Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Diary Of A Social Butterfly by Moni Mohsin- A Review

Now this was a book which made me nervous of my nocturnal reading habits. Why? Because I had no clue when I would fall off the sofa laughing at insane decibels even as my family rejoiced in hitherto peaceful slumber. Fortunately, nothing ugly did ever happen to hinder my night-time trysts with Butterfly Khan, and for all those guffaws which continued for 3 nights and 2 days, I have only her to thank!

Eminent Pakistani columnist Moni Mohsin takes you for an roller-coaster ride through the world of socialites- whom, by the way, Butterfly calls 'Socialists'. But what to do! Poor Butterfly, caught among her own rigmarole of thoughts, often find herself prone to adorable malapropisms, which literally spice up her journals. So, you could find yourself wide eyed as you see an 'angina attack' transforming by the virtue of Butterfly's innocence into a 'vagina attack'.  Later you would just settle for howls of laughter as the luscious malapropisms transform 'botox' into 'buttocks', or 'Bangkok' into 'Bangcock'. You will meet business 'typhoons', and see Butterfly becoming 'historical' with laughter.

The Diary Of A Social Butterfly is a book devoid of a plot or a storyline. Rather, it is a compilation of articles published fortnightly by the eminent Pakistani author, Moni Mohsin, in The Friday Times. Moni Mohsin has to her credit other works which gathered much acclaim, like Tender Hooks and The End Of Innocence. This particular book, The Diary Of A Social Butterfly, takes the form of journals written by a Punjabi Convent Educated Socialite, who can think of little else, other than attending parties and maintaining her up market status. Butterfly's journals were scribbled during a crucial and sensitive time for Pakistan's internal stability and international relations- between the years 2001 and 2008. However, our central character, Butterfly, couldn't care less even if the world was on fire- what she needed were parties, and social engagements, and perfect attires, and shoes, and hairstyles, and shawls, and accessories, to remain among the creme de la creme  of the Page 3 crowd of Pakistan. Something in her journals reminds you of Sophie Kinsella's Shopoholic series, but Butterfly has that distinct identity which can makes this exaggerated satire on an incorrigible socialite's life totally worth a read! Each of her journal entry begins with two news headlines- one perhaps sourced from the Reuters, the other, from her own life. Whether it is about firing a maid, fighting with her husband, celebrating Eid, or buying a new jora(dress)- Butterfly takes her life very seriously; she, after all, plays the lead role in it. The lesser happenings, like bomb blasts, terrorism, tsunamis and political turmoils the world can itself take care of. These not withstanding, Butterfly will always stay focused and prepare to fly elegantly to the next event in the city.

The characters in Butterfly's life as as colorful as her own self. She has a Oxford alumnus (an 'Oxen' as she calls him) for her husband, who is smart and learned and everything that Butterfly is not. Fondly called Janoo, her husband is routinely abused in Butterfly's diary as 'crack', 'sarrhial', 'donkey', 'dog', 'zinda laash, 'boodhi rooh', et al, especially for holding strong and empathic political views and social concerns. Butterfly has a 13 year old son, named Kulchoo, and even at that tender age, Butterfly can't help but be far sighted and prepare for his wedding each time she is inspired by a novel idea or some innovative decor technique in one of the many weddings she attends. She has a mother-in-law, addressed as the Old Bag, and two sisters-in-law, called as the Twosome Gruesome- the perpetual sources of misery in her otherwise blissful life of glamor and glitz and parties and more parties. Other delightful characters in Butterfly's colorful life include her Mummy, her Aunty Pussy (whose husband has a curious epithet as 'Uncle Cock-up') with her unlucky-in-marriage son Jonkers, her friends- Mulloo, Flopsy, Furry among others.

My ecstatic bit of writing so far would have made it obvious that I LOVED the book. It has humor bordering on insanity- you can ridicule Butterfly for all her ignorance and self obsession, but you can't help loving her for all the light moments she grants you. And, if Khushwant Singh endorses on the cover that this book is 'hilarious', the book has to be just that- hilarious! Huge thumbs-up to the crafty malapropisms- some of the absolutely refuse to leave my head. And the local slangs, aah, they are what make Butterfly's ridiculous English all the more gorgeous.

All in all, Butterfly makes for a highly recommended read. The only caveat I would like to put in place, sourced from a fellow blogger's critique of the same book,  is that dumbness as the source of humor, begins to tire out readers towards the end of the book. It is one thing to read this content in the form of fortnightly commentaries with contemporary happenings to relate with, and quite another to read it as a book of chronologically arranged articles lacking any storyline to adhere to. Still, I would regard this book as one of the best I read in the year 2011.

Generously enough, its 3 stars on 5 for me. For all that laughter. :)

Moni Mohsin- the author


  1. hmmm....sounds interesting...this book..

  2. But take care of the negative criticism this book
    has received. Not everyone liked it. My review was posted on another site, btw. :)

  3. A very good review. Up til now, I always chose to ignore the book as being too silly and stupid for me to read. But your review makes it sound like a humourous book to pick up. So will definitely put it on my to-read list! Thanks!

  4. Hey Aakanksha!
    Curiously, my best friend (one of the best) has the same name. So an extra warm welcome to you to Nascent Emissions. For me, the book worked. You might find stuff repetitive towards the end, but for sometime at least, the book is gorgeously hilarious!
    Do check out the other reviews and let me know how you found them :)

  5. I just wanted to ask someone here if they have read this book because I wanted to work on a Pakistani English satirical work. Is this book a good choice?

  6. If you could tell me a little more about the kind of book you want, I would be in a better position to assert if this book will work for you or not. Still, this particular work of Moni Mohsin's is very strongly recommended by me. It gives you a perfect humorous glimpse into the life of Pakistan's page three circle- their excesses and hollowness.

    Just bear in mind, this book merely chronicles Mohsin's previously printed articles in a Pakistani newspaper.