Coming Back to India was Important:Pulitzer-Winning Siddhartha Mukherjee


New Delhi, Nov 10 (IANS): Siddhartha Mukherjee, the Pulitzer prize winning writer of the "The Emperor of All Maladies", a biography of cancer, has returned home to connect to family and friends in India, saying it is "an important moment for me".

The oncologist and researcher, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, caught up with his native community of Bengali-speaking residents at a party at the Terrace Garden at the India Habitat Centre. He was accompanied by his wife, daughter and parents.

The party also doubled as an informal launch of his book in the capital and a book-signing session where the writer signed copies of the book for old friends and relatives.

"It is an important moment for me to come back," Mukherjee said in a speech to the gathering.

Recalling the writing of the book, he said: "The book took about seven years to make."

"Most writers produce about 100 good pages a year. But what you write everyday is junk. If you revisit the pages, you don't always get a sense of the time," he added.

Then, there is the question of re-drafting.

"They (readers) will read 600 pages and they will find two pages with faults and remember those pages. If you need to understand readers, you must give them time... there is nothing more genuine than pouring in labour," Mukherjee said.

He said "he was interested in finding out about cancer".

"I did not want to write an anemic medical history. It had to be about experiencing medicine ...and immediate," Mukherjee said.

He recounted "finding, meeting and interviewing a 56-year-old cancer survivor in Maine" - a conversation which he recounted in his book.

Enlightening first-time readers about the book, Mukherjee said, "there were three stories in the book".

One story is about "the history of cancer - a disease which was detected around 2500 BC, a personal story about my journey through the research and the story of a patient," the writer said.

"How does one put the story together? My approach was to understand fiction through non-fiction. My own approach was to understand story-telling through the works of great fiction writers -- who else but Russians," he said.

"There was a certain sense of urgency to get it done," he added.

Mukherjee noted his writing process "was very eccentric".

"I tend to write exclusively on the bed. I now have nice office but I was facing a writer's block. I have moved a bed to my office."

This helped him recover the capacity for writing.

Donning the robe of a doctor, Mukherjee, in response to a query, recommended a vegetarian diet. "The spectrum of cancer in India is different from the spectrum of cancer in US," he said.

He said myeloma and lymphoma patients were becoming "younger in years".

"The Emperor of All Maladies" traces the history of cancer and the battle to survive it from the Persian Queen Atossa, whose Greek slave cut off her malignant breast, to the 19-century recipients of primitive radiation and chemotherapy to his own leukemia patient, Carla.

The book has been distributed by Harper Collins in India.

Mukherjee is working on his second book. It also has a medical backdrop but he refused to divulge details, saying he wanted it to be a "surprise".

  

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Title: Coming Back to India was Important:Pulitzer-Winning Siddhartha Mukherjee



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