A cloud of mosquitoes rise from the fetid lanes as the mid-morning sun beats down on the desperately poor hamlet of Parashala near the remote Tamil Nadu border. A crowd of largely older women, their ragged clothes betraying the poverty of this region, are waiting by the roadside. Suddenly in the oppressive haze, a shiny silver car snakes down the dirt road like a creeping snail.
The local candidate for the United Democratic Front, AT George, materialises from the straggly crowd to greet 'star' campaigner Shashi Tharoor. A souped-up jeep rolls down the road and Tharoor and the candidate leap nimbly onto it even as the faithful gaze up at them.
Tharoor constantly hugs George, who is overawed by the patrician MP.
Shyalaja, a housewife standing nearby, says that they have not seen neither hide nor hair of Tharoor since his massive victory in the Capital but that they will vote for the United Democratic Front (UDF) in any case.
The modest candidate makes a speech, to which there is weak applause. Clearly they are waiting for the Tharoorian tones, whom many have actually never heard before.
Tharoor begins his speech on Saturday in colloquial Malayalam, so different from the highly Sanskritised one which politicians in Kerala favour. Despite his best efforts to strike a chord with the crowd, his Oxbridge accent is never far from the surface. He speaks passionately of the Left's colossal failures. "I cannot allow you to be cheated anymore by these people. Have you benefited from any scheme for the poor? I think not, because the state government will not cooperate with the Centre."
On the sides of the jeep, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, AK Antony and possible chief ministerial candidate Oommen Chandy beam down at the crowd.
Inside the cool confines of his car, Tharoor admits that the UDF is not a shoo-in. "We have a tough fight on our hands, the main factor being a wave of support for chief minister VS Achuthanandan, who was initially denied a ticket by the party."
And he is careful not to make any personal attacks on the chief minister. The women standing by the battered hedges are all eyes for Tharoor. Here he comes into his own. He listens to them, tells them that they must vote for his candidate. They nod in that uncomprehending south Indian way, which is usually to say they will.