February 15, 2020
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No Slipping Into Commas

Mohsin is brilliant at malapropisms, and her sense of the absurd is faultless.

No Slipping Into Commas
The Diary Of A Social Butterfly
By Moni Mohsin
Random House Pages: 228; Rs. 195
A vapid shopaholic and ardent party-hopper, the Social Butterfly’s effervescent vignettes of Pakistan’s giddy high life have a dedicated fan following. Mohsin’s diarist lives in Lahore "in a big, fat kothi, with a big, fat garden", but we all know her well. This botoxed, L’Orealed, Gucci-clad creature, teetering on Versace heels, is a familiar sight in the designer malls of Dubai and London. You could even bump into her at our Khan Market. Dripping diamonds and trailing clouds of French perfume, nothing delights her more than to spend her husband’s wealth on clothes, bags and cosmetics vaghera, vaghera. Her disdain for ‘bore’ activities (reading-sheading, bhai, what else?) is typical of the ‘illegible’ girls like her who speak their own brand of Hinglish or Urdish. Her other ‘socialist’ friends (Flopsy, Furry and Twinkle) and her Auntie Pussy (haw!) may be married to bank defaulters, but they have a very good ‘bagground’, we are told.

Mohsin is brilliant at malapropisms, and her sense of the absurd is faultless. Where else but in this mad whirligig of parties would you encounter a ‘three-tiara cake’, or meet ‘business typhoons’ and ‘textile magnets’? Where can one ‘slip into a comma’ but in this glorious world?

Yet, as Meera Syal once memorably said, "Life is not all ha-ha, hee-hee". Beneath this dazzling world, where you can laugh "until you go historical", lies a rotting body politic. One is reminded strongly of another spoof: Jill Tweedie’s Letters from a Faint-Hearted Feminist published long ago in The Guardian, which became cult reading in the ’70s. They are remembered even now for their scathing attack on designer feminism and the neocon politics of the Thatcher era. This is why one is drawn to Mohsin’s Butterfly diaries: 9/11, the army generals, the Taliban, Lal Masjid and even Benazir Bhutto’s assassination are all documented here. This diary, as Mohsin herself declares, is "a record—compiled admittedly by a rather cross-eyed observer—of some of Pakistan’s most turbulent years."

My advice is: Don’t read it in one gulp: it may be three much, as the Butterfly would say, and give you hotburn.

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