Born near Ettayapuram in the erstwhile Madras Presidency into a caste of former tree-climbers and toddy-tappers, 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 Madurai.
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. Ayya