It is an image that caused many an eyebrow to rise across Tamil Nadu. An elderly man is on his knees with palms held in prayer and a gaze that could be mistaken for nothing but earnest.
And at the receiving end of this attention was a teenager in a school uniform. His palms were folded too but his face registered shock and surprise.
This photo that has gone viral across Tamil Nadu shows G Balu, the headmaster of a Government school in Villupuram literally begging his students to attend classes. It was taken on January 24.
"The student in the video studies in the 12th standard," says 56-year-old Balu, who works in the Villupuram town government school. "He was not attending school regularly and so I was begging him to get an education so that he can progress in life," he adds.
And as it turns out, this was not the first time that Balu had taken this unique measure to ensure discipline.
"I have personally visited the homes of over 150 students who attend my school and requested them in this manner to study well and attend classes regularly," says the headmaster. He had first adopted the practice three years ago when he headed a school in Chengalpet and claims it has made him and his pupils closer. "I usually spend weekends to travel to the neighbouring villages where they come from to convince them. I understand that shouting at them or even hitting them will only provoke and anger them. It won't bring about any transformation in their behaviour or encourage them to study," he adds.
The school that Balu administers has over 1000 students and holds classes from grade 6-12. He focusses primarily on the teenagers who are in class 12. According to the headmaster, the students attending his school primarily belong to the SC/ST community and their parents are agricultural labourers. He visits their home in order to interact with the parents as well to display the school's commitment to educating their children.
"The students come from impoverished backgrounds and have no motivation to study. Most of them are first generation learners and I have to do everything within my means to make them come to school," explains Balu. "Just general encouragement is not enough. I visit their home, fold my hands and show them that we are all equals. Then I tell them that they can lead a better life than their parents if they study. I chart a road map for them - how much they need to score in the board exam, which college they can attend and how to apply," he adds.
And how do students react to the shocking sight?
"When you yell at an adolescent, they react badly. But when I fold my hands they first get embarrassed and then they realise that I am genuinely interested in helping. It embarrasses the students sometimes and puts them in a delicate position but it is for their own good," he adds.
And does he get embarrassed while doing it?
"I come from a poor family myself and studied in a government school. My focus is to help the next generation get better and there is no place for ego in this fight," he says. "This does not mean every teacher must fold hands and beg students but a friendly approach is necessary to help both students and parents trust teachers," he adds.
Tamil Nadu over the last few years has seen scores of student suicides over alleged harassment from teachers. Balu says teachers end up showing years-worth of frustration over lack of discipline in unacceptable manners. "Corporal punishment is definitely not correct," says Balu.
Quoting the example of a recent case in Hyderabad where a 14-year-old committed suicide over alleged casteist slurs by a teacher, the headmaster says, "We cannot discriminate against our students based on caste, religion, appearance, etc. It is tragic that a teacher would do this."
But is his method the most effective?
"Since I joined last year, attendance has increased by at least 10% in the school. But will it always work? Time will only tell," says the headmaster.