Madurai, the second largest city in Tamil Nadu, is known as the gateway to the south of the state. It is famous for its Meenakshi temple and Thirumal Nayakar's palace. The Vaigai river flows through the city, though there is not much water flowing in it in the summer months.
Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers M K Alagiri lives in this city. He is also the organising south secretary of the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. A political pundit told us that if one checks the pulse of the voter in Madurai, one will know the political pulse of the state.
The voters in Madurai city and in rural Madurai district have made up their mind about who they are going to vote for, but were very cagey in admitting the same. As the ballot is secret we did not ask for names from the people who spoke to us.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, Leader of Opposition and All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief J Jayalalitha, DMDK leader Vijaykanth and comedian Vadivelu among others have already visited Madurai to canvass for votes.
"All of them drew crowds, so it's difficult to judge who will get the most number of votes," said a hotel employee.
He added, "The freebie culture won't work anymore. People have realized that they are coming from the tax payers' money. Anyway both parties are giving freebies so one cancels out the other. Giving money for votes will not work as people know it is scam money".
An auto driver offered his opinion, "Just because there was a large crowd at the chief minister's rally doesn't mean it'll turn to votes. Some people just came to see the chief minister."
Another voter said, "It won't be easy for the DMK this time. They think they will easily win. That's what it seems like on the surface. But the undercurrents are against them."
In north Madurai an elderly man said, "I am a government servant. I like the DMK but people are saying that they will vote for the AIDMK now. This may change if money is distributed. Once people accept money they will vote for whoever gives it to them."
In east Madurai a middle-aged man had a different opinion, "So what if they distribute money? Why should they vote for whoever gives them money? It is public money. They can still take the money and vote for who they like. What do you think? They will come and take off our heads if we don't vote for them?"
A young shopkeeper had something else to say, "Moorthy, the DMK candidate, is known to everyone. The AIDMK candidate is unknown. So the DMK will win here."
A college student said, "Amma (Jayalalithaa) has a good chance of winning. Hope she doesn't squander the opportunity after winning by bad governance."
A young married woman was happy. "They are throwing money through the window. I got Rs 200. I hope the AIDMK gives us Rs 500. Then they will get the votes. Kalaignar has done a lot of good work like giving eggs in the noon meal scheme in schools and marriage grants for poor girls. But during elections people expect money. If they don't give, then the ADMK will win."
Thiruparakuntram is a temple town. It is one of the six abodes of Lord Muruga (second son of Lord Shiva). A Bharatiya Janata Party vehicle was going around asking for votes.
A tea shop owner was very happy with the Election Commission. "First time it doesn't look like elections. Hope it lasts till the polling day. Otherwise they make so much noise".
He was upset with all politicians. "Even a village level politician has a car. They enrich themselves. They become filthy rich while their followers become drunkards. Nobody works for the people. The Election Commission has scared them. I am very glad. Here the AIDMK won last time. This time it will be a close contest."
Another voter said, "They used to fight over posters and walls to paint. Now those fights are not there. It is peaceful."
A third voter said that he was a DMDK supporter. "It will be a tough election but the AIDMK will win".
A man walked by wearing a dhoti that had the AIDMK party colours bordering it, it was obvious who he was going to vote for.
On the way to Usilampatti, the police were halting all cars and checking them to see if they were carrying cash or any other gifts.
In Usilampatti, an old man was sitting under a tree. He said he always voted for the two leaves symbol (of AIDMK). "All 5 members in my family will vote for Amma".
He also said that the other side would come and give them money. They were poor so they would take the money but vote for Amma. He said that the other side were only interested in building up one family.
Another voter offered his wisdom, "Here the Forward Bloc (ADMK ally) is contesting. So all the Thevars would vote for him. But as the DMK candidate was also a Thevar, the party votes would go to him. Local candidates always do better than outside candidates."
"The DMK cadre are working really hard. Maybe the ADMK cadre were working less as it was an ally candidate. They were working but not as much as the DMK. It would be a close fight. The margin would be lesser than 2,000 votes. The current MLA was from the ADMK," he said.
Even on the way to Sholavandan, the police were checking all cars. In Sholavandan, a lady said that she was not interested in politics. She did not even know who was contesting here.
A man told us that the sitting MLA Moorthy had now shifted to the city. "Here the AIDMK will win. Votes are polled on caste basis here. The Thevars will vote for one party and the schedule castes will vote for the other party. But all in all the AIDMK will win. Money has not come in yet but that may make a difference."
Another voter said, "Amma will win. This is an area of sand smuggling. But now because of increased vigilance that has stopped. Money has come into the villages in the same trucks that were transporting sand. But they haven't started distributing it yet. Even if they do the ADMK will still win".
Our next stop was a small village in Melur constituency. It's an equal fight here, say villagers. They refuse to tell us who they are going to vote for.
"It's too risky to admit who you are going to vote for. People here start fighting for silly reasons. If you tell the wrong person that you are voting for the other party, he will quarrel with you. So we prefer to keep quiet," a villager said.
They are happy that there are less posters and walls being painted. Although they admit that the painters in the village are sad.
The ADMK looks like it has an edge, but looks are deceptive, as people might not tell you what is really on their mind. We go by what they said.