Chennai: While the Democrats and Republicans were keeping their fingers crossed for the outcome of Presidential polls in the United States of America, the anxiety was palpable thousands of kilometres away in Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai and the rural district of Tiruvarur.
When eventually Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were declared elected President and Vice President of the world’s oldest democracy, celebrations broke out in the home of Sarala Gopalan in posh South Chennai and the nondescript Thulasendrapuram village in Tiruvarur.
Dr Sarala Gopalan, better known as Kamala Harris’ ‘Chiththi’ (mother’s younger sister or aunt) and her family were glued to television news just like many others. “We were ecstatic when she scripted history,” Sarala said on Sunday as one journalist after another besieged her for quotes on the Chennai connection of America’s second most powerful person.
Kamala’s mother Shyamala Gopalan was a Chennai resident, who eventually moved to the US and married an Afro-American. Harris had recalled how she would visit the city to meet her grandfather and aunts.
According to Sarala, Shyamala, whom she termed an achiever, had a greater influence in shaping Kamala. She credited her late father PV Gopalan for bringing up his daughters as strong women. “He encouraged Kamala’s mother to go to the US to study on a scholarship in the 1950s, though at that time the rest of the family was apprehensive about sending her at the age of 18,” she said.
“Had my sister been alive (Shyamala died in 2009), she would have cried today,” said Sarala adding that the family hoped to attend her swearing in next year. Kamala had last visited Chennai to immerse her mother’s ashes.
Elsewhere in Tiruvarur, the villagers were excited that they now have an added VVIP to call their own. While former Chief Minister and Dravidian stalwart M Karunanidhi was the first popular son of the soil, now they have the US-connection as Kamala’s ancestors are from Thulasendrapuram. The villagers had a few days ago organised prayers for Kamala’s victory.
“It is like early Deepavali for us as we burst crackers on learning that Kamala is now the Vice President-elect of America,” said Ramanan, a villager. The villagers drew colourful kolams (rangoli) with the caption ‘Congratulations Kamala Harris, the Pride of our village’.
“Many of the villagers here see this as their own achievement and are happy to share the joy just as family members of Kamala are today,” he added.