Moni Mohsin has a dexterous pen and a clever tongue as she maintains the Butterfly’s “self defecating” humour in The Return of the Butterfly, the third book of the series
Moni Mohsin likes to laugh and makes us laugh too. The third installment of the Butterfly series is out —The Return of the Butterfly, and the one time stand-up comedian has not slowed down in her scathing banter. She is the khaata-peeta type who you can’t interview but ask for jokes, and more jokes, and gawk around to know where they’re coming from. “People can interpret it as they like — a satire, social commentary or chick lit,” says Mohsin’s genteel voice who with her biting humour created the character, Butterfly in the pages of Pakistani newspaper, Friday Times in the 1990s. Over a decade later, it is hard not to quote her.
Mohsin usually poses for a photographer and is willing to get Photoshopped as per her blog. This is because, once, when she tried to be clicked ‘naturally’, she ended up looking like a “depressed author” in her words.
Has she been this popular on both sides of the globe? “I have been writing the Butterfly for a long time now. Since the 1990s, people in Pakistan have enjoyed, and identified with her. Also because it has a peculiar language, I know that people in India also understand and like the Butterfly and they understand the political jokes. In the West, she has been a new thing; usually because dark writing has been associated with Pakistan before,” says Mohsin.
The Return of the Butterfly, Moni Mohsin, Penguin India, R299. Available at leading bookstores.
The motto of the middle-aged Butterfly with her vapid chatter remains resolute in this installment as well: “Take no tension.” As much as all of us would like to do that, how does the Punjabi Butterfly manage? Mohsin laughs out loud and recounts after a pause, “She is funny, sharp, resistant and loyal and protects her friends when the need be.”
While we still whetted our humour to impress the witty author, we were curious to know how this journalist created a seamless book of such delightful columns. “The last book was in 2007 and since then people don’t remember what had happened so the book starts with the death of Benazir Bhutto. The columns have pertinence to the immediate situation so it becomes interesting when you revisit them because a lot has happened. Also, a newspaper column has a word limit — every piece has to be under 500 words. The book, does undergo several drafts where you wheedle out the weak bits.”
We are like this only
Does the crackling humour need rehearsals too; especially the bit that gave the Butterfly her “self defecating” facet? My lines come off “instantly,” says Mohsin. And with that Mohsin justifies no method to Butterfly’s mad language comparing it to “swimming that comes naturally.”
Probing a little further, Mohsin admits she has no control over her grammar anymore: “Oh (the mix-ups happen) many a times. In Pakistan, people have a way of saying ‘kaireer’ girl, which is career girl. I kept on saying it as a joke and then I realised too late, ‘oh wait, it’s not kaireer, it’s career girl.’ There are always these regional variations.” We admitted the word, ‘natch’ was out of our depth when we read her book. “Oh, it means ‘naturally’!” Yes, but of course. Sharing a giggle, Moshin recalls, “Like in London, my friends kept saying ‘subcon’. I didn’t know what it meant until I realised they mean subcontinental.”
Mohsin is heartened by the strong satirical voices of Pakistani women writers like Saba Imtiaz and Maha Khan Phillips. Mohsin continues to write for the Friday Times that is run by her sister, Jugnu Mohsin. Any plans of sisterly collaboration, we asked? “We share the same space as she writes her column Ittefaq nama and I, Butterfly. We have shared ideas but right now she is busy with other things and so am I.” The London-based author will next work on a non-fiction project, which “will definitely be not set in Pakistan”.
India gets 'preponed'
Mohsin recalls a phrase that one of her Indian friends had given her, which she loves: “ ‘So and so my friend is very boring,’ said the Indian friend. So I asked, ‘why do you hang out with her then?’ My friend said, ‘She’s a ‘timepass’ friend.’ Although I heard the word for the first time, I instantly knew what it meant and I loved it. Also, when there’s a meeting called forward, in India they call it a preponement. There’s just no such word like that in Pakistan.”
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