Moni Mohsin author of Tender Hooks
“Hai, this book is simply tabahi!” Or so I would say if I were to converse in social butterfly-speak. The book in question is Tender Hooks, the second novel about the social Butterfly we all (should) know and love.
And it has come out at just the right time, I must say. Between you, me and these four walls, as Butterfly would say, I was getting a little tired of the angst-ridden writings that seem to be emerging from — or about — Pakistan these days.
(As Butterfly would exclaim: “You know what I mean, this bore-bore Granta Shranta, a case of expiring mangos — who wants to read about sarra hua fruit, tell me, na! And this Burnt Birds and these bhooka nangas! People have so much but they just don’t do Allah ka shukar!”)
After all, if it isn’t the slum dwellers they are writing about, then Pakistani writers are droning about fundamentalists, mullahs and terrorism, or affected Pakistanis living abroad. Yawn!
But although you may dismiss Tender Hooks as simply chick-lit, Moni Mohsin ends up taking up serious and relevant issues but in a far more interesting, engaging — and perhaps, effective — manner.
So, like all great stories, this one too is about boy finding girl, only except it should be mummy-approved girl. So, Butterfly is given the task of finding a girl for her cousin Jonkers (Jehangir) in a couple of months before Muharram, na, starts and wedding season temporarily comes to a halt. Butterfly, the doting mother of an only child — son — cannot afford to displease malicious aunts with the ability to cast evil eyes on other peoples’ children.
Jonkers mother is Butterfly’s “Mummy’s cousin from her mother’s side. Their mummies were sisters. If I was English, I’d say Jonkers was my first cousin once removed. As if cousins were bikini lines, once removed, twice removed, 100 times removed, but still there.”
Poor Jonkers, the bespectacled and bald “sun and air” is in a fix. His first wife Shumaila has just left him. She is now remembered as a “pushy, hungry and low class” girl, who “wore tight polyester shirts and frosted maroon lipstick and had big busts and wobbly hips,” or so say his angry relations who wanted him to marry a woman from the “right bagground”.
Thus begins a social circus of sorts, as Butterfly searches for a ‘suitable’ girl for Jonkers, meeting one girl after another at houses that are “huger than huge” with “erotic” plants that make his mother sigh with pleasure, and at kitty parties that are fab and weddings that are simply tabahi.
Tender Hooks begins with Butterfly at the height of her career, that is, socialising. A rich, ignorant and selfish Lahori auntie, she speaks Pinglish (Punjabi-English) and her world revolves around GTs (Get Togethers), meeting “business magnets” from the right “baggrounds” who have ‘good’ reps (reputations) and serve “Seizure Salad” at kitty parties, and buying fab satooshes, and staying well away from “bore NGO types”.
But poor Butterfly’s life is not entirely perfect. For one thing, her husband, Janoo, is becoming more of an ‘antisocialist’ than ever before. And for another, her son Kulchoo is such a bookworm that he is always on Facebook. She’s so afraid that he will turn out like his father that she urges him to interact more with the “nice children from rich homes.” And when Kulchoo says that they are “obnoxious rich kids who get high on coke and then go looking for a phudda” she patiently tells him not to fight with them and “if they offer you Coke, just say no thanks, I’ll take Fanta.”
But during the course of the novel, Butterfly learns a few lessons in sense and compassion. Almost against her will, she becomes more politically aware and confidently voices her opinions: “Vaisay, isn’t it a bit namak haraam of the jihadis to turn around and attack the army after every thing it’s done for them?”, she opines.
And being the “soft headed, charitable sole” that she is, she sends the IDPs all her favourite Mills and Boons and Barbara Cartland novels, issues of GT, chiffon saris and Armani ties to cheer them as well as “Lexos” (Lexotanils) that are a tad bit old to help them sleep better. She’s all heart.
Perhaps the reason for this change is that she ends up being exposed to a fair share of harsh realities as the book progresses. With elegance and a lot of humour, Mohsin adds dimension — and even sensitivity — to Butterfly’s character. “I realised what Janoo told me… things come and go. But people, once they go, they don’t come back. They just leave a hole.”
On the surface, Tender Hooks is a breezy, fun read. But if you look a little closer it brings to light the issues that all people living in Pakistan have to face — terrorism, violence and the rampant inflation — even those who live in envied, protected bubbles like Butterfly does. Tender Hooks hits home the fact that no one can completely deny reality anymore.
And the best part is that Mohsin conveys this without making a martyr out of Butterfly — she gets to keep her silliness, shallowness and her absurdities, qualities that make her character endearing, and aggravating.
The reviewer is Assistant Manager, Business Development and Research, The Dawn Media Group. In his spare time, he has delusions of being a writer and critic.
By Moni Mohsin
Random House, India
This book is available at Liberty Books