Shree and Lakshmi Sridharan Remember Kamala Harris’
Reflections on Kamala Harris’ VP Nomination
Lakshmi (l) and Shree Sridharan have known Democratic Party
Voce-Presidential csandidate Kamala Harris’ South Indian side
of the family since the early 1970s when they were students at
enormity of this nomination. At many levels this is historic — a woman of color with Black and Asian Indian heritage; a woman whose parents were immigrants from
two countries that are oceans apart — oh my, is this for real?
I am an immigrant from India. I came to Madison 50+ years ago as a graduate student at UW Madison. Senator Kamala Harris’ Mother Shyamala Gopalan was also
an immigrant from India, and what’s more, we both hail from the same part of South India, speak the same language (Tamil) and are from the same Brahmin
Senator Harris’ uncle, Shyamala’s brother Dr. Balachandran (Bala as we call him), was also a graduate student at UW-Madison when Shree and I were. As with
many early immigrants, we, the Indian students (a small group) were a close knit community. Away from our home country and family, we created our family here
with friends. We supported each other, as and when needed. Bala often babysat our daughter Anjali. In one respect, Bala was different. While the rest of us were
busy getting to know this country and socializing, he took extra efforts to watch the national news in all the three networks every day to keep abreast of happenings
in the world. He used to say he wanted to hear from all sides to have a clear balanced perspective.
When Shree and I visited Chennai, India, we spent time with Senator Harris’ grandparents (Shyamala and Bala’s parents) Rajam and Gopalan. They were middle
class, educated, well-traveled and progressive. After meeting them, we understood where Bala’s interest in politics came from. As was evident from Gopalans’
caring, loving discussions of their daughter Shyamala and their grandchildren Kamala and Maya, we truly connected to them.
In the 1950s and 1960s there were very few Indian parents who would be willing to let their eldest unmarried daughter go abroad alone for higher studies. But they
did, (as did my parents-another exception) showing confidence and trust in their daughter. It was evident from our discussions that they had accepted Shyamala’s
choice of a “Black” “foreigner” as their son-in law and later supported her decision when she ended her marriage.
Senator Kamala Harris and her sister were raised as Black children by their single scientist Asian Indian mom. They moved around a lot, as Shyamala was trying to
establish her career, creating opportunities for Kamala and her sister to navigate their lives among people of various walks of life and learning many life lessons.
As with many Indian born moms, Shyamala was likely to have been a loving but a strict disciplinarian. I suspect she pushed her daughters to be assertive and set
high goals and guided them to achieve them.
From all accounts, she has taught her girls family values. Senator Kamala and her sister must have learned more life lessons from their mother, a woman of color,
as she endured many difficulties in overcoming barriers to succeed in the male-dominated scientific world. I am sorry that Shyamala and her parents are not alive
now to enjoy this historic moment.
From her upbringing and with her law enforcement background, I would expect Senator Kamala Harris, as the vice-president, to understand the plights of Blacks
and immigrants. I expect her to be compassionate and empathetic and fight for justice. I think Senator Kamala Harris is likely to be a combination of Michelle and
Barack Obama in her handling of issues. If my daughter and my grandchildren are any clue, she would be an American in her actions and not Indian or Jamaican.
We look forward to a Biden-Harris government sincerely trying to tackle many formidable tasks in front of them. We wish them good luck and God’s help in their
By Shree Sridharan
Can you believe I played games with (Senator) Harris briefly when she was a young girl of 10 or 11!?
Let me explain:
In the 70’s Kamala Harris’s uncle Balachandran ( ‘Bala’) was a Ph.D. student at UW-Madison.
My wife and I were also graduate students and later post-docs.
Bala was a regular in our house playing bridge on Saturday evenings along with a couple of other graduate students. (When I made some mistake in playing as his
partner, Bala, who like his late father, is an excellent player of bridge would say, “ I should kill you for that mistake. And a bridge-playing judge would let me go as it
would be a “justifiable homicide!”) The chief attraction was the imported “filter-coffee” from India and ‘Masala Dosa’ a tasty spicy crepe-like dish from South India
that my wife is an expert in making.
Bala is now a well-known economist, critic, writer in New Delhi.
At that time, we had known about, but not formally met, Shyamala Gopalan, Bala’s sister.
I had casually seen Dr. Shyamala Gopalan in the audience, asking sharp questions at various lectures and seminars in the campus.
During May 1976, there was an international conference on cancer at Toronto, Canada, which I attended and so did Shyamala Gopalan, Kamala Harris’ mother. At
the cancer conference, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan attended the same lecture I was attending and she was pleasantly surprised to hear that I knew her younger brother
By Lakshmi Sridharan
The year 2020, although we are only on its eighth month, has been brutal for all, including my
family. The Corona virus pandemic happened, bringing our lives to a standstill. Worldwide tens of
thousands of people have died of the virus. Every day, the news has been disheartening.
Then came more sad news. We saw George Floyd, a young Black man being choked by police on
the national screen. Many more similar police actions came to light. My own family had our share
of grief. Needless to say, I was desperate for some good news. Then Joe Biden, the Democratic
Party presumptive nominee announced that his ticket will have a woman vice presidential
candidate. I welcomed the news. Although women make up more than 50 percent of the
population, in the American history, only three other times (Geraldine Ferraro, Sarah Palin and
Hillary Clinton) we had a woman on a major party ticket, a shameful record indeed.
Last week came the big news. The Democratic Party will have Senator Kamala Harris on the vice
presidential slot. When Joe Biden made the announcement, it took me a few minutes to absorb the
Bala. She invited me and a few other scientists of Indian origin for dinner at her
younger sister’s place, (“Chinni” aka MAHALAKSHMI) who lived in a suburb of
Toronto. After a delightful Indian/Canadian dinner, we were playing a word game
designed by Shyamala.
I distinctly remember Kamala, the 10- year old, was so bright and sharp and was
as good as or even better than us adults in playing the game. As I have a knack of
entertaining kids with my silly antics, I got along well with the young girls that
The next morning at the conference, I saw Shyamala Gopalan again at the “poster
session” where scientists stand by and display their scientific papers on big
posters with illustrative graphs and tables. Such poster sessions provide
conference attendees a chance to interact with the authors with no time-limits,
unlike the formal presentation on a stage.
There I saw the girls Kamala and Maya nearby whom I had played with the
previous night at Shyamala’s sister Chinni’s place.
They recognized me “the funny uncle” right away. As I was regaling the giggling
girls with my silly imitations, Shyamala was only too happy so that she could pay
more attention to the scientists stopping by at her interesting posters with many
questions. Since then I have had no further contact with Shyamala Gopalan or
Kamala or Maya Harris as the family left for the West Coast. But we have had
infrequent contact with our friend Dr. Balachandran, Kamala Harris’s uncle, who
after his Ph.D. moved back to India.
During one of the following years, when we visited Chennai, we spent a full day at
Mr Gopalan’s house (Shyamala Harris’s father) at Besantnagar, Chennai.
There Kamala Harris’s aunt “CHITHI” (the term made popular by Senator Harris
during her acceptance speech on August 19th) Dr Sarala and Mrs Rajam Gopalan
( Kamala Harris’s grandma) were telling us various little stories about Shyamala
and the girls Kamala and Maya like breaking coconuts at the corner temple.
I am beaming with pride as I remember playing with a little girl who would become
THE VICE PRESIDENT of the United States of America.
Can you believe that?