On Saturday, a pall of gloom descended over the Government Primary School in Vengalampalli in Andhra Pradesh's Kurnool district, as the students and staff mourned a loved one. Several students were dejected and some even broke down over the loss of someone they had treated as a 'classmate'; a langur fondly called Lakshmi.
Last month, Lakshmi, a female grey langur, had taken the internet by storm, after photos and videos showed the animal regularly visiting the school and even sitting in classrooms along with the children, and playing with them during their breaks.
Unfortunately, Lakshmi was mauled by a pack of dogs on Saturday afternoon. Speaking to TNM, the school's headmaster, S Abdul Lateef says, "A youth from the village saw the attack and called me. By the time I reached, the dogs had already killed the monkey."
The sorrow is evident in Lateef's voice, as he speaks like a teacher who has lost a favourite student. He says he hadn't seen Lakshmi in 10 days.
"Around 10 days ago, some person put Lakshmi in a sack and took the langur away when we were not there, to scare some monkeys in his garden. We were hopeful that Lakshmi would come back soon. The langur came back to the village last night, and even visited the school in the morning and left," Lateef says.
"I was sure Lakshmi would return again in the evening as usual, so I even ordered for some bananas. But before that could happen, I received the call," he adds.
The headmaster and his assistant, along with a few youngsters from the village, held a small burial ceremony for Lakshmi at the outskirts of the village.
"The children are devastated. They have been dull since they received the news. Two of the children, the ones to whom Lakshmi was most attached, broke down and were crying. Lakshmi was a close friend to everyone. The langur didn't harm anyone, and would sit close to the children; sometimes even climb on top and sit on their shoulders," Lateef says.
He recollects many memories, including how Lakshmi used to longingly stare into class whenever they used to lock the monkey out as the children were getting distracted.
"Whenever we would lock Lakshmi out, she would listen to the teacher from the window like a sincere student," Lateef says. He also remembers how the monkey would curiously peek into textbooks that the children were reading from, and at other times, jump up on his desk, where he would feed the animal bananas.
In fact, Lakshmi was such a sincere student that the school's absentee rate came down - more children wanted to go to school to be with Lakshmi.
"The entire school got very attached to her. Because of her, our school got to be known across the country. Now we're all heartbroken," he says.