Murali wears a bright yellow head dress, a red shirt over a white veshti (loin cloth) and a dozen chains of rudrakhsa beads of various sizes - as also amulets and occult aids like animal tooth and a rattle.
His forehead smeared with vermilion and ash, this 12-year-old carries a four-inch-long palm scroll, bound by thread, which he opens out and offers to read your future.
Murali is a soothsayer - 'guduguduppandi' as they are called - who, like countless others, have been inducted into the business by their families at a young age instead of going to school.
"Their families feel that people pay more if children go soothsaying," Selvi, a volunteer teacher from the Shabnam Trust working among these children, tells IANS.
Selvi has the tough job of convincing the soothsayer clan of Boom Boom village, of Red Hills area in Thiruvallur district, about 35 km north of Chennai city, to send their children to school. Just one set of parents, Muthu and Jayanthi, have agreed to send two of their four children to the informal school the charitable trust runs.
"If our children's life changes, our lives will change," says Muthu, 35. He and his wife know no other kind of work.
"My family would wander from place to place and I soon realised I could not even read the name of the place we were in. I read by learning to recognise letters on roadside billboards," Muthu says.
In earlier times, local chieftains and prosperous villages maintained the soothsayers, who would go from house to house with a decorated cow and say good things about the inmates. They were not supposed to be astrologers.