Translating A Way of Life
R Thomas Rosin
AYYA’S ACCOUNTS: A LEDGER OF HOPE IN MODERN INDIA by Anand Pandian Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 2014, 216 pp., $24.00
July 2019, volume 43, No 7

Ethnographic research by its very nature is a dialogue among investigator(s) and subjects. Such translations of a way of life must respect confidentiality, yet properly recognize those so central to making intelligible the lives they live. In this co-authored memoir, scholar, researcher, and grandson, Anand Pandian, critically honours the life and works of his grandfather. His investigation spans a seventeen-year period of eliciting, transcribing, and translating, that captures distinct periods and phases in his grandfather’s life, so the memoir bears elements of a verbal diary, reminiscences, and commentary, as well as dialogue from events as they unfold.

In this admirable endeavour Pandian records details about a  grandfather who could keep track of thirty or forty fruit retailers, while he received numerous wholesale shipments from different growers each day, with payments made by wholesalers or retailers deferred until actual sales were made, keeping in mind daily tallies of shipments, credit, and pay-backs.The reader views the complexities of what had to be remembered when you worked on the basis of commission and credit, with payments made only after produce is sold.

From the strategies and techniques Ayya Mariappan would use in business, he gradually shifted, upon personal reflection, cutting back on scale and reducing complexities in computing commissions and recovering loans based upon interest. We have an evolving picture of a man’s shifting strategies, and principles, developed for a specific trade over his lifetime, with honest reflections on the roles of both deceit as well as forgiveness of debt. In recording these shifts, the authors have kept the reader’s interest: a few are repetitions about cognition, computation, or strategic capabilities and practices, for we see Ayya’s business acumen dynamically unfolding over a lifetime.

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