The Spam: Fifty Shades of Mylapore

Posted on January 8, 2022


Author Bio :

Don Cavarcci works for a multilateral institution by day and is a cartoonist by night. He’s a classical music afficionado, both Western and  Carnatic, and made Chennai his permanent home since 2001. He lives in an apartment on the East Coast Road with his wife and kid aged 23 years old. In the  Chennai Marathon, 2014 edition  – 10 Km category –  with close to 7000 participants, he was the only runner ABOVE the age of 45 to go BELOW the 45 minute mark for the distance and was placed 13th overall.

‘The SPAM’ is  his first novel.


Jig, a young Carnatic musician, trapped in a loveless, unconsummated marriage is also serious about his other passion, long distance running, which provides him an outlet for his frustration at the way life has turned out for him.

Succour comes puffing his way when Ketaki, the brazen, devil-may-care Odissi danseuse next door,  approaches him to coach her teenage daughter for the annual Chennai Marathon. 

This triggers a series  of incidents which lead to a flash point in Jig’s relationship with his wife but also  stoke Ketaki’s sympathy and passionate feelings for him. 

Will he now find the courage to throw off the shackles of his marital prison and  escape to freedom?

Don Cavarcci weaves an erotic tale of desolation, lust, hope  and redemption set in Madras’ (now Chennai) scenic East Coast Road beaches against  the backdrop of the great Chennai flood of 2015 and the iconic  Margazhi Mahotsav Carnatic Music festival.


After Ketaki dragged the reluctant Bharathi out of bed early in the morning the trio drove the one kilometer distance to the beach where Jig put her through her paces.

He racked his brains to make it fun and so the exercises were more like a pre football match warm up with some stop-start sprints.

Vasuki went for a walk on the beach road couple of times a week and looked at the “coaching activity” with her trademark mild, sour look but didn’t say anything.

One offshoot was that Jig’s running regimen went for a toss. He wasn’t perturbed either. He ended up walking the beach side with Ketaki giving him company. Some of the old, verbose codgers in the beach walkers association even gave them a quick, formal greeting – “Nice to meet your missus”.

 He didn’t bother to deny it and just shrugged it off. 

Neither did Ketaki.

Vasuki was mildly irritated. “Whats with the PT classes?” she scoffed to Jig. “You have to remember that you’re a performer and that means maintaining a  certain dignity!” she reprimanded.

“You don’t want the concert going public to associate you with PT drills and cheerleading when your ward breaks the 100 m metre world record!” she sneered

For once, Jig pushed back. “The way you rant on you’d think the vast public actually cares what I do. I’m not exactly an Unnikrishnan or Sanjay Subramanian or even your precious ‘S-s-s-i-i-i-i-r-r-r’” he shot back. “We’re just like any other toiling office goer but with some passion and flexibility. That’s all”

Vasuki shot an angry glance at him but didn’t reply. To Jig’s surprise and relief, she didn’t make it a prolonged argument and just shrugged with distaste. 

A week later, Vasuki left for Kerala on a concert tour.

Since, both Jig and Vasuki had many out of town engagements, they were more apart than together. It suited their chosen profession.

This went on for a couple of weeks and Bharathi actually started enjoying getting up early.

To Jig’s dismay the idyllic days ended abruptly as soon as they began. 

The North east monsoon set in late but with a  vengeance.

Even after the night long rain, the beachside road drained off the water since it was perched on the upper end of a gentle slope beginning a mile away.

Ketaki insisted on going ahead with the routine since it didn’t rain in the morning. When they returned from the beach, they found the apartment association lady, Padma Venkat,  outside in a frantic state.

“The motor isn’t drawing the water up!” she wailed. “No one’s available here and the plumber has gone to his home town!”

Jig got down to business and checked the motor. It was working alright but just needed some priming.

After he was done, they could feel the reassuring vibration of water flowing up the pipe to the overhead tank.

“Thank you so so so much!” gushed the association secretary.

“After the rain when the EB office shuts down the power, we’ll be  fried and cooked without water in the tank.”  

Jig caught Ketaki’s look of pride at his handiwork and felt a warm glow. 

He wished Vasuki would fuss over him half as much as  Ketaki did. 

She continued “Venkat (her husband) is out of town – not that it would make a difference. He’s useless in these matters anyway”

Not only Venkat. The other males of the apartment complex were out too.

The remaining key male family members in the other apartments were elderly retired folks and couldn’t handle the strains of association work.

The roads were jammed with traffic and there was disruption from the huge puddles.

Around half past nine the comforting Madras heat came on and  it looked like the roads would dry up after all.

But that was a diversionary tactic by the weather gods 

The rains resumed in the evening.

Sure enough, the power was shut down.

It was at times like these that Jig missed Bombay.

Even in deluge like conditions, thanks to the private sector owned Bombay Suburban Electric Corporation, there was continuous power supply.

In that aspect it was almost like being in a developed nation.

He observed that with just a small burst of rain, the power supply would be cut, probably due to the risk of open electric lines and the frantic parents would be checking the morning news to confirm if the Tamilnadu government had declared a holiday for schools and colleges in Chennai, Kanchipuram districts.

He joked to his Bombay friends that even if someone forgot to switch off the  motor  and the tank overflowed, a holiday would be declared in Madras by the government.

That night, the rain lashed Madras in all its fury and as if to pull the legs of the public, it stopped exactly at six in the morning.

Office goers were in a quandary. Even if it wasn’t raining, the roads  were flooded. Autos and taxis took advantage of the situation and ripped off commuters with sky high fares. 

For software professionals even working from home wasn’t an option due to the power shut down.

Whatsapp groups of office teams were activated to check on whereabouts of team members – who reached office, who didn’t and what was the situation at the office and at each locality.

There were people who couldn’t get home the previous evening and stayed overnight at the office. They were ultimately bailed out by SUVs specially assigned for the purpose.

Daylight was some consolation but as the evening darkness set in there was a growing sense of fear and worry.

Many worried about aged parents who couldn’t step out of their apartments.  Cell phones were used sparingly to conserve charge.

It was a relief that landlines were still in operation. 

Residents inundated the Electricity Board with calls. No answers were available as to when the power supply would resume. 

It had been off for more than 24 hours now. Meanwhile rumours flew thick and fast. 

The second night was even worse. The relentless rain submerged what little hopes the public had about returning to their daily chores.

The resilience of India’s IT sector rose to the fore. Calls were held in pitch darkness with ancient landline phones  supplied by the telephone department at the time of installation (cordless phones couldn’t be used due to the absence of power). 

But that was as far as it could go. No work from the office was possible. Few employees walked as far as 4 kilometres to the Ascendas IT park. Some turned back when they found a bandicoot doing the backstroke in the knee deep water and looking at them insolently. The submerged road was a mine field. One false step and your feet would get caught in a broken slab and go into the drainage.

Whatsapp went into overdrive and the phrase “Stay Safe” echoed throughout with water making inroads into living rooms, damaging compound walls and bringing in all types of pestilence and reptiles.

On Day Three the realization dawned on the populace that they could be marooned indefinitely.

Volunteers mostly from school and college, their parents,  artists from different walks of life formed groups to pack and deliver food to those in need including old people who couldn’t venture out of their homes. 

Manderley apartments was vastly better off than most for one single reason – it was built on a  small slope which meant no water logging. That was a huge blessing but the absence of power also meant no water since the borewell motor couldn’t be used to pump water to the overhead tank.

To make matters worse in one apartment, the elderly couple living there had just conducted the wedding of their son and their were relatives from out of town which put a strain on the dwindling water in the tank.

The association secretary Padma Venkat wrung her hands in dismay. “What will they do?? What will WE do when water runs out??” she lamented.  The news on the power front was as uncertain as ever. “I checked with the electricity office and they say that the Taramani substation which caters to the Adyar, Thiruvanmiyur area is submerged and cant be fixed for days!” she cried to Jig when he came down to  check with her if she needed anything from the grocery.

Jig paused in concern for few minutes.

Most people were laying their hands on whatever veggies which were available, candles, torch cells.

The water had drained off the East Coast road somewhat. 

Still Jig wasn’t enthusiastic at all about going out in the ankle deep ditch water and compete with all the other desperate shoppers for the dwindling supplies of bread, candles, vegetables,  bottled water but  there were no other males in the apartment capable of helping out.

He looked up and saw that Ketaki had appeared on the landing 

“Oh are you going out? Yenakku oru pack Odomos vaangindu varuvela (Would you please, please get me a pack of Odomos cream)?” she cooed imploringly in Tamil. Her expression was reminiscent of the ethereal look of Rita Hayworth, the Hollywood screen goddess of yesteryear in a photo from the ‘40s published in The Hindu with the legend ‘Happiness to The Hindu readers’ – her hand placed on her chin and eyes almost closed in an expression of  erotic ecstasy. Madras was in the international link decades nay centuries ago he thought with pride.

The way she said it made his heart skip a beat and sent a  rush of blood to his loins.

“Sure” he grinned.

Luckily, groceries and vegetables were available. Water was the most in demand commodity and the bubble top and bottled water suppliers  made a killing.

The citizenry slowly started getting used to dinner by candlelight and minimal engagement on phone.- since there was no power to charge the cell phones and the landlines being damaged.

There were heartening accounts   of Carnatic musicians organizing food at schools converted to makeshift kitchens and relief supply centers. Many of the younger artistes waded long distances in water to deliver food packets to passersby.

One of Jignesh’s friends joked. “No current! No TV! No social media! No whatsapp! I actually began talking to my wife. She seems to be an interesting woman!”

Jignesh laughed. He was thankful that Vasuki was away and that she wouldn’t be around with her constant nagging and complaining. 

Then the politicking started and that was not so pleasant.  There was talk of cancelling the annual Margazhi Mahotsavam, the December festival, a prominent cultural phenomenon which attracted even visitors from abroad who stayed an entire month in serviced apartments. One Swedish gentleman even specified that his apartment should have a view of the Kapaleeswarar temple when he visited the terrace each morning. Jig and many of his fraternity were pissed off. If there should be no celebration  why not also close the TASMAC shops and theatres?  Why this hypocrisy towards what is known as a brahmin domain?

The National Disaster Recovery Force (NDRF) sent by the Central government  surveyed the areas of the city housing the weaker sections to rescue people. Many refused to play along which left the force bemused.

One man even asked the NDRF personnel to bring him a cup of his favourite hot tea.

The talk of cancelling the Margazhi festival was short lived and other rumors started flying thick and fast which caused the most panic. 

Just when people were beginning to come to terms with the alarming damage to their homes and property, there was a double whammy

The rumour was that the government was planning to open the sluice gates of Chembarambakkam lake in  order to release the excess water into the Adyar river. There were warnings to the people living in the areas in and around to vacate. This understandably caused much consternation and heartburn. Where could they relocate at such short notice.

Unfortunately, this rumour proved to be true. The government opened the floodgates and in the process also opened a self inflicted Pandora’s box. The deluge that followed almost proved to be the last nail in the coffin of the Tamilnadu government.

The opposition had their knives drawn out and excoriated the government on improper management of the water level in the various reservoirs. There were strong denials and rebuttals by the government. But the damage was done. The only silver lining was that the rain had stopped.

By Day 4, people stopped thinking about office. Actually they stopped thinking beyond the next hour   as they started to get  really desperate for water.  Apartment complexes where there were back up DG sets were on a good wicket since they could use the borewell motor to draw water. But even that was used sparingly since even kerosene was in short supply.  

The action in profiteering now shifted to DG set operators. They could write their own ticket as desperate citizens walked the streets and stalked DG set owners who played hard to get.

The residents of the independent bungalow adjoining Manderley apartments seemed to be doing okay. The owner, a well to do heart surgeon, seemed to have contacts all over the place – anything related to Metrowater, civil works, you name it. Padma Venkat, the association secretary, swung into action. When she heard a DG set humming at the surgeon’s she immediately contacted him and was grudgingly given a few numbers.

She then turned to Jig. “I’ve got a few contacts from our neighbour for DG sets. One guy is located in Valmikinagar. Would you please, please locate him and book one ?!!” she begged.

Jig didn’t hesitate. There was no option in sight. He didn’t want to move anywhere else because atleast the absence of flooding was taken care of here. 

He nodded. The water level in the tank had already hit a new low.

It was Day 5

To his chagrin the bike didn’t start . He didn’t want to ruin the car in the neighbouring flooded streets.

Padma Venkat became anxious when she saw Jig trying to get the bike going.

But Ketaki, who had also come down to help, wasn’t.

She urged him on. “Come on Jig! You don’t need a bike. All you need to do is run!” she urged him on with an enthusiastic smile as if the DG set had been delivered.

Her cheerleading  gave him a high and he smiled inspite of his anxiety. The other residents who had gathered downstairs heartily agreed and cheered as if  a marathon had started.

He sprinted away in his characteristic style, Ketaki and her daughters’ cheers spurring him on. 

When he reached Valmikinagar and located the DG set owner’s parking station his heart sank. There was a huge queue. The owner was nowhere to be seen. He roamed the streets aimlessly asking around for alternatives. His desperation grew by the minute. When he finally got to the DG set owner there was no firm commitment. “Lets see”. Jig’s heart sank. He enquired about the rates and told the owner a thousand times “We’ll be waiting for you. Please be magnanimous and help.”

He trudged back slowly to report what he saw to the association secretary.

She didn’t say anything but the lines of anxiety on her face remained. Ketaki was far more helpful

“Lets check the water level one more time” she said. “We opened the tank cover for some time. The rain must have brought in something to last us for a couple of days”.

Jig reluctantly  went up to the terrace with her and climbed onto the overhead tank.

He opened the cover slowly with trepidation. 

What they saw made them gasp. The water level was barely a centimetre high. The floor of the tank was clearly visible.

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