BANGALORE • When Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden picked Ms Kamala Harris to be his running mate, it sparked a frenzy on the other side of the globe to track down her connections to Chennai, the southern Indian city where her mother was born.
On Twitter and Facebook, a flurry of users chronicled every minute link, including her grandparents’ home in the Besant Nagar neighbourhood, from where her mother Shyamala Gopalan set off as a teenager to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of California Berkeley.
Undated photos surfaced of Ms Harris and her younger sibling Maya in saris, smilingly posing with their grandparents during a visit.
Many saw Ms Harris as a step away from the White House, and the de facto Democratic Party front runner in four or eight years.
Writer Cauvery Madhavan captured the hysteria in a tweet: “If you’re wondering what that loud windy up sound is – it’s all of Chennai cranking the #SixDegreesOfSeparation machine!! Any moment now my mother is going to triumphantly reveal that her pharmacist’s father was @KamalaHarris’s grandma’s preferred tailor.”
Another Twitter user Priya Ravichandran jested that she was “asked to Google and find which relative lives in Besant Nagar”, adding that people are “this close” to renting a party bus and doing a “drive-by near their house” to celebrate Ms Harris.
Senator Harris is the first person of Indian descent and the first black woman on a major ticket in a United States presidential election. Indian media outlets, analysing the geopolitical impact of her rise, argued a Biden-Harris win would further shore up a US-India relationship that has already improved markedly under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The closer ties between Mr Modi and US President Donald Trump culminated in two giant stadium events in front of tens of thousands of supporters – one in Houston last September that saw the two leaders walking hand in hand to a rock-star-like reception, and the other in Mr Modi’s home state of Gujarat in February this year.
Still, the warming relations have not yet led to a long-anticipated US-India trade deal, although New Delhi is now purchasing more weapons from the US, including a new defence agreement worth more than US$3 billion (S$4.1 billion) signed during Mr Trump’s visit to India earlier this year.
Local outlets and TV crews raced to hunt down an assortment of Ms Harris’ aunts and even a great-uncle who detailed her visits to the sprawling metropolis and her strolls on its humid beaches discussing democracy and equality with her grandfather, a retired government official.
A prominent local newspaper, The Hindu BusinessLine, carried the headline, “Kamala Devi Harris and the destiny-changing coconuts from Chennai”.
The story described Ms Harris’ aunt praying for her victory in the California Senate elections nine years ago by breaking 108 coconuts, a popular religious ritual, at the local temple.
The paper quoted Ms Harris phoning her aunt to say: “Chithi (Aunt), please pray for me and break coconuts at the temple.”
Twitter users highlighted her Indianness, beginning with the name Kamala, which means lotus in several Indian languages.
CNN’s local partner tweeted that Ms Harris loves idlis and sambhar – fluffy rice cakes and spicy lentil stew often eaten for breakfast in India, respectively.
The fuss over her political elevation this week far outstripped the excitement over the rise of other Chennai-connected personalities such as actress Mindy Kaling and Alphabet Inc chief executive Sundar Pichai.
While hundreds of Twitter users in India posted laudatory messages, some rued that Ms Harris’ nomination would inflate the already lofty expectations of Indian parents for their children.
Indian lawmaker and prominent opposition Congress party member Shashi Tharoor tweeted: “Beta (Son), what are you doing these days? Oh, just a Harvard professor? Not even mayor yet?”
Ms Harris, whose father is of Jamaican ancestry, has downplayed her family’s India ties although she has spoken of how the deep conversations with her grandfather during her visits to India helped shape her political views.
But social media users were quick to appropriate her as completely Indian.
A video from last year in which she is seen with Ms Kaling making a masala dosa, a south Indian savoury crepe filled with spicy potatoes, is circulating wildly on WhatsApp groups in India.