The nomination of Kamala Harris as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate for the forthcoming elections in the United States this November, has set the cat among the pigeons here in India. People from various parts of Tamil Nadu, which is where Kamala’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan hailed from, thence migrated to Oakland, California back in the ‘60s, are now laying claims to be Ms. Harris’ kith and kin. It is a moot point, barring a few faded sepia-tinted recollections of walking along the Marina Beach with her grandfather, (presumably munching sundal and murukkus the while) if Kamala has any vivid recollection of India to share. I am sure she will reveal more of her ‘India experience’ soon. Kamala Harris’ husband, lawyer Douglas Emhoff remains a largely anonymous figure, rather like the self-effacing Denis Thatcher during Maggie’s hey days as the Iron Lady of Britain. Doubtless we will get to know more about Emhoff in the near future.
However, all that is of little consequence to her near and dear ones in Madras (I am partial to the old name) and elsewhere in the state. The fact that Kamala’s father is a Jamaican appears to have been completely ignored here in India. Nostalgia is kicking in. It’s a bit like the Sundar Pichai or Indira Nooyi syndrome – the former revisiting some back street gully in Ashok Nagar in Madras where he might have played tennis ball cricket or hop scotch, and the latter spotted a few years ago enjoying a Carnatic music concert at the Music Academy during ‘the Season.’ The bigger you become on the world stage, the more you pine for the little things you fondly remember, back in the day during your infancy. Flashbacks to our Prime Minister’s tea stall at a railway station in Vadnagar in Gujarat, or Captain Marvel M.S. Dhoni, the ticket collector in the Eastern Railway. Nothing like the railways to induce that lump-in-the-throat feeling.
Getting back to Kamala Harris, ‘She is one of ours,’ is the cry that is ringing out loud and clear in the hinterlands of Tamil Nadu. I shan’t waste precious column space dwelling on the circumstances surrounding Kamala’s mother’s migration to the United States and her subsequent betrothal to fellow activist and economist, Jamaican Donald Harris. All that and more has been well documented for posterity. Word is that this revolutionary (for those days) alliance was accepted by Shyamala’s orthodox but enlightened TamBram family without a murmur. No song and dance or breast beating. Every day brings some new nostalgic nugget from the office of the would-be / could-be Veep, ergo just a catastrophe away from becoming President. Among the gems from Kamala (Sanskrit for the lotus flower) was a request she sent out to her aunt in Chennai to break the auspicious 108 coconuts at the family’s chosen temple to keep the Gods in good humour and be favourably disposed when the time comes for the ballot papers (or its digital equivalent) to be counted. As a matter of abundant caution, it might be prudent for Kamala to request her aunt to break a further 108 coconuts as an insurance cover against the likelihood of her boss Joe Biden queering the pitch.
The man who could be king, Biden, we are reliably informed, has a tendency to become tongue tied at crucial moments or worse, let slip a few unintended gaffes, and the bright-as-a-button Kamala may not always be by his side to lend a helping hand. The second tranche of sacrificial coconuts might just make the divine difference and tip the balance in favour of the Democrats. That said, the present incumbent at the White House, gunslinger Trump who shoots from the lip, is not going to sit idle and allow the grass to grow under his feet. No siree, Bob! The numbers are not holding out much promise for Team Trump as we speak, but count on the big man to fire on all cylinders when crunch time approaches. Already he has Kamala in his crosshairs, questioning her credentials and right to stand as Biden’s second in command. And Joe Biden himself would be nothing short of cannon fodder for the loquacious President when they go head to head in public debates. Expect more fireworks. The best Biden and Kamala can hope for is even bigger gaffes from Trump for them to capitalize on. Which is entirely on the cards. All told, exciting times loom large.
In the meanwhile, during the coming weeks in the run up to the elections, I fully expect a slew of Kamala Harris’ friends and relatives, real or imagined, to come crawling out of the woodwork. Uncles and aunts recollecting misty-eyed, their frequent visits to the Gopalan household, meals enjoyed, regaled by Sivaji Ganesan films at the Midland theatre, elevated by an M.S. Subbulakshmi kutcheri at the Academy, little Kamala and her sister Maya paying a rare visit to Madras and everyone trying to teach them to lisp in Tamil and appreciate the eternal joys of thayir saadam – so many lovely moments to recollect and the social media avariciously taking it all in and spewing it all out. Mark my words, all this will and must happen. After all, how often does one get an opportunity here in India to celebrate in anticipation, the ascension of someone of Tamilian descent (all right, half-Tamilian) to the position of Vice-President of the US of A and, potentially, could actually move into the White House as POTUS. Mouth-watering prospect. They’ll be dancing on the streets of Mount Road, Madras come November.
Lest we forget, they will also be dancing on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica. After all, Kamala’s other half belongs to that beautiful West Indian island, which the cricket crazy Indians will remember for Sabina Park and the many sporting jousts one has witnessed there. Not to speak of those awe-inspiring names – Frank Worrell, George Headley, Lawrence Rowe, Michael Holding, Jeff Dujon, Chris Gayle and many more. And perhaps, arguably the most famous Jamaican son of all, Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth and reggae king, the late Bob Marley not far behind. Donald Harris may have sung his swan song, ‘Jamaica Farewell,’ many moons ago, but they will celebrate his daughter’s new-found political stardom with a degree of verve and joie de vivre only the West Indians can so inimitably display. And should the Biden-Harris combo actually pull it off, which seems quite probable, given Trump’s pandemic woes coupled with the ongoing poll numbers, there will be high jinx all over Jamaica. As ‘whispering death’ Michael Holding, one of the greatest fast bowlers ever to grace a cricket field, now a highly respected television commentator might put it, ‘Obama opened the floodgates for black people in America. Now it is Kamala’s turn. Trump is clearly on the back foot. Now is the time to deliver that unplayable, toe-crushing yorker. Trump castled, all stumps out of the ground’ (pity I can’t do Holding’s delicious Jamaican accent here).
Guess what I am trying to tell my Tamilian friends is this. She may be called Kamala, but please don’t appropriate everything about her to Tamil Nadu and Madras. Let us share some of the bragging rights with our Jamaican brothers and sisters. Fair is fair. Finally, if the Democrats do oust Donald Trump and come to power, let us hope her Indian antecedents will have some positive bearing on the policy of the United States towards the geo-political dynamics of Asia and the sub-continent in particular. That would be far more significant than contemplating her preference for idli vada sambar over ham and eggs for breakfast.