Even as their scientist son, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, is being toasted for his Pulitzer-winning “biography of cancer,” the Mukherjees at Safdarjung Enclave are visiting the Matri Mandir temple to thank the goddess.
“I ascribe Siddhartha’s success to Matri Mandir,” says his septuagenarian father Sibeswar Mukherjee. “In 1970, the year he was born, I helped build the temple. When he came home for his Rhodes scholarship exam, the interview fell on the temple's anniversary. Even before the result was announced, I knew Sid would get the scholarship.”
Young Siddharth’s mental prowess was evident at the age of five, says his mother Chandana. “During the admission interview to St. Columba’s, the principal asked him four questions. Siddhartha answered all four so well that the principal likened his memory to Mahatma Gandhi’s,” she recalled.
In school, at St Columba’s, Siddhartha won the Sword of Honour. “He even worked in a play with actor Shah Rukh Khan, six years his senior,” says Chandana.
At one point the senior Mukherjee, 78, a former executive with Mitsubishi India, was thinking of selling his house to fund his son’s higher studies. “Siddharth needed $40,000 to stay on in Harvard Medical College. Being a salaried employee, it was, in a way, beyond my means. But by the grace of God, the university decided to give him a scholarship.”
As a child, says his mom, Mukherjee was studious and artistic. “Siddhartha loves to draw and sing Indian classical music. He even took lessons from a teacher of the Rashid Khan gharana.”
The scientist’s artistic connection has only grown deeper with marriage to Sarah Sze, the MacArthur award-winning sculptor who teaches at the School of Arts. The couple stays in New York with their daughters: Aariya, five, and Leela, one.
The Pulitzer Prize, administered by Columbia University, is a US award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, biography/autobiography, history, fiction, general non-fiction, poetry, drama and music
It was established by Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911), a
THE MAN, THE BOOK
It has taken Siddhartha Mukherjee — a cancer physician and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University — six years to put together ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’
The book has many heroes, but Mukherjee’s favourites are two of America’s poster-children of innovation and idealism in the fight against cancer. One is Sidney Farber, the father of modern chemotherapy who discovered a powerful anti-cancer chemical in a vitamin analogue. The other is Mary Lasker, a Manhattan political and social lobbyist who brought cancer centrestage in the US the 1950s.
“Today, we have surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapy to increase life by 17 to 20 years. It’s a 4,000-year-old war but there’s reason for optimism. We are getting closer every day,” says Mukherjee.