Between You, Me and the Four Walls
By Moni Mohsin
Liberty, Karachi
ISBN: 978-6277626051
210pp.

A sense of urgency has been in the air for the past few weeks as Pakistan’s brand of democracy takes a tumble and, much as in Humpty Dumpty, neither the king’s horses nor his men seem able to — or are much interested in — putting anything back together again.

This makes the Social Butterfly’s newest bulletin, Between You, Me and the Four Walls — brought to us by the inimitable Moni Mohsin — all the more opportune. Only Butterfly, Janoo, Kulchoo and the rest of the elite Lahori gang can navigate the turbulent sea of politics as smoothly as they would the infamous marathon event that was the Gulzar wedding (if you know, you know).

Anyone who thinks Butterfly is just another vapid, peroxide blonde, prepare to be proven wrong. She may bluntly ask what the world is coming to, she may demand it behave itself into a simpler place, but — unlike us — she is in the know.

Her recent holiday in Dubai opens her eyes to a parallel existence where there are no inconveniences, no poverty and, most importantly, no dust. She is enamoured, like you and I, by the sheer perfection that is the oil-rich kingdom. When Janoo remarks that Dubai doesn’t allow citizens the right to protest, Butterfly is quick to retort, “What is there to protest about, haan? Am I crack that I would want to do a jaloos in jannat?”

People often underestimate Moni Mohsin’s Social Butterfly, which is a pity. Anyone who reads her latest bulletin will see how sharply she observes the world

She’s right. If Paradise is running water, constant electricity and a burgeoning economy, civil rights can go damn themselves. Look at Pakistan; what did we get from all that ruckus of a month ago? The only things those protestors — absconding with peacocks, qorma, frozen strawberries, lamps and some uniforms — achieved was setting up Trouble as everyone’s permanent houseguest.

Take lessons from the past and heed Butterfly’s predictions. Poke the Bear too long and the Bear will catch you, shut down the internet and bring the battle to your doorstep by arresting one of you only. The ultimate untouchables are no more. Bears don’t listen to reason, even if your grandfather was once the Grizzliest of all Bears.

But back to Butterfly’s bulletin. Like most ladies from “khaata peeta” [well-to-do] family backgrounds, Butterfly too tries her hand at some good old-fashioned matchmaking for her darling friends’ children.

Of course, the girls that are sought must be “simple”, a word whose meaning the world over is as plain as it sounds, but in the upper echelons of Lahore’s elite, it implies deep complexities. They must be listeners, not speakers. Educated? Good for you; keep it in a neatly framed diploma on the wall, bas. Too much schooling can spoil girls — “All the time talking about empowerment and fulfilment and commitment like they were setting up a political party instead of waiting for a nice rishta.”

The ultimate prize for any elitist Lahori mother is “some nice, shareef [respectable] type heiress.” The second-best prize is a girl from a prominent, old family with the right pedigree, but not too many demands because, well, they’re all show and no go. Trust Butterfly, she knows them inside out.

Unlike most of us, Butterfly is well travelled and worldly-wise. So what if the dollar has hit the

roof and one can’t plan even a short trip to Turkey or Thailand? Nothing exciting happens there, anyway. Everyone who is anyone holidays in London or America.

Since Butterfly is always in the know, she’ll keep you updated about the happenings on the Western front, too. After all, when Donald Trump won in 2016, hadn’t Mummy and Aunty Pussy predicted the resulting tide of racism and Islamophobia? They know the workings of the gora mind, having lived through Partition.

Nobody, therefore, is surprised when Butterfly’s cousin, Minnie, reveals that she and her husband might sell their “big show-off type mansion just outside Washington” and move to Canada. Secretly, this pleases Butterfly, because “once in a while it’s so nice to feel sorry for rich desis in America … [T]hey are so boasty, you know, about how good their lives are and how safe and secure they all feel. Good that they are also knowing how we all feel.”

Again, she’s right. At some point we’ve all rather resented the gora-passport holders. The normalcy they get to experience, the patronising lilt every time they express ‘concern’ for the homeland, knowing full well they’re never coming back and we’re stuck here. It’s only fair that they, too, experience a tiny bit of the dysfunction that we do on a daily basis.

Butterfly also tells us that she gets no respite from the burden of taking care of her family. It’s backbreaking labour to make sure they continue ruling the roost of the “karta dhartas” [movers and shakers], despite Janoo’s repeated attempts to jeopardise their social position — being from Oxen doesn’t give him carte blanche to blow their status to smithereens, you know.

Kulchoo doesn’t make the job any easier. Like father, like son. All he does is read and argue how the world is going to the dogs because of social inequity and the like.

People often underestimate Butterfly, which is a pity. Anyone who reads her diary entries will see how sharply she observes the world. Remember when her frenemy, Mulloo, was enamoured by ‘that’ prime minister? Butterfly had reservations even then. What kind of prime minister drives dignitaries around? Sells cows? Abuses journalists? Comments on women’s clothing? Recommends television dramas?

The last one she didn’t really mind, though. She enjoyed Dirilis: Ertugrul very much.

But no one took her seriously. Okay, maybe Janoo was on the same page, but who cares what he thinks. Outsiders dismissed her concerns and now look where we are.

Butterfly is aware of the laws of nature. Like youth, power is a transient gift. What the Lord giveth, He taketh. So rather than getting sentimental, observe the situation like she does. Her bird’s eye view from the top of Lahore’s topmost lets her into secrets we could never even dream of.

See everyone complaining about the dysfunctional judicial system that no one in power seems to take seriously, including the judges themselves? Butterfly knew this would happen way back when Gen Pervez Musharraf was sentenced to death and he wasn’t even in the country at the time. Matlab, the height of stupidity. They knew full well nobody would carry out their order, but gave it anyway.

Such insensitivity as well. He was not like these dirty politicians who need to be taught a lesson. Being a “president”, that too from the army, is tough. “And it looks ungrateful. After all, they’re working so hard … It’s not easy, you know, being soldiers and Presidents and Ambassadors and bakers and bankers and Corn Flakes makers all at the same time.”

There’s a thought for us plebeians to ponder.

I hope you’ve come to the same conclusions I did: Butterfly’s bulletin is not a frivolous read. It is an important cipher — not as dramatic as the ‘regime change’ one! — giving a peek into the minds of the inhabitants of powerful drawing rooms. And it might not seem like much, but Butterfly always has your best interests at heart.

This is why, in these dark and dismal days, when hope is an expensive, unattainable luxury like that ultra-exclusive Prada bag and you can’t make sense of the chaos surrounding you, read Butterfly’s diary to understand that, in Pakistan, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The reviewer is a freelance writer with a background in law and literature. She tweets @ShehryarSahar

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, June 11th, 2023

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