MALER KOTLA, India – Half a world away from Louisiana, Bobby Jindal's (search) relatives sit around a crowded coffee table covered with plates of sweets and cups of steaming, milky tea, bragging about his success.
Jindal — whose father left this northwestern farming region for the United States three decades ago — is running neck and neck in Sunday's race for the top job in Baton Rouge.
If he wins, he'll become the first ethnic Indian governor of a U.S. state. But for the Jindal clan in India, the cousin who was born Piyush Jindal but named himself "Bobby" after a character on a TV show is already a big winner, a symbol of the opportunity of the American dream.
"People are congratulating us in advance," said Surinder Jindal, 55, first cousin of Bobby Jindal's father, Amar. "They are demanding that we throw a party."
Amar Jindal once worked with his cousin here in the northern state of Punjab (search) at a medicine shop. He studied engineering, then moved to Louisiana to continue his studies and raise his family.
He returned home a few times, sometimes bringing his son, Piyush — or "peacock," India's national bird. But at age 4, the U.S.-born boy told his parents he wanted a new name, the same as the youngest son on "The Brady Bunch."
The name change, as well as Bobby Jindal's conversion from Hinduism to Roman Catholicism as a teenager, are no problem for his Indian relatives, who accept them as practical assimilation into American culture.
"The traditions of his family are the same as ours," said Surinder. "They have never forgotten where they are from, yet they are also adopting aspects of both cultures."
Bobby "loved chocolate and he drank only Coca-Cola" when he visited as a boy, but the also liked Indian food, said his aunt, Vijaylakshmi Jindal.
The Jindal clan includes 50 families in Maler Kotla. Their surname refers to the family's niche in the Hindu caste system as traders. Many of the Jindals are businessmen, running one of the family's four medicine shops or presiding over rice-processing plants.
News of their American cousin's success is all the buzz here. Through satellite television and local newspaper accounts, the family has followed Bobby Jindal's progress since he announced his candidacy last February.
The family is looking forward to his next visit, promised for 2004. They're thrilled at the prospect of meeting his wife, Supriya, and their young daughter, Selia Elizabeth.
And though some of his relatives are foggy on where Louisiana is exactly, they are loyal and profess pride in Bobby Jindal's political stance.
"He joined a good party," said Subhash, noting it is the party of the president. "We love George W. Bush!"