WHEN we last met Butterfly in Moni Mohsin’s Tender Hooks, her main preoccupation with life was finding a girl for her cousin Jonkers. She didn’t do this because she was a “charitable sole” but rather because she feared that Jonkers’ mum, her Aunty Pussy, would cast the evil eye on her darling son Kulchoo. In between, Butterfly suffered bouts of compassion during which she sent people displaced by the floods chiffon saris and Armani ties as well as “Lexos” to sleep better; and after being mugged, Butterfly peeked out of the comfortable bubble that was her life.
That bubble has clearly burst in The Return of the Butterfly, Mohsin’s latest installment of the life and times of the Lahore-based Butterfly who has developed an interest in politics which stems from her love for Janoo. Her moment of realisation comes when her favourite “sweepress” Jannat asks her for five days off to nurse her abusive husband who was involved in a “drunken fight.”
Butterfly’s eloquent response to Jannat’s request is: “All he’s ever done to you is beat you ... and you want to nurse him? Are you crack?” Jannat replies with a sigh: “Bibiji, what to do? When a dhol is strung around your neck, what can you do but drum it?” This makes Butterfly come to the conclusion that “if Jannat can look after a husband who beats her ... then I can also take interest in everything that interests Janoo ... who doesn’t beat me ... so because Janoo has craze about politics, I am also going to take so much interest ... keh poocho hi na.”
Consequently, she is all for the restoration of the judges and her reasoning is simple: “Honestly, vaisay what’s the big fuss for? Mein tau kehti hoon, let the judges be restored. After all, Lahore fort looked so nice after it was restored.” And thankfully, her aesthetic sense has not waned: “Just think how nice the Chief Justess will look after a nice sa hair cut and a bit of botox and nice sa makeover with a nice si wardrope and maybe a little bit of surgery to fix that squint ...”
Yet, despite her interest in politics, Janoo becomes clinically depressed, primarily due to the state of the country, causing the usually self-centred Butterfly to encourage him to seek help. Of course, that doesn’t go quite as well as it should, given that Janoo’s shrink tells her that Janoo’s mental health depends largely on the type of “support structure” at home. Butterfly responds by asking, “Support structure? You mean like a climbing frame?” And despite the poor doctor’s attempts at making her understand what he means, she reassures him, “Aap fikar na karein, docsaab. Of course, you can count on me. As soon as I get home, I’ll call the mazdoors and have the support structure in place ... you think so metal would be better or wood?”
Butterfly’s grip on reality has also widened; this can perhaps be attributed to the fact that she is now dealing with the problems that most Pakistanis have been dealing with for decades, a testament to which is her wailing: “Dekho zara! No bijli, no gas, no petrol and now no CNG also. On top, Hyper Star has also run out of avocades!” Clearly, she’s really feeling the pain.
Her tastes in entertainment have also broadened in scope beyond Bollywood; she is an avid follower of ‘Downtown Abbey’ and “the thing I really really want is that head bearer ... Car Son ... how nicely they manage everything ... no maid ever answers the phone and says, Begum Sahiba pot pur bethi hain.”
Mohsin clearly has not lost her touch when it comes to inducing at least one laugh per page; she brings to light the issues that most Pakistanis, no matter how privileged they may be, cannot avoid anymore. However, what is disappointing about The Return of the Butterfly is that it has no plot; it reads much like the first installment of the Butterfly series, which included columns that were published in The Friday Times. And while Butterfly’s character does develop in this third volume, when compared to Tender Hooks it is a disappointment because in that we were already witness to Butterfly’s growing self-awareness which has merely been reinforced in The Return of the Butterfly.
There is also a problem of continuity, which for some reason has been overlooked, it seems. While Tender Hooks takes place between September 2009 and December 2009, The Return of the Butterfly begins in January 2008 and ends in December 2013. While Jonker’s wedding to Sana took place at the end of Tender Hooks, in The Return of the Butterfly, he is single again, and there is no allusion to his marriage for some reason. While this does not impair the narrative of The Return of the Butterfly in terms of laughs, it does pose an issue for people who were looking for Butterfly’s story — and her character — to develop further.
Consequently, while The Return of the Butterfly is fun to read (in spite of the jokes and the language getting a tad old), it really doesn’t serve as a novel (and perhaps it wasn’t meant to). All it ends up doing, as far as Butterfly is concerned, is show that she continues to flit.
The Return of the Butterfly
By Moni Mohsin
Penguin Books, India