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In Kamala Harris' Ancestral Village, The U.S. Election Is Followed Closely


Senator Kamala Harris is the first Black and first Asian American candidate to be nominated for vice president by a major political party. Her mother's side of the family is from southern India, and people in one small village there are suddenly following an American election more closely than ever before. Here's NPR's Lauren Frayer.


LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Faithful clang bells and chant prayers for Kamala Harris. A bare-chested priest in a South Indian sarong pours milk over the idol of a Hindu god at a temple in Thulasendrapuram. It's a village of just a few hundred residents in the lush, green rice paddies of southern India, and it's where Harris' maternal ancestors are from.

SV RAMANAN: They left the village more than 50 years ago.

FRAYER: SV Ramanan, caretaker of the local temple, says you'd be hard-pressed to find any locals who actually knew Harris' relatives personally. Folks here are subsistence farmers, he says. They hadn't really followed U.S. politics - that is, until Harris became the Democratic nominee for vice president and they realized their connection to her.

RAMANAN: See, the whole thing happened only when the media people landed in my house. Until that time, they were not aware of Kamala Harris.

FRAYER: Ramanan says TV crews descended on his village the day Joe Biden picked Harris as his running mate, and now the village is plastered with Harris billboards. Everyone suddenly has a connection to their native daughter.

RAMANAN: We treat her as our own. Her roots are here. I heard that Kamala had visited the temple when she was just 5.

FRAYER: It's unclear if that happened, but never mind - maybe she'll visit in the future as vice president, he says. Harris does have a surviving uncle in India, in the capital, New Delhi.

GOPALAN BALACHANDRAN: I think she'll do a damn good job.

FRAYER: Gopalan Balachandran is 79, a retired think tank analyst whose phone has been ringing off the hook since Harris' nomination. He says he wishes his sister, Harris' mother, who died in 2009, could have lived to see her daughter run for the White House.

BALACHANDRAN: She would probably explode with happiness and emotion. Even my father and mother would have been - they would have been jumping for joy.

FRAYER: And Harris' grandparents, he says, if they were still alive, would probably be offering prayers at that temple down south in their home village. These aren't the only prayers being offered in India, though, for the U.S. election. A fringe group called the Hindu Sena, which supports President Trump, says it's holding a prayer ceremony today in Delhi for the victory of the incumbent. Lauren Frayer, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRASANNA'S "BOWLING FOR PEACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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