Our weekend with Mohammed Azharuddin began early. We left Delhi for his constituency at six in the morning and got to Moradabad 12 hours later. We should have done the distance in three-and-a-half hours but we got diverted. We had just passed Garhmukteshwar's pink clock tower when Azhar's agent called to say that he was going to spend the morning campaigning for the Congress candidate in Muzaffarnagar. We were to wait for a black Ford Endeavour to pass us on the Meerut road and follow it. So we did. The next 10 hours were spent in Azhar's convoy as we drove through UP's countryside, the great rural flatland that even Hindi-speaking netas like to call the Interior.
Azhar in the Interior turned out to be one of the great comic turns in Indian politics. When the Endeavour stopped at a restaurant for breakfast, he emerged wearing shades, off-white jeans and a red T-shirt with the collar raised so high that it looked like a ruff. At the breakfast table he reluctantly agreed to be interviewed by a girl from India TV. "Two, three questions only," he stipulated in that word-swallowing mumble that cricket fans like me know so well from dozens of post-match interviews. "I'm here to work."