The novel is a work of fiction set in the summer of 1977 that draws on places and historical events in India. The Patel Family's discussions of the political situation refer to the Emergency period of the mid-1970s, when Indira Gandhi's administration ruled by decree, curtailed press freedoms, and imprisoned political opponents. Pondicherry is a former French colony in India. It does have an Indian Coffee House and Botanical Gardens. The Botanical Garden currently has a toy train track and a small aquarium, but it does not have a zoo. It had a zoo in 1977 but did not have any animals bigger than a deer. Munnar, the destination for the Patel family's vacation, is a small but popular hill station in Kerala. Madurai, also referenced in the novel, is a popular tourist and pilgrimage site in Tamil Nadu.
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