All aflutter

The return of the butterfly

Moni Mohsin’s social butterfly darkly and hysterically unravels Pakistan’s socio-political landscape

Butterfly’s pink sandals on the book jacket had me rolling out the red carpet. The least I can do, I thought, for either of the delightful Mohsin sisters from across the border — Jugnu and Moni, creators of hysterically entertaining characters with an edge.

Jugnu Mohsin’s imaginary interpretation of Nawaz Sharif’s reflections in Ittefaq Naama is, to use Butterfly’s parlance, my absolute fave with gems such as “Benazir is such a copycatter. Just because I had hair transplantation, she got buttocks injections…” The “Mush and Bush” conversations she conjured up between General Pervez “Perv” Musharraf and George Bush Junior, tickle with humour as dark as the times we live in.

Moni’s social butterfly, on the other hand, is an entirely fictional character whose narcissism and unconscious bigotry brilliantly unravel the minutiae of Pakistan’s turbulent socio-political landscape. Butterfly has now returned with yet another chronicle of a violent, unstable society so memorable in her mispronunciations and malapropisms in Tender Hooks.

In her Jimmy Choo shoes, Butterfly leads us into the world of Old Bag, Aunty Pussy, Furry, Jonkers, Mulloo, Poppy and Mouse, Snooky and, of course, ‘bore’ Janoo, her bemused, Oxford-educated husband she secretly refers to as Zinda Laash (the living dead) and Buddhi Rooh (stick-in-the-mud). Actually Janoo, with his slightly Mr Bennetesque quips, provides the perfect foil to Butterfly’s mindless musings.

So when Butterfly sleeps one whole night without her air-conditioner on full blast, she deduces that winter has arrived with wedding and party season. “I told all this to Janoo yesterday and he said that I had astounding powers of seduction. Or was it reduction…”

Glimpses into this rarefied world of parties, iftaars, choreographed weddings and shopping extravaganzas from Lahore to London via Dubai alone could have you in stitches. But Butterfly is not just Bridget Jones but a recorder of contemporary Pakistani society in her seemingly inadvertent insights. And, to give her credit, her passion for fashion is equally vehemently directed against the likes of “fundos”, “beardo weirdos”, “mullahs”, the Taliban and sometimes, the “guvmunt” and the generals as well.

So when Salman Taseer is gunned down, Butterfly and Janoo are among the few who attend his funeral and the following lament, in all its clever embellishments of grammatical eccentricities and chutney English, tells the story of a society that is all too wrecked by religious sectarianism.

Here’s the Butterfly diary entry in January 2011: “…you know what is really, really sab say worst? That even friends of ours whose kids are in college in the US and who serve drink in their home and would sell their grandmothers for a green card, even they are saying that he wasn’t a good Muslim because he was too westernised and he said no to the blasphemy law and so basically he got what he deserved. I mean fundos say to mein expect karti thi (I expected this of the fundamentalists) but for God’s sake yaar, these people are like us only, we have uthna bethna with them, they come to our house for dinners and all. These days... I feel like I’m living in a horror film.”

And so it goes with the kidnapping of the slain leader’s son Shahbaz Taseer and the spate of robberies not just in the areas populated by the “poors, the naukars, bhuka-nanga types” but even in Butterfly’s “ Mashallah khata-peeta feudal” neighbourhood.

“…our backside wall fell in the rains and the next door neighbour had a big robbery. They lost their TV, DVD, computers, mobile, cash, jewellery, silver and their car. But they are so happy that the robbers didn’t rape their daughter and kidnap their son that they are doing big shukraanay ka khatam (thanksgiving). Also it is still very hot. But I don’t think so I’m allowed to say in case I’m taken to be anti-Pakistan, American/Indian/Israeli lover.”

Get the gist?

Published on July 25, 2014

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