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The Reformist Indian Grandfather Who Sparked Inspiration on Kamala Harris--The Story of Inherited Strength

Kamala Harris grandfather

Joe Biden has named California senator Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate for the Presidential Election 2020. 

Kamala is bi-racial. She is of Afro-Jamaican and Tamil-Indian descent. Some have compared Harris’ mixed-race identity and her multicultural experience whilst growing up to that of President Obama’s.

Indian Americans across the world have hailed this historic selection, and Harris herself has spoken proudly of her Indian heritage, reiterating the impact her mother and grandfather have had on her and her career.

Everybody would be more anxious to know the key factor of  an Afro-Jamaican lady to enter the political firm and to know the motive factor behind her passion in public service.

Kamala Harris has said that her grandfather, an Indian civil servant was the one who sparked a passion for public services within her.

“My grandfather was one of the original Independence fighters in India. Some of my fondest memories from childhood were walking along the beach with him after he retired and lived in Besant Nagar, in what was then called Madras,” Harris said in an interview, speaking with fondness for her grandfather and his impact on her.

“My grandfather was really one of my favorite people in my world,” she added.

Let's go through the story of this intellectual lady...

For a 5-year-old girl from Berkeley, USA, a green bungalow in the capital of an independent African country was intoxicating. As the president's car sped away,like other children she ran after the car.. The old childhood life in Africa was also a factor behind shaping the life of the woman who nominated the Democratic Party as the American Vice Presidential candidate, Kamala Harris.

Kamala Harris spent time in her 1960s at her home in Lusaka, Zambia  where she grew up in her grandfather's home.. Kamala's grandfather PV Gopalan was an Indian civil service officer in Zambia after the colonial period. PV Gopalan was an official appointed by India to assist Zambia in handling the influx of refugees from Rhodesia (formerly Zimbabwe). Zambia gained independence from Britain recently. Kamala's public life is influenced by PV Gopalan. 

Who was Gopalan?

P V Gopalan was an Indian freedom fighter and former civil servant.

Gopalan belonged to a Brahmin family. A traditional family where men become priests. Women do not usually go to work. But Gopalan and the generations that followed shattered this tradition. Kamala's uncle Balachandran holds a PhD in Economics and Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin. He also married a Mexican woman. The sisters became doctors and scientists.

Gopalan was born in 1911 in Painganad, South Chennai. She later married the king. His first assignment was as a stenographer. Later he worked in New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. Eventually he acquired civil service status.

In 1950, Gopalan joined Mumbai as a Senior Commercial Officer. All the bribe-takers were kept at arm's length. The family was told not to buy even the parcels coming home. But when the visitors came, Shyamala and Balachandran bought the parcels and opened them. Balachandran says he would have bought sweets or fruits.

Gopalan had four children, out of which two went on to secure PhDs. One of them was Shyamala Gopalan, Kamala Harris's mother, who was a cancer researcher and a civil rights activist.

Meet Shyamala Gopalan Hariss--Mother of Kamala Harris

Shyamala, then 19, was the eldest of four children. Not a single step had been taken outside India. In those days, it was rare for unmarried girls to go abroad to study. Despite many objections, Gopalan and his wife Raja told their daughter to go and study if they got admission.

Kamala's mother Shyamala is also a good singer. He has studied Carnatic music. He has also won a gold medal in the national competition. Shyamala studied Home Science at Irwin College. Gopalan's wife Rajam encouraged her children to learn to love their studies. Later, Shyamala went to Berkeley for higher studies. Even the telephone was common then. Shyamala's family came to know about her through a letter. It will take more than two weeks to get the letter.

Shyamala met Donald Harris, a Jamaican student, during a black rights struggle. The couple got married in 1963. The marriage took place without informing the family. Not because he was from Jamaica, but because of family opposition. He was unmarried in India. No one from Shyamala's family attended the wedding.

Later, Shyamala and Donald arrived in Zambia with their sons Kamala and Maya and met Gopal. Shyamala and Harris divorced in 1970. After that, Shyamala used to come to India regularly with her children.

"I learned the struggle for equality and the protection of rights from my grandfather," Harris later said.

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