In a conversation done for Outlook, writer Peggy Mohan and I, along with Sunil Menon, had reflected on the hidden persistence of indigenous women’s culture and language, after a region had been overrun by male settlers. Women, we said, only part-metaphorically, are almost like a separate race. An India/Caribbean passage was strung like a meta-theme there. With Shyamala Gopalan Harris, mother of the recently elected US Vice President, we revisit that same site of crossing. When free to reinvent oneself, away from the constructed hierarchies and suppressions in your place of birth, what are the possibilities for women? As a woman unfettered by restrictions in a distant continent, Shyamala made some very significant choices, helping her daughter break barriers. Kamala Harris’s biography is a testament to this story.
It’s not often that one sees values nurtured by single mothers lived out by their daughters in public life. True, strong women have often raised leader sons. But many women leaders we know—Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth I—are most often seen as heirs to their fathers; there aren’t many examples of leader women raised by strong women. This was what kept crossing my mind as I read Harris’s autobiography: The Truths We Hold: An American Journey. The other thought was trying to connect the strict taboo-ridden life I associated with traditional ’50s Tamil Brahmins with the this-worldliness, the can-do optimism of the US.