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November 21, 2000

    Faisal Shariff encounters Chamundeshwarnath, the former Andhra skipper widely believed to be Azhar's alter ego.

"He is the man who knows so much about Azhar."

    --> That statement was enough for this correspondent to pay a visit to Chamundeshwarnath's home at Banjara Hills 10, a good stone's throw from Mohammad Azharuddin's old home, Vajeh Mansion.

    After exploring the area for a good 20 minutes, I found the home, which was raided along with Azhar's home during Operation Gentleman early this year. An Opel Astra and a Tata Indica stood at the entrance.

    Photographs of Azhar still adorn the walls of the home. Azhar and Chamundi, as he is better known as, have a long association.

    "I have nothing to say about him. I am not in contact with him anymore. Please. I have nothing to say," he said.

    More than two hours later, Chamundi bid goodbye at the entrance with more answers than I expected to find.

    Vankenna Chamundeswaranath (born Rajahmundry, 25-6-1959) played for Andhra from 1978 to 1992 as a right hand middle-order batsman and as an occasional right arm medium pace and off-break bowler in 44 Ranji Trophy matches scoring 1,818 runs at an average of 26.34. He also led Andhra in 13 matches from 1988-89 to 1990-91.

    He is the first Indian to have played in the South African domestic league after that nation's readmission to international cricket.

    In November 1990, he forfeited Andhra's second innings to gain some extra bowling points against Kerala at Visakhapatnam. He set Kerala a target of 75 runs in 13 overs. Kerala made 76-1 in 11.2 overs to win by nine wickets. Later that season, he lost his captaincy and a place in the side when the selectors took a strong view of his decision and dropped him on disciplinary grounds. He thus became the first captain in domestic Indian cricket to forfeit an innings.

    "I have no association with him anymore. Someone told the IT guys that I had Azhar's money with me. And they raided my house. But I have nothing to worry. All that I possess is my own money.

    "I have been accused of having earned wealth disproportionate to my income. I earned Rs 50 lakhs in my benefit game way back in 1992. I received Rs 37 lakhs as cash and a penthouse worth Rs 12 lakhs. My family owns more than hundred acres of land. My share from that is a good 26 acres. My wife works as a consultant with a software company. She earns half a lakh a month and I earn the same amount," he said.

    "After verifying and assessing my IT returns and other documents, the IT authorities delinked my file from Azhar's the very next day," he says, his pitch getting higher and higher.

    Chamundi is bitter about Azhar today. "My mother died and Azhar didn't call on me. It hurts to know that despite the fact that I have always wanted the best for Azhar I have only been talked about for all the wrong reasons," he says.

    This is the man who "wore my helmet when he made his Test debut for India at Calcutta," he recalls. Those were the days when Azhar and he were thick as thieves. "I have never met Azhar after 1995. And the only reason was Sangeeta Bijlani. That woman is solely responsible for my fall-out with Azhar."

    Some members of Hyderabad's cricketing fraternity claim Chamundi was largely responsible for effecting a change in Azhar's outlook. Some also blame him for Azhar's divorce.

    When I asked him about it, Chamundi sprung to his feet and summoned me to his bedroom. "I will just call Naureen's parents and you speak to them. I have such a good relationship with them. I was the only person who was invited to Naureen's wedding. Naureen is very close to me and she regularly sends me whatever she cooks at home. If I were responsible, then would she have kept in touch with me? Azhar is not a kid that I can force him to do anything I want him to do."

    Azharuddin "I had warned Azhar that he should be careful with Sangeeta, when he kept telling me that she was just a friend. I was so sure that he would never desert Naureen. Especially after they had kids I thought it was suicidal for him to break the marriage."

    "I have never taken any favours from Azhar. In fact I have helped him on many occasions. I helped him clear the Honda he received as a gift at the customs. If Azhar wanted to do favours for me, he could have. I scored three tons in one season for Andhra, but was not picked by Azhar for the South Zone team for the Deodhar Trophy. Robin Singh scored three tons and was given a berth in the squad.

    "So, what favours are you talking about?"

    Despite his differences with the former skipper, Chamundi believes Azhar is too na´ve to have been involved in something so serious as match-fixing. Azhar, he claims, is the most indecisive and ignorant man he has ever met.

    Azhar, he adds, is "a great son and superb human being. He would issue blank cheques to his parents whenever they asked for some money. He would empty his pockets when asked for assistance, irrespective of which community the person hailed from.

    "I was shocked when Azhar made that statement about being discriminated against because of being a Muslim. Azhar is anything but a communal person. That man came with me to Tirupati.

    Azharuddin "I think Azhar is caught in a trap. He has a heart of gold, despite the fact that he is a fool. That woman is manipulating him and there is no way out for him now.

    "Just because I go to the ground in an Opel Astra, everyone hates me. I don't care. They can call me what they want. I know they call me a broker and a pimp and all those things. My conscience is clear and that is the final thing."

    "If I was a shady character, would Sachin interact with me? I am very close to Sachin Tendulkar. When he scored his record breaking 186 against New Zealand In Hyderabad, he came home and was here till 2 in the morning. He has also presented me with his World Cup '99 jersey autographed by him. He called me up in Vizag this year to invite me for his son's birthday party."

    "That should give you an idea of what kind of a person I am."

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A profile Azhar: an encounter