On Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver remarks at the State Department in which she will declare the United States’ solidarity with the people of India and the struggle they face battling COVID-19.
But the speech won’t be the empty words of a politician with no skin in the game, as members of Harris’ family are in India, and their lives have been deeply affected as the disease rages on.
“The conditions are pretty bad in India,” G. Balachandran, Harris’ uncle, 80, told the Associated Press.
Balachandran noted that he used to hear about friends of friends coming down with the virus, and now the degree of separation has been removed as people he knows personally or those whom he once worked with are getting the virus and some have even passed away.
Balachandran noted that he spoke to his niece recently, and in their last conversation, she assured him that she was taking care of her cousin, his daughter, who lives in Washington, D.C.
“Don’t worry, Uncle. I’ll take care of your daughter. I talk to her quite a lot,” Balachandran recalls Harris telling him.
While his daughter is safe in Washington, Balachandran is in the eye of the storm in India, where the coronavirus has raged out of control, “overwhelming the nation’s health care system and killing hundreds of thousands of people.”
Harris has spoken lovingly about her Indian heritage and her times spent there as a child. During her time on the campaign trail, she often spoke about her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan, “a headstrong and resilient woman who bucked tradition and decided to leave India to pursue a career as a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley,” AP reports.
“And during her acceptance speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Harris opened her speech with a shout-out to her ‘chithis’ — a Tamil word for aunt. One of those chithis, Sarala Gopalan, is a retired obstetrician who lives in Chennai,” AP reports.
Balachandran and his sister Sarala are both retired and both remain largely isolated in their homes, only leaving for groceries. Both are fully vaccinated, despite the vaccine shortage in India.
But none of this stops Balachandran from dreaming of a day when the family can be back together.
“I wish we could all be together at the same time,” he said of the extended family, “but that’s a big wish to look for at this moment.”