When Harris asked aunt in India to break coconuts at temple

Harris was born to a Jamaican father and an Indian mother

Yoshita Singh

New York: Senator Kamala Harris, the first-ever American of Indian and African descent to be the vice presidential candidate of a major political party, had at one point asked her aunt in India to break coconuts for good luck at a Hindu temple when she was in the fray for California attorney general election in 2010, according to a media report.

Harris had won the election by a margin of 0.8 per cent.

The New York Times, in an article titled ‘How Kamala Harris’s Family in India Helped Shape Her Values’, said when Harris was fighting the elections for California Attorney General, she called her aunt Sarala Gopalan in Chennai and asked her to break coconuts for good luck at a Hindu temple overlooking the beach at Besant Nagar where she used to walk with her grandfather.

The aunt lined up 108 coconuts an auspicious number in Hinduism to be smashed. “And it takes a whole day to arrange that,” Harris was quoted as saying by the newspaper in a 2018 speech to an Indian-American group.

The NYT report, published on Sunday, said one of Harris’ brightest childhood memories was walking down the beach in Besant Nagar in Chennai with her maternal grandfather P V Gopalan.

Her grandfather had worked in the Indian government and every morning he would meet up with his retired friends at the beach in Besant Nagar. When Harris was visiting India as a child, she would accompany her grandfather to the beach.

“I remember the stories that they would tell and the passion with which they spoke about the importance of democracy,” Harris said in her 2018 speech.

“As I reflect on those moments in my life that have had the most impact on who I am today I wasn’t conscious of it at the time but it was those walks on the beach with my grandfather in Besant Nagar that had a profound impact on who I am today,” she added.

Democratic presumptive presidential candidate Joe Biden scripted history last week when he selected 55-year-old Harris as his running mate in the presidential election on November 3.

According to the NYT article, although Harris has been more understated about her Indian heritage than her experience as a Black woman, her path to US vice-presidential pick has also been guided by the values of her Indian-born mother, her Indian grandfather and her wider Indian family who have provided a lifelong support network that endures even from 8,000 miles away”.

The report said friends and neighbours who knew the family, speak highly of Harris’ mother and grandparents.

“That family had an immaculate reputation,” N Vyas, a retired doctor who was their neighbour, was quoted as saying by the report. “They never raved about the great things that they have done in Delhi or something like that. They were straight-shooters down-to-earth, happy people.”

Vyas’ wife Jayanti said they were not surprised when Harris was named the first woman of colour on the presidential ticket of a major US party.

“All the women in her family are strong personalities. These are women who know what they are talking and what they are saying,” she said.

Born to a Jamaican father and an Indian mother, Harris, who has many firsts to a trailblazing career starting with an attorney from California, was also the district attorney for San Francisco — the first woman and first African-American and Indian-origin to be elected to the position.

She is one of only three Asian Americans in the Senate and she is the first Indian-American ever to serve in the chamber.

Harris would have several firsts in her role as vice president also: the first woman, the first African-American woman, the first Indian-American and the first Asian-American.

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