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Indian American Siddhartha Mukherjee bags Pulitzer

Tuesday April 19, 2011 07:29:38 PM, IANS

Washington/New Delhi: Indian American cancer specialist Siddhartha Mukherjee has bagged a Pulitzer prize for his book "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer", bringing great cheer to his family and friends in his home city Delhi.

Mukherjee won the prestigious prize in the general non-fiction category.

The book has been described as "an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal, into the long history of an insidious disease that, despite treatment breakthroughs, still bedevils medical science".

The finalists in the category were "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brain" by Nicholas Carr and "Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History" by S.C. Gwynne.

An assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a staff cancer physician at Columbia University Medical Center, Mukherjee had told IANS in December last year: "Cancer is growing dramatically in certain parts of South Asia."

Mukherjee advocated a strong anti-smoking campaign and breast cancer screening to battle the growing incidence of the disease in India.

Less than a month after it appeared, Mukherjee's book, published in the US by Scribner, featured among "The 10 Best Books of 2010" in the New York Times Book Reviews Sunday, a rare feat for a work of non-fiction.

Mukherjee, 40, who grew up in New Delhi's Safdarjung Enclave, "immersed in reading and books" at home and studied at St. Columba's School, and says he "came into oncology in a sort of reverse, in the sense that I first trained as a cellular biologist when I was in Oxford as a Rhodes scholar".

News of the award came as a pleasant surprise to his home in the Indian capital.

When Mukherjee called his mother Chandana at 1 a.m. Tuesday to break the news, she thought he was pulling a fast one.

But soon the house got flooded with congratulatory calls from friends and relatives.

"It came as a complete surprise. Siddhartha called us at 1 and asked if we were awake. I said of course not - senior citizens don't stay up so late. Then he told me that he has won this prize and I just couldn't believe it," Chandana told IANS.

She said she and her husband Sibeswai Mukherjee have been flooded with calls since early Tuesday after the news broke out.

Asked if they would fly down to meet their son to celebrate the occasion, Chandana said they would go only in June.

For Mukherjee's Indian publisher Harper-Collins, it was yet another feather in their cap.

"Siddhartha Mukherjee has produced a real tour de force with the 'Emperor of Maladies'. It is a warm, erudite and engaging book. The book is a panoramic history of the disease of cancer and its treatment that is infused with meticulous details. It is a heartfelt book - but not sentimental," P.M. Sukumar, head of Harper-Collins India, told IANS.

Mukherjee's wife Sarah Sze is a sculptor. The couple has two daughters - Leela, aged five-and-a-half, and Arya, who is just over a year old.

"Leela is very shy and doesn't like to speak on the phone. But the family is obviously very excited," their doting grandmother said.

A Rhodes Scholar, Mukherjee graduated from Stanford University, University of Oxford and from Harvard Medical School.

He was a Fellow at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and an attending physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Medical School.

Three eminent personalities of Indian origin have previously won a Pulitzer.

They include Gobind Behari Lal for journalism in 1937, Jhumpa Lahiri for fiction
("Interpreters of Maladies") in 2000 and Geeta Anand in 2003 for her work on Pompe disease.







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