Kerala’s population is the best educated in India, a high proportion working in offices or the service industries. This means that manual labourers are drawn from neighbouring states like Tamil Nadu.
We walked up a mountain track, through jungle, into the grounds of an abandoned hotel resort. Munnar’s tea estates lay folded across the rumpled hills beneath us. The sun was falling fast and the first shadows trickled through the valley. Jamie had brought us up here to catch the sunset, and as I sat on a tumbledown wall with Saji, our driver, Jamie prepared his tripod and camera equipment.
A white goat ambled out of the tree line. Two more appeared and were followed by a thin man. He limped uphill towards us, carrying a staff. One of his bare feet was wrapped in a rag. Every now and then he turned to shout across the valley.
He climbed onto one of the crumbling pedestals along the wall and continued his call. As the rest of his flock arrived, we asked Saji to find out his name and to ask why he was bringing his goats to this particular spot.
“I am Chella Duri, I come from Tamil Nadu,” translated Saji. “I look after my master’s goats on this land. Now I call them for the night. I sleep here with them.” The goats milled around us, nibbling the wall, the grass, my feet, the path, everything.
Jamie asked what was wrong with his foot.
“I broke it on a stone while climbing.” We saw blood stains on the rag. Why hadn’t he seen a doctor? “I earn 4000 rupees (around £46) a month. After feeding and housing my family, there is nothing left for doctor.” He showed no sign of pain.
Jamie photographed him, and in return we answered Chella Duri’s questions. Where were we from? What were we doing in India? We told him we were travelling the world on our boat. At first he didn’t understand, so Saji explained about the yacht, and living in a marina, and that we were journeying all over India. Chella Duri and Saji then had a conversation, Chella Duri explaining with his arms and Saji standing still with his head on one side.
“What is he saying?” said Jamie.
“He wants to know if you are interested to buy his son,” said Saji. We laughed, thinking it was a joke. “He is serious. If you take his son on your boat you can feed and educate him. Then Chella Duri has enough money to get his ankle fixed and only has to worry about his wife and daughter.”
Stunned, I imagined teaching the boy English, showing him how to sail. We’d have to get a passport. Adoption maybe? Jamie was shocked, but he broke the spell.
“Tell him we are very sorry that we can’t take his son.” Jamie handed over the few hundred rupees he had in his wallet. Chella Duri bowed his head, and silently accepted the gift. We left him then, and not for the first (or last) time in India, wondered if we could have done more.
This was my entry into the Guardian’s travel writing competition. It got nowhere! Never mind, I’ll try again next year.