Ayya's Accounts

Ayya's Accounts

A Ledger of Hope in Modern India
Anand Pandian and M. P. Mariappan, Veena Das
Distribution: World
Publication date: 03/17/2014
Format: Paperback 17 b&w illus., 1 map
ISBN: 978-0-253-01250-0
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2nd Place, 2014 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing 2015 AAUP Public and Secondary School Library Selection--rated outstanding

Ayya’s Accounts explores the life of an ordinary man—orphan, refugee, shopkeeper, and grandfather—during a century of tremendous hope and upheaval. Born in colonial India into a despised caste of former tree climbers, Ayya lost his mother as a child and came of age in a small town in lowland Burma. Forced to flee at the outbreak of World War II, he made a treacherous 1,700-mile journey by foot, boat, bullock cart, and rail back to southern India. Becoming a successful fruit merchant, Ayya educated and eventually settled many of his descendants in the United States. Luck, nerve, subterfuge, and sorrow all have their place along the precarious route of his advancement. Emerging out of tales told to his American grandson, Ayya’s Accounts embodies a simple faith—that the story of a place as large and complex as modern India can be told through the life of a single individual.

Author Bio

Anand Pandian is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. He is author of Crooked Stalks: Cultivating Virtue in South India, co-editor of Ethical Life in South Asia (IUP, 2011) and Race, Nature, and the Politics of Difference, and a contributor to Everyday Life in South Asia (IUP, 2010).

M. P. Mariappan (1919-2014) was a retired fruit merchant living in the south Indian city of Madurai at the time he co-authored Ayya's Accounts.

Veena Das is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. Her many books include Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspective on Contemporary India and Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary.


“Anand Pandian’s spellbinding memoir of his grandfather is at once a labor of love and a reckoning with life. Despite differences of location, language, and vocation, grandson and grandfather share such deep affinities that Pandian confesses to feeling indebted to Ayya for his own life. Not only do 'all of us come to life in a sea of stories,' but it proves possible to read a nation’s history between the lines of this biography. At the same time, Pandian’s sensitive and luminous narrative demonstrates the power of a literary sensibility to broaden our ethnographic horizons and broach new philosophical questions in anthropology. ”
 — Michael D. Jackson, author of The Wherewithal of Life: Ethics, Migration, and the Question of Wellbeing

“One senses here something quite rare: the clearly delineated emergence of a person's life, thoughts, and relations through the course of a lifetime. And it surely helps that the author is a gifted writer. By the time I came to the end of the text, I felt like I had come to know Ayya in an intimate way, and I was grateful for that span of related knowing. ”
 — Robert Desjarlais, author of Sensory Biographies: Lives and Deaths among Nepal's Yolmo Buddhists

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Table of Contents


1. A Century of Experience
2. In Some Village, Somewhere
3. Taj Malabar Hotel, 2005
4. Things I Didn't Know I'd Lost
5. Pudur, 2012
6. A Decade in Burma
7. Okpo, 1940
8. When the War Came
9. Kovilpatti, 1946
10. A New Life at Home
11. Victoria Studio, 1949
12. Dealing Cloth in a Time of War
13. Dindigul, 1951
14. A Foothold in Madurai
15. Gopal Studio, 1953
16. A Shop of My Own
17. Madurai Fruit Merchants Association, 1960
18. Branches in Many Directions
19. Norwalk, 1974
20. Between Madurai and America
21. Madurai, 1992
22. What Comes Will Come
23. Oakland, 1997
24. Burma, Once Again
25. Okpo, 2002
26. Giving and Taking
27. Listening to My Grandfather
Afterword \ Veena Das


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