The addiction to play marbles (kancha in Hindi, guli in Bangla) had driven these children away from their school to the fields and alleys of their village neighbourhood. The very marbles brought them back to school, thanks to an indulgence by their headmaster.

The three children are students of the fourth grade of Murshidabad’s Tangramari Primary School. They attend the school regularly now while they also don’t miss out on their gaming sessions during the recess. They play marbles for those 15 min at the school playground. And the school headmaster provides them with company!

Aseemkumar Adhikari, the headmaster, says, with a broad smile writ on his face, brushing off the dust in his hands, “I give them company during the ‘tiffin’. Lest they should run away from school again!”

The three students, Iqbal, Nazeer and Mafiz promise they wouldn’t bunk the classes anymore, as they are not missing out on the fun.

The three children live in the Tangramari neighbourhood of Hariharpada. They would leave home with the school bags, but they would never make it to the school. On the way, they would stray into the bamboo forest in the area or an empty field and play marbles until the school hours were over for the day.

In between, if they saw an acquaintance or a school teacher on the way, they would scurry for cover — up on a branch of a tree bushy enough to camouflage them. But it wasn’t any teacher lesser than the principal who could bring them back to school.

Adhikari noted this craze for marbles among the children. He caught them playing in a field one day eventually. But, far from scolding them, let alone handing out some corporal punishment, he proposed to play with them.

The children couldn’t refuse their “sir” although they found what they heard hard to believe. They were waiting to be beaten up black and blue any moment. But that never happened.

Instead, the headmaster threw at them a challenge they couldn’t help but accept: “Come to school and challenge me for a game of marbles during the recess or after the classes are over. Let me see who can beat me in the game!”

About a week ago, the kids accepted the challenge, albeit hesitatingly. When the headmaster saw them entering through the gate, he inquired whether they had remembered to bring along marbles for the game. “Do not forget to call me during the recess!” he reminded the kids. The students, overjoyed, happily joined the classes.

Government tries various innovative means to ensure a higher attendance in schools, but this is a unique story where a teacher brings back reluctant children to school by breaking the wall of inhibition that acts as a barrier between students and their teacher across society. “This is how teachers should conduct themselves before students: Be their friend! Aseem babu has set an example for others to follow,” said Niharkanti Bhattacharya, the supervisor of schools in the district of Murshidabad, Bengal.

Adhikari says, “These kids helped me relive my childhood.”

The kids are all praise for their principal: “Sir never misses a shot!”