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  • This is the old man who lives down my street.
    He has two posts between two trees on the lane, one on the floor mat of the bookshop at the corner, and the other on the pavement in the path of all walking by. He doesn't really interact. When it's raining you can usually catch him at exactly these same spots getting wet, like an old white cement bag.

    He only let Anu treat his mange, hold up his tail, and hold his foot out while she bandaged it. The first time I saw Anu, 65, grey-white short hair, she had on a blue dress with white flowers peppered on, she was trying to talk the old man into being still while she checked his leg. I offered to talk to him so she could get on with the inspection, and she smiled. We exchanged numbers, and then the day after Diwali when old man ran away from his prime outposts she called me. He must have gotten scared of the firecrackers, she said. Sure enough, when I walked by that night, he wasn’t to be seen.

    A friend volunteered to walk with me through the crisscrossed streets in the neighborhood to look out for the old man, he wouldn’t stand a chance looking after himself in another street. He wasn’t even friendly, and young Mumbai dogs are very aggressive about their territories, we knew that. We didn’t find him that night. My friend started calling me to describe white dogs when he was out by himself on the street in the night. I didn’t have a photograph of him to help, I found myself describing his eyelashes over the phone.

    I couldn’t bear to see his spots on the street empty when I passed by after. It made me feel terrible about the city. It made me think of firecrackers and how senselessly loud they must have been for him to run away, it made me think about fixing the streets of this city, designing a system where everybody really cared about the occupants and public works around their house or shop. Somebody taking ownership for something! I remembered the pot hole I fell through last monsoon, how I’d thought of getting a product designer friend to design a new way manholes could be covered, get graphic designers to design the top covers of the man holes, like the beautiful ones in Japan, businesses and designers and individuals could have their names or logos or whatever emblazoned on, did we really have no alternative than concrete blocks with three pieces of metal holding it straight over a 5 foot deep manhole?! I didn’t fall in that day, because my foot got wedged in the two metal rods running through the concrete, I broke my fall just 2 feet above the dirty dark water. A taxi driver who saw me go down, had to hold both sides of the broken concrete down to pull me out.
    What would my old white man manage to do for himself in such a city.

    A week passed before Anu called again, this time at 2 am.
    She was smiling, I could hear it in her voice. The medical shop owner called her in the night, the old man was back on the street, and was sitting at his place on the pavement in front of his 24hr med store. He said he saw a woman in a car drop him off at the corner in the night. We never found out who the driver was, Anu and I. But the old man is living proof of why I can’t stop holding out some more, just a bit more, for the people around in cities, in villages, in the worst alleyways of this country, in the worst of systems, these systems which never fix the manholes on the street.
    We run on chance. And in that case, I will have to work myself into being a provider of such chances. I've got a lot of training ahead.
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