Have you been wondering why there are so many tweets about Besant Nagar on your timeline today? The tony neighbourhood in Chennai is the talk of Twitter because US senator Kamala Harris, chosen by Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate, said her mother grew up there.
It doesn’t take much of a diaspora connection for Indians to thump their chests with pride, so an actual US vice-presidential candidate with roots in Chennai has, of course, got people excited.
In 2019, when Harris was in the race for the Democratic presidential ticket, she appeared in a video with actor Mindy Kaling, making masala dosas and speaking about their childhoods. The effort got mixed reactions—some pointed out that neither Harris nor Kaling have upheld their Indian identity in a significant way until then, while others noted some ignorance, like Harris’s comment on South Indian food being “all vegetarian”.
In the video, Harris tells Kaling’s father that her mother’s family was from Besant Nagar and as a child, she would visit and go for walks along the beach with her grandfather.
As the maamas and maamis of Chennai celebrate, family WhatsApp groups were reportedly blowing up with pride, especially of people with links to Besant Nagar themselves.
So of course people took to Twitter to joke about it.
Jokes aside, Harris also proudly mentions in the video that her mother was a Brahmin. Some Twitter users pointed out that the upscale Besant Nagar is still quite insulated in matters of caste and that even now, it is difficult for people to rent houses in Besant Nagar if they are not Brahmin or non-vegetarian.
While the jokes were cracked, people also pointed out the problem with celebrating this blindly.
The announcement of Harris running as Veep in the US has also had people across the US and in India debate over her ethnicity. While many media outlets called her the first Black woman to run as vice president, others pointed out that her mother was Indian.