Sin 04: The Mammon

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Bhargav Ram Bakshi waited impatiently as the librarian perused the letter for the hundredth time. Four hours late, he didn't want to wait any longer. The librarian then picked up the rustiest bunch of keys and hobbled towards one of her assistants, whispering instructions.

Bhargav's eyes strayed, taking in the musky scent of old paper, the binding glue, and the crisp burn from incandescent lamps on teakwood reading desks. Located at the quieter end of Chetan Avenue, Chanakyanagar's Arthohada Public Library wasn't big but was enough to rekindle the reading habits of an old-schooler like him. Like the orphanage he grew up in, the six-storied library was funded by the district's penurious funds from a Foundation. It was a miracle the building could hold a roof anymore. Its eroding paint, squeaking furniture and withering bookshelves added to the quaintness that Bhargav enjoyed in a place like this.

As he followed the assistant upstairs, he couldn't help but sense a pair of watching eyes. The hair on the back of his neck rose, and he peered over his shoulders at a tall, athletic man he presumed to be few years shy of thirty. The man waved, lips curving into a warm smile.

Bhargav turned away. He headed six floors up, breathless, where the library archived all copies of Sandesh, the local daily. This entire section was conditioned to keep the air dry. Newspapers a century old were microfilmed and stored in boxed cabinets and those decades old were bound into books and sprayed with pyrethrum; recent papers were covered in polythene. The assistant left him with a key to the shelves he was authorized for.

Bhargav placed his bag on a chair and got to work. The article he was looking for was twenty-eight years old, dated September 23rd. Thanks to the organized structure of archives, he found the copy and pulled out the binder. Coughing at the pyrethrum, he grabbed his laptop and powered it on. Drawing himself a chair, he flipped the laminated pages carefully to the front-page article written in Marathi on the floods that'd rocked the town.

Three hundred people are dead and at least two hundred missing in the heavy floods that lashed Chanakyanagar following heavy rains between the fifth of August and the twentieth of September. Floodwaters from the River Chanak swept into the town from the highlands. The landmass under the Maitra Mahal eroded, and given its weak foundation, the Mahal was displaced by six feet beyond the cliff's edge.

The district magistrate has made an urgent call to the State for emergency flood relief, but so far, the response has been slow. Speaking to the media, he expressed his deepest sympathies with the victims and pledged to make amends. The floods have triggered violent outbursts as people have taken to the streets. The town has seen an influx of support from several local NGOs, including the controversial Bhagwan Associates. "If Rajewada slides off the cliff, fifty to hundred homes would be buried," said Giri Mathur, a volunteer from the NGO. Recommendations to construct a reservoir across River Chanak was called for by the protesters.

A proposition to build a dam twenty kilometers to the northeast of the town is underway, but there are significant roadblocks, including the possibility of displacing a village and a tribal settlement. The Minister for Urban Development reassures their plans consider the location of the town to be well beyond the inundation zone of a dam of the proposed size.

Pausing, Bhargav opened a blank Word document to make notes. Much of his childhood was a blur. Despite having a roof, clothes, and food, his mind was a cold, tattered place where monsters bred for generations. At ten years of age, he befriended them. It was less painful and made him less crazy. They taught him to smoke, drink, and snort. When his warden found out, he was punished, and he fled, only to be reinstated and kept under a strict watch. As any teen his age would, he rebeled. "Why did you bring me back? I was better on the streets!"

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