A new book on Kamala Harris is being released today in India to coincide with her swearing-in ceremony as America’s new Vice President.
Kamala Harris: The American Story that Began on India’s Shores (Hachette India, Rs 299) by Hansa Makhijani Jain promises an insightful look into the life and career of this half-Black-half-Indian and all-American senator and attorney, who is the first woman to don the mantle of US Vice President.
Through an engaging narrative, the book covers Kamala Harris’s formative years and particularly the considerable influence her mother Shyamala Gopalan had on her life and worldview. It also looks at Kamala’s law-making career and her contributions in American politics and society before entering the presidential race.
The author Hansa has been a writer and editor in Indian and international women’s magazines for over 14 years. She has contributed to five other books earlier. We spoke to her ahead of the book’s launch to understand her motivations and to get insights into Kamala Harris’s pioneering story.
As an author based in India, why did you decide to write this book? Do you feel connected with Kamala Harris in some way?
There is a semblance of connection owing to her Indian roots, accompanied by a deep admiration for all the glass ceilings she has shattered. She loves dosas; we could bond over that if we ever meet!
How long did it take you to write this book and did you predict she would become Vice President through this election?
We finalised the book after her historic and path-breaking victory. Though most of the polls were in favour of Biden-Harris, one never knows what surprises politics has in store. Case in point is Trump’s victory in 2016 and the recent attack on the Capitol and its aftermath. There wasn’t much time between the win and her swearing-in ceremony, so I really had to burn the midnight oil. I hope it is a good read.
Would this book have made sense even if she didn’t make it?
Perhaps. She is an iconic figure and has been the first woman and person of colour to hold several pertinent positions like 27th District Attorney of San Francisco and 32nd Attorney General of California.
What is it about Kamala or her life that inspires you the most?
I love the fact that she goes after what she wants. During her presidential run, which she ultimately had to call off, a lot of experts said she doesn’t have the requisite number of years in the Senate to run for president. However, she chased after her dreams. You gotta try! For me, that’s what she stands for.
What are the qualities that she will be able to add to the Vice Presidency?
Her tenacity is her forte. I really admire her for taking up environmental issues. Unlike Trump, she doesn’t take them to be fictional stories. I also think that she will bring gender and racial equality issues to the fore. With her firm understanding of homeland security and immigration issues, there should be improvement there as well.
What is her political position vis-à-vis India and do you think it will help bilateral relations in the future, or is she going to stick to the traditional US position on such matters?
I cannot predict what lies ahead. However, she has been vocal against the communication blackouts in Kashmir and strongly disapproves of them from the human-rights standpoint.
Please share some insight into her mother Shyamala Harris’s life and role, and how she may have impacted Kamala’s leadership in later years.
Oh, her mother deserves a book of her own! The way both her daughters talk of her so fondly, and credit her for all their accomplishments, is a testament to how well she has raised them. She was a young, single mother with two daughters to raise in a country where she didn’t have any family to fall back on. She managed her home, social activism, daughters and a stellar career all on her own.
Based on your research of Shyamala Harris’s parenting style and as a mother yourself, what do you think is the role that mothers of both girls and boys can play in shaping future leaders?
I read this quote somewhere: children are what the mothers are. For me, the biggest takeaway from her parenting style is to lead by example. We often underestimate the influence we cast on our kids but their young minds notice everything. We are their first, and sometimes last, role models.
What has been Kamala’s personal position on gender equality and women’s empowerment?
She’s been a champion for women’s causes. Once she had asked during an anti-abortion discussion if any decision concerning men’s bodies were up for debate.
Though she is bi-racial, Kamala was also the child of two very highly accomplished professionals. In that sense, hers isn’t a typical rags-to-riches story. What do you think has worked in her favour in her rise to the top and what have been the biggest obstacles she’s had to face?
I think the fact that she’s seen both her parents involved in activism since she was a child has really shaped her identity and ideology. She believes in standing up for others and represent their voice. Her tenacity and can-do attitude are admirable.
While standing her ground, she has often rubbed people the wrong way, which hasn’t worked well for her sometimes.
Do you expect her to break away from the mould of previous US Vice Presidents who have typically played second fiddle to the President, and if yes, why?
I see the duo Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as complementary to each other. They will hopefully work in tandem and bring to the table what the other is missing. Their age gap and diverse backgrounds can also be an advantage.
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