Monkeys and writing speculative fiction for persons outside India

I’ve not lived outside India and so I usually base any fiction I write in India (unless I am placing it on some fantasy world or a planet where I am as experienced as the reader). One tricky part of writing fiction based in India for readers outside India is to describe the surroundings here correctly without launching off into elaborate and stilted explanations, and yet with enough detail for non-Indians to feel comfortable about the world–to feel they can see, hear, smell and believe it.

Writers often talk of the challenge of “writing the other”–writing assuming a culture/ race/ setting they do not belong to, in ways that are authentic enough to be accepted by persons of that culture/ race/ setting(and not sound condescending/ insensitive/ over-exotic etc.) It is quite as challenging to be part of a different culture and write about it in ways that are authentic and unstilted and would make sense to readers who are unfamiliar with the culture but have plenty of preconceived notions about it. I think of it as “writing for the other” 🙂

In a story I once drafted, I had a scene where some persons who were escaping into the mountains encountered monkeys. When I put it up in a critique group, one reviewer commented on my “mistake” of having monkeys out in the wild. Monkeys, she informed me, were only found in labs and zoos 🙂

I often smile at that memory when I take my morning walks and encounter company like this :

monkeys hunched togetherbaby monkeymonkey nibbling at twigmonkey on road