah.

In the later part of 1963, Sathiawan Singh went off to work in Singapore in a pharmaceutical company for some time. There he was a successful employee of foreign companies and led a luxurious life, with all the latest vehicles at his disposal. When the Bahá’ís in Malaysia were making efforts to open up the southern state of Johor to the Faith in the 1970s, Sathiawan Singh  made weekly trips to Johor from Singapore, and provided transport for teaching trips right up to the town of Kluang in the northern part of the state of Johor. While in Singapore, he flew to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines on business and in each trip found his way to visit the  Bahá’í centers in those countries. He stayed longest in the Philippines effective 1971, where he associated himself with Counselor Dr. Chellie Sundram who was posted there under the World Health Organization project. Each time he returned to Malaysia from his overseas trips he would visit the former National Bahá’í Centre at Setapak, Kuala Lumpur to keep abreast of the latest developments of the Cause.  He came back to Singapore and stayed until 1983, when he returned to Malaysia.


New look without his turban on


The one shining example that was second nature to Sathiawan Singh was his unlimited generosity. Philanthropy was always part and parcel of his life. At a time when he was financially well placed, he used to sponsor Bahá’ís from the ranks of students and the unemployed for  Bahá’í conferences. Whenever he could not join teaching trips, he always filled up the gas tanks of cars, as contribution on his part. On many occasions he had given financial assistance to deserving Bahá’ís, often without the knowledge of others. He was always on the lookout for worthy causes that needed help, and always contributed unasked. He was observant and sensitive to the needs of the Faith, which he really loved.

One day in the sixties, Sathiawan Singh turned up in Penang, and asked if the Bahá’ís there needed any money for the Fund.  They had just started a Bahá’í Centre Fund, and when Mrs. Shantha Sundram informed him of this, Sathiawan Singh made a generous contribution! Seeing the huge contribution Shantha commented that his business must have been good, to which he spontaneously replied, “Business is bad!  That’s why I am giving more to the Fund.” He had the unshakable faith that when you take care of the Cause of God, God would always take care of your cause. To him the needs of the Faith were far more important than his own. On another occasion when he went to Hong Kong, he bought a big refrigerator for the  Bahá’í Centre, much to the delight of the friends.

On another occasion, in Kuching town in the state of Sarawak, he was doing his business in pharmaceutical products and driving a mini Moke. He asked Dr. Fozdar if the Bahá’ís in Kuching had difficulties with transportation. Dr. Fozdar replied that his was the only car available. Right then, Sathiawan Singh immediately arranged to give his mini Moke for the Bahá’ís to use. At that time, being the only mini Moke in the whole of Kuching town, it made quite an impression on the town folks.


In planter’s uniform- short pants and long socks

Sathiawan Singh had a great role to play in Singapore. He was leading a very comfortable life with a big house close to the Singapore Bahá’í Center in Cooling Close. That was the year when the members of the National Teaching Committee of Malaysia made frequent visits to Singapore to give a helping hand in preparing the island country in intensive teaching activities.  Sathiawan Singh used to visit the Bahá’í Center in the evenings and take out the members of the National Teaching Committee of Malaysia for sumptuous dinners on posh restaurants.  N.S. S. Silan who was on the National Teaching Committee and visited Singapore during those days says Sathiawan Singh had a great charisma in him.  In 1997  Sathiawan Singh was still working in Singapore as Foreign Marketing Inspector at Wismer Automation (S) Private Limited. That year he underwent a heart by-pass operation and soon  retired from work.  His dashing appearance in the Malaysian scene was made in 2000 at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the coming of the Faith to Malaya held in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur. From then on he aligned himself with  Bahá’í activities in Kuala Lumpur. Even  after his retirement when he had no means of income, he would empty his pockets of the only couple of dollars he had and gave for the Fund.  He on his own accord had paid all the bills for several gatherings that were held in hotels. He himself booked hotel rooms and urged the friends to do organize some events  for the Cause. Whenever he had some money in his hands, he would ring up his close friends and ask how the money could be put to use for the Cause. Almost every cent that he had went for the Faith. To him the needs of the Faith were more important than his own needs. He was involved in a business towards the end of his life, all for the sake of using the returns for the Faith. Before he could see the results he was already called to the kingdom. His love for the Faith was immense.

In the last five years, Sathiawan Singh was a very sad person, as he was saying farewell to most of his contemporary Bahá’ís. Despite his badly failing health, he forced himself to attend Bahá’í activities. During the last days of his life he was obsessed with the thought of teaching, and urged Bahá’ís to take him out for teaching trips and Bahá’í meetings. He served on the Local Spiritual Assembly of Kuala Lumpur Sentral where he contributed effectively. At almost all meetings he would bring food and refreshment that he himself prepared.

Sathiawan Singh had a strong urge to delve deeper into the writings, and never missed a single deepening session. Whenever he heard of Bahá’í gatherings, he was about the first to respond, and immediately ask for transport.  He was most grateful to some close friends who provided transport during his moments of difficulties.

Sathiawan Singh’s life was an open book. He harbored no ill feelings towards anyone. Misunderstandings, if any, were always erased within seconds! He loved the company of knowledgeable Bahá’ís, and those with great sense of humor. His very company elevated one’s spirit, as he always radiated so much love.  There could not be any Bahá’í who had not been touched by his radiant love and positively charged Bahá’í spirit.


The ever radiant Sathiawan Singh

He would also be remembered for his constant flow of e-mails that he sent out to Bahá’ís and non- Bahá’ís alike, on topics of various interests.  Communicating with him over email was real fun, as he was always the first to respond, with unimaginable suggestions, coated with high sense of humor. He kept both himself and others on their toes through his unique kind of communication skills.

He used to get excited whenever he heard of news of progress and victory for the Cause of God. When his son held a high position in a local hotel, Sathiawan Singh was instrumental in getting special discounts for holding Bahá’í meetings in this hotel. Several were the activities that were held in that hotel.

He was very generous in his praise, and never looked at the faults of others. He gave praises without reservations whenever he saw talents in any Bahá’í.  He loved the company of Bahá’í children and always considered himself a grandfather to them. Bahá’í children also liked his company, for he was sure to turn up with some cookies and sweets wherever children were present. Sathiawan always considered Bahá’ís his true family members and felt very much at home with them. He gave the Faith to his family members, but they would not accept the Faith. That was his sad mark in his life.

Last Days
Sathiawan was hospitalized for several complications resulting from his earlier operation in 1997. He was a diabetic patient as well.  in early April 2006 he was admitted into the hospital for complications. The doctors gave up hope. But Sathiawan Singh, who was already very weak, resorted to prayers. To the amazement of the doctors he miraculously recovered.  On 8 April, to the shock of many, he drove himself to attend the Feast gathering in Kuala Lumpur. At that gathering he spoke on the power of prayers, citing his own case. His face was glowing with the love of Bahá’u’lláh. Then he left, whispering to the host that he had lived long enough, and was now willing to be called to the Kingdom on high.

He had three last wishes. The first was to attain the Holiest Spot on this earth, a wish that Bahá’u’lláh granted him and his wife in 2005. The second was to die before his wife, which came to pass. The third wish was for him to have a Bahá’í burial, for which he spent most of his last days convincing his family, and even writing a will.  He was once again admitted in the hospital for the second time in April, 2006. While he was lying on  his deathbed, Sathiawan Singh spoke to his family and they consented for a Bahá’í burial. Once that wish  was assured  he rang up and spoke to his children living abroad with great joy and excitement. A few hours after those calls, his soul ascended to the Abha Kingdom. He passed away in a state of coma on the night of 25 April, 2006.  Contrary to the assurance given by his  family, they decided to cremate his body according to Sikh rites. Nevertheless, the family was kind enough to allow the Bahá’ís to say prayers in his house just before the cremation.  Bahá’ís rushed to his house in the afternoon. His body was brought into his house and laid on a mat. The  believers who gathered said prayers for his soul to rest in eternal peace. The body was to be cremated a few hours later. The believers decided not to witness the cremation, and left his house with tears in their eyes.

A few days later a  memorial was organized in the National Bahá’í Center. Sathiawan Singh’s wife and his eldest son were present at this memorial gathering. The Local Spiritual Assembly requested the author of  this story to share some of the fondest memories of Sathiawan. As the author recalled the salient services Sathiawan Singh had rendered the cause, his widowed wife and the eldest son were very impressed and felt immensely proud with the kind of services Sathiawan Singh had rendered the Faith, and the admiration he had earned in the Malaysian  Bahá’í community.

Sathiawan  Singh was one of those who had made Bahá’u’lláh the center of his life, and had no personal likes or dislikes in matters concerning the Cause and the believers. He always wanted to do more and more for the Faith, and felt that Bahá’ís should move at a faster pace. Although of advanced age, he himself was more youthful than the youths, and involved in all activities. The  Bahá’í community would always remember Sathiawan Singh cutting a trademark with a planter’s uniform- short pants and long socks, and of course carrying a vacuum flask filled with coffee. He had the characteristic radiant smile, and was the center of attraction at all gatherings. The Bahá’ís loved him so much that both his presence and absence were visibly felt at Bahá’í gatherings. Those friends who had been in touch with him would miss a great worker for the Cause who was a shining example of complete detachment from this ephemeral and mortal world, and total attachment to the Cause. Perhaps future generations will be able to appreciate the true measure of Sathiawan Singh’s contribution to the growth of the Cause in Malaysia.

 

A. Manisegaran
15 September, 2017

 

 

15 thoughts on “Remembering Sathiawan Singh Malhotra

  1. What a follower of the Faith of Bahaullah!“Business is bad! That’s why I am giving more to the Fund.” This one single and simple statement says tons of the rare kind of believer that was Sathiawan Singh. It says a lot about his understanding in giving to the funds. I had seen him a few times, but did not know there was so much to his background–being driver to Ruhiyyih Khanum, attending the First Baha’i World Congress, about his generosity at all times and under all situations. I did not know him that well when he was alive but now I do. Thank you Manisegaran for giving us in compact form the life and legacy of this soul who shall always occupy a special place in our history.
    Ramasamy
    Kuala Lumpur

    1. Rama
      When Amatul Baha arrived in the Singapore airport, she was so kajestic that Sathiawan rushed to kiss her hands, thinking of showing her the highest form of respect. Amatul Baha immediately withdrew her hands and told him softly “Bahais to not kiss the hands according to the Writings” But she shook hands with him. Sathiawan told me that first meeting itself was a lesson for him. As for the World Congress, it was another long story that he told me.

      Just two days before he got admitted into the hospital for the second time, he drove to my house with his wife. That was at 10 pm. After speaking to me for a while, he requested Nirmala and me to follow him in our own car. He drove to his house. He went inside and came out with an expensive dinner set, as his personal gift to us- to keep for remembrance. We drove back not knowing why he had to do that at that late hour of the night. The following day he was admitted into hospital for the second time and was gone forever. It is clear his generosity was taken right to his last breath.

  2. Dear Mani,
    I just finished reading the interesting chronicle on the life of Sathiawan Singh.
    I did not know him personally but was aware that he was driving Amatul Baha Ruhhiyih Khanum around when she was visiting Malaya in 1961. I also remember Ruhhiyih Khanum requesting him to keep his turban on when he was going to London for the First World Congress so that the Baha’is gathered at the Congress would be happy to know that someone from the Sikh community had also come into the Faith, and that would make him a special participant. Only that much I knew about Sathiawan Singh.

    But you have shared so many details of his life and Bahai service which is not known to so many Baha’is. Thanks for sharing. You must have gone through so many difficulties to be able to unearth and write such detailed and inspiring chronicle on his life. I believe I am also speaking for other readers.

    On behalf of all the Baha’is in Malaysia, I want to say a warm THANK YOU to you. I will share this write up with others.

    Lily Chinniah
    Kuala Lumpur

    1. Dear Aunty,
      I befriended Sathiawan Singh at a time when I was starting to write the book on the history of the Faith in West Malaysia- Jewel Among Nations. He gave me a lot of information about the history of the early days and his own involvement in the activities. I could not use all the information on individuals in that book which was already pregnant with 604 pages.

      This blog enables me to expand with greater details on some of the individuals mentioned in that book.

  3. Dear Manisegaran
    What a beautiful write up on Sathiawan Singh. I got up this morning and read your write up. It was so interesting and informative that it took me down the memory lane. I immediately sat with Sitarih my wife and shared some of the old memories, which your story invoked within me.

    I had known Sathiawan Singh since 1961 the very year I accepted the Faith. I left Malaysia for pioneering to Sri Lanka and then to India in 1967, and naturally was out of touch with Sathiawan Singh. But your story mentions the journey he had taken in his Bahai life.

    Sitarih and I felt very proud of this servant to whom unlimited generosity was part and parcel of his life. We were saddened to learn that he was not accorded Bahai burial rites despite leaving behind a written will. Yet deep inside we feel Sathiawan Singh is very happy enjoying hospitality from the concourse on high with whom he must be sharing his humors.

    Dr. Vasudevan and Sitarih

    Pune
    India

  4. Dear Mani
    You have written about someone whom I shall never forget. I became a Bahai only after my marriage to Purushothman Nair on March 25, 1965. I accepted the Faith in Ipoh in 1972. During these years I had no knowledge of Sathiawan Singh.

    But when Puru was admitted to the National Heart Institute (IJN) in Kuala Lumpur, I met Sathiawan Singh for the first time. Puru and Sathiawan Singh had their heart operations on the same day. Puru had it in the morning and Sathiawan Singh in the afternoon. A few days after the operation, Puru was coming out from shower and heard someone chanting the Tablet of Ahmad in the lounge area loud with much vigor and feelings. That too as early as 5 am. The surprised Puru went to him and introduced himself as a Bahai. They embraced each other and became instant friends. Sathiawan Singh and his wife were introduced to us. At that time I knew Sathiawan Singh as a Bahai and nothing more. But your story on him has indeed thrown so much light on such a great follower. Had it not been for your story, I would not have known much about him. And I feel proud to have known such a noble believer through your story.
    Thank you Manisegaran

    Innira Nair
    Malacca
    Malaysia

    1. Dear Innira
      Dr. Gopinath and I visited your husband Puru in the IJN when he underwent heart surgery. This was in May 1997. You were by his bedside. He was sleeping and Gopi and I just waited a few minutes by the bedside for him to wake up. As Puru woke up he saw Gopi and me. He smiled and the very words he said were “Thank you for coming. Now I know who my true friends are.”

      But we had no knowledge of Sathiawan Singh getting operated in the same hospital. It was only in December 2000 that I first met him at the celebrations of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Coming of the Faith to South East Asia, held in the Grand Seasons Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. He came with his wife. He was in his planters uniform- short pants and long socks. He introduced himself as Sathiawan, and his wife as Savithri. ( Sathiawan- Savithiri is a very popular story in the ancient epic of Mahabharata) I took immediate liking for him and we became instant friends.

  5. Dear Mani
    You continue to amaze. How you have accessed and remembered so many stories is truly remarkable! Your contribution to recording the Malaysian Baha’i history will go down in posterity.

    Thank you for this article on Uncle Sathiawan. As I read it, the memories of his time with our K.L. Sentral community emerged and flowed. Yes, he was continually providing refreshments. I particularly remember trays of sandwiches all prepared by himself. Whilst his wife whom we called “Aunty” was not a Baha’i, she accompanied Uncle for many of our events and she had a kind word for everybody.

    Actually an incident I recall with some amusement is of Uncle’s late mother. She was already quite aged, but very alert and lucid and lived with Mr and Mrs Singh. Their home was not far from mine. Her favorite spot was on a large garden swing on their front porch. Uncle had told us that she was widowed very young, didn’t speak a word of English but learned it on her own with time and determination. Despite her setback she carried on the pharmacy( I think) business of her late husband and kept it going to support her young children. She became an astute businesswoman.

    Anyway I was on an evening walk passing their home one day, when Uncle called out to me and said that his mother wished to speak to me. I went and sat next to her and she smiled , tapped my knee in welcome and said ‘Hello darling, I’m happy to meet you. Tell me…how much is your salary?’ You could’ve knocked me down with a feather! I smiled and mumbled something about “It’s sufficient Aunty..”

    Uncle Sathiawan overhearing us laughed and said to please excuse his mother. She’d heard that I was widowed young myself, and was concerned that I had enough to get by. I was very touched and said I understood that and that no offense was taken at all.

    Some months later Uncle phoned to say his mother had passed on. Remembering that it’s a Sikh custom not to light any fire at home when a death has occurred, I organized some flasks of hot tea and went immediately to call on them. I remember both Mr. and Mrs. Singh expressing their appreciation .

    May the souls of both mother and son prosper in all of God’s worlds.

    Usha Cheryan
    Melbourne

    1. Usha
      I remember visiting him when his mother passed away. Sathiawan was crying like a small child. He was so attached to his mother. It was difficult to calm him down. He had an innocent heart of a child.

  6. Dear Mani

    Thank you for the enriching and inspiring story with spiritual fragrance about a wonderful soul, Mr. Sathiawan Singh-Malhotra, whom I’ve never met. What an encouragement to read about an example of a life that was well- lived in accordance to the Divine Teachings.

    I also thank those friends for their comments that added more light and my admiration on such a noble soul.

    Ever grateful,
    Pina
    Canada

  7. I was one of the many Baha’is, together with G.K. Ganesan and his wife Mala who rushed to Sathiawan Singh’s house upon his passing. Some stood in the living room where Sathiawan Singh’s body was laid to rest on a mat, while others stood right outside the house entrance under the burning hot sun. We were all sad Sathiawan Singh’s last for a Bahai burial wish was not granted by his family. Some of the Baha’is said prayers for the departed while G.K. Ganesan recited the long prayer for the departed. We knew no matter what the circumstances were, we needed to send him off with Baha’i prayers. Within circumstances we all did what we could. What a privilege it was to be part of this amazing soul’s send off. God bless him.

    Naren Narasiah
    Malaysia

    1. Naren,
      I vividly remember all the members of the Kuala Lumpur Assembly were there in full force. As you rightly said, at the best we all could only say prayers for him. It was to that extent that permission was granted by Sathiawan Singh’s eldest son, despite members of the Assembly and an Auxiliary board Member appealing to him until the last moment.

  8. When Sathiawan told me he was going to the Holy Land for a Three Day Visit, I passed on a sealed envelope for him to place at the Threshold of the Inner Shrine of Bahaullah, and offer prayers for the will of God to be done. He came back from the visit and reported to me what he did. Let me recollect in his own words. “I went on the first day itself and said all the prayers for me. Then I stayed on inside the Shrine waiting for all the believers to leave. The sun was setting and everyone was leaving. Still, I went around to see if anyone was still in any of the rooms. I confirmed no one was around. Then I placed your envelope on the sacred Threshold and said a prayer for you. After that I lifted the netting at the Threshold and threw the envelop into the Inner Shrine. It fell right on top of the carpet below which the Holy Remains of the Blessed Beauty are buried.” I asked him why he had to do this. His candid reply was “For Instant Delivery Machaan!” (Machan is a Tamil word for brother in law) The following year my prayer was answered. I got the job with the United Nations system. By then he was no more around for me to share this happy news with him. I have every reason not to forget Sathiawan Singh in all the worlds of God
    Manisegaran

  9. Dear Uncle Manisegaran,
    Thank you so much for the chronicle on the late uncle Sathiawan. I remembered him so well. He was always a very happy person, full of smiles. He simply loved to mingle around our Baha’i youths. He showed so much kindness to us. I will never forget his outfits.. shorts and long white stockings!!! Since I moved from Malaysia to Australia I was out of touch with the happenings in Malaysia. It is only through this story of yours that I came to learn that uncle Sathiawan Singh had passed away. Thanks again for sharing. Really enjoy reading his wonderful life. It contained so much details hitherto unknown to me. God bless his soul.

    Gloria Mali
    Australia

  10. Dear Bahá’í friends of my beloved father Sathiawan

    I am Madhu Manning, daughter of Sathiawan Singh.
    My sister and I came across this article about our father whilst trying to explain google to our mom. I learned a lot about my father’s early days as a Bahai and his generosity which made me feel very proud.

    However I feel compelled to say something about the version of the story of his last days. My father suffered a couple of heart attacks after a procedure and died about 2 days after without gaining consciousness. Frankly my father never had a Written Will stating his wishes for a burial. Yes, my parents had several discussions about it, but it never got resolved between them. My mother who is deeply entrenched in her religion and society felt that to go against the ways of Sikhism would have been too much for her to bear at such a traumatic time. I think perhaps my father knew that and hence did not complete any paperwork to compel her to go down that route. For this reason we felt we had to have the Bahá’ís pray for him before we left the house to show that we did respect his belief. I cannot say if what my mom did was right, but we had to support her decision at a very difficult time.

    Thanks for the lovely tribute to my dad and reading the responses was very moving for us. Even after all these years we still remember and miss him so much. He would have been 85 years old yesterday and we spent a few minutes remembering him fondly.

    Madhu Manning

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