Personal ties: Harris' family in India where COVID rages

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FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2020, file photo, Vice President Kamala Harris' maternal uncle, Balachandran Gopalan, talks to media outside his house, in New Delhi, India. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)

WASHINGTON – G. Balachandran turned 80 this spring — a milestone of a birthday in India, where he lives. If not for the coronavirus pandemic, he would have been surrounded by family members who gathered to celebrate with him.

But with the virus ravaging his homeland, Balachandran had to settle for congratulatory phone calls. Including one from his rather famous niece: Vice President Kamala Harris.

The retired academic said he cannot have such an elaborate function during a Zoom interview Thursday from his home in New Delhi.

Harris' uncle says he spoke with the vice president and her husband, Doug Emhoff, for quite a while. To close out the conversation, Harris assured him she’d take care of his daughter — her cousin — who lives in Washington.

“Don’t worry, Uncle. I’ll take care of your daughter. I talk to her quite a lot,” Balachandran recalls Harris telling him in their March conversation.

It was the last time they had a chance to speak. Since then, the coronavirus has raged out of control in India, overwhelming the nation’s health care system and killing hundreds of thousands of people.

While the crisis in India has created diplomatic and humanitarian challenges for the Biden administration, for Harris it is also personal: Her mother was born there, and she’s spoken emotionally throughout her political career about the influence of her many visits to India as a child.

On Friday, she’s set to deliver remarks at a State Department event focused on the effort to combat COVID-19 in India, and she’s expected to express U.S. solidarity with the nation.