01 February 2011

Tender hooks by Moni Mohsin

P.G. Wodehouse reporting from Lahore
This book is a sequel to Diary of a Social Butterfly, the 2008 novel derived from Moni Mohsin’s popular column of the same name which ran in Pakistan’s Friday Times from January 2001 to December 2007.
I hadn’t been too sure whether I really wanted to read more about Butterfly’s vapid life and the preoccupations of people with wealth but no culture that Moni Mohsin pokes fun at so well. But I spent some time with Namita Devidayal at the Jaipur Literature Festival and she mentioned more than once how “fab” Moni was and for a bit we even exchanged a few witticisms a la Butterfly,
Janoo – it was so good, na
and so on. Janoo being Butterfly’s long-suffering husband who happens to be an Oxen, having being educated in Oxford and all.

So while others on the flight home from the festival had their noses buried in Chimamanda Adichie, Junot Diaz, Irvine Welsh and others, I was rather diffidently reading Tender Hooks, glancing around furtively every now and again to make sure that no had spotted me for a bogus. But when we landed, and I spied a P.G. Wodehouse tucked under the arm of someone at the luggage belt I had a moment of appeasement – which soon turned to wonder that I had never before seen the similarity.
Both Moni Mohsin and P.G. Wodehouse base their stories in small, rather comical communities preoccupied with lineage, inheritance, suitable marriages and so on, and speak in quaint dialects all their own. Even the names resound – key characters in this book are Butterfly’s Aunt Pussy and her son Jonkers.
So I rushed home and dashed off the following email to Moni Mohsin:

Dear Moni,
I’ve just finished reading Tender Hooks and had a few questions – I hope you’ll have time to reply?

  • I tau found so much resemblance to that fellow, what’s his name, PJ Woodhouse, na? So I was wondering, were you inspired by him in any way?
  • I also got quite digressed, arre baba felt sad na, about Butterfly and Janoo’s relationship and was thinking ke in this book till nearly the end, so many bad bad things were happening between them. There was total no communication and so much quarrels, na? Also I was feeling sad about things in Pakistan – you were showing downslide na? Then in the end Butterfly and Janoo get all lovedovey so it donned on me that maybe you feel optimistic about Pakistan?
  • And: Your Butterfly has a bit of a split personality Moni – she’s scheming and greedy and shallow. Yet there’s a smart, sensible side to her. And a brave, honourable side too. How does that happen? Is it there in all those bitchy socialites you are parodying?
Waiting to hear.


To which she replied deadpan:

Dear Saaz,
Thank you for reading my book. The Butterfly is a character like us, with good and bad in her. That's what makes her fun. If she was just mean and shallow and greedy you wouldn't want to read about her. She would be unidimensional, predictable and hence boring. I know that I can be frivolous and serious, generous and mean and fun and dull depending on the time, place and situation, without necessarily being schizophrenic.
And yes the book shows you what living in Pakistan on a daily basis is like and that was part of my purpose in writing it. But people try and wrest what is positive and redemptive even in these grim days and that too is what I wanted to show in my book.
And no, I haven't been influenced by P G Wodehouse though I do love his books.

All best,

About her first book I had written in a Sunday Mid-day column:
It has a compelling similarity with Mohsin Hamid’s Reluctant Fundamentalist! It’s not just the authors’ shared name, city of residence (London) or affiliation with Gulberg, Lahore’s ultra-posh reserve of the city’s most affluent and influential. Each one’s main character narrates the entire novel in a conversational first person monologue with almost no intrusion. Butterfly picks up at 9/11, where Changez winds down. And while Hamid’s Changez is suave, genteel, highly cerebral and Princeton-educated, Moni Mohsin’s Butterfly is an astonishingly accomplished woman herself!
In this book I found another reason to admire the author’s craft in the sharp voice of reason that the Oxen Janoo brings to it, which you can spot in Moni's response to my email, and which allows Butterfly's giddy-headed narrative to step aside briefly for perceptive sentences like this one to be inserted: “From my experience, even bleeding heart liberals revert pretty quick to colonial sahibs and memsahibs when they find themselves in places where help is cheap and has no rights.”


  1. Some of the descriptions in the book seem eerily accurate! Being recently engaged I'm well of the aunty rishta brigade scene here in Pakistan!

  2. Moni Mohsin's Butterfly books are hilarious! At first I thought they were chic-lit, but the satire between the lines, as you have pointed out is really sharp. A little like Jane Austen in Pakistan.