“We were glued to television and the whole family was ecstatic when the news broke,” Sarala Gopalan said when asked how the family reacted when her niece was announced as the U.S. Vice-President-elect.
In her nomination acceptance speech earlier this year, Kamala Harris Harris had mentioned her chithis, or aunts, in particular.
Dr. Gopalan is the younger sister of Ms. Harris’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan, and lives in Chennai, where the Senator from California had visited her grandfather and others of the family quite a few times. “She last came with her sister Maya soon after their mother passed away. It was my sister’s wish that her ashes should be immersed in Chennai and they made a trip for that,” Dr. Gopalan said. “We are overjoyed that she has scripted history,” said Dr. Gopalan, referring to the fact that Ms. Harris is the first woman and the first Vice-President-elect who is an Indian-American.
Stating that Ms. Harris had always been capable in whatever she set out to do, Dr. Gopalan said the whole family had always been confident about her going on to achieve great things.
“Kamala has largely been inspired by her mother. My sister always had it in her, that she should go on to achieve big things, and this is what I feel Kamala too has taken after,” she said. Ms. Harris has spoken about the bond she shared with her grandfather P.V. Gopalan.
“If we’re a family of strong women, the credit goes to my father P.V. Gopalan. In the 1950s, when my sister Shyamala secured a scholarship to study in the U.S., he immediately encouraged her and asked her to go. Other families would have been hesitant in those times to send an 18-year-old girl alone to study abroad,” Dr. Gopalan recalled.
She recalled that their father had encouraged her to pursue medicine as well and strongly believed in education, and in his daughters being economically independent. “He was very proud of his three daughters and inspired us.”
Dr. Gopalan was the head of the Department of Gynaecology at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education (Chandigarh) and later went on to work with the Voluntary Health Services (VHS) hospital in Chennai.
Shyamala Gopalan died in 2009 and Dr Gopalan said that had she been alive, she would have cried in happiness when she heard of Kamala becoming the Vice-President elect.
“We are hopeful of flying to the U.S. for her swearing-in ceremony. Even when Kamala was sworn-in as a Senator, we were all there. Since my sister is not around now, we ensure that Kamala always has the rest of her family present during every major milestone,” she said.