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Exclusive: Pakistan’s most famous Social Butterfly makes Instagram ‘daybew’

She’s stuck in the house with Janoo because of COVID-19

SAMAA | - Posted: Apr 23, 2020 | Last Updated: 2 years ago
Posted: Apr 23, 2020 | Last Updated: 2 years ago

Art by Obair Khan/Samaa Digital

When journalist and author Moni Mohsin started writing Diary of a Social Butterfly, a satirical column for The Friday Times, mobile phones weighed a couple of kilos and the internet was unknown, as she puts it.

This was in 1990s when she worked as the weekly magazine’s features editor in Lahore. Since then, high society has changed and the Butterfly, not one to be left behind, is keeping up with the times: She has finally made her way to Instagram.

“All the technological changes since have brought in their wake huge social changes as well,” Mohsin said in a conversation with SAMAA Digital. “There was no fixation with ‘sharing’ and celebrities; a friend was a person you’d known and liked for at least five years and only weirdos and psychos routinely stalked strangers and threatened them with physical harm.”

Mohsin was egged on by her daughter, who uses social media much more effectively, to at least dip her toe in these new waters. It would be an exercise before starting her own podcast and she has discovered that she is enjoying the foray into a digital space.

The Diary was originally inspired by the “chutneyfication of English, to use Salman Rushdie’s term”. Moni’s sister Jugnu Mohsin, journalist and publisher, said that the column started in the 1990s as a result of a brain-storming session between Moni and Jugnu’s husband, TFT editor Najam Sethi. “We didn’t have to edit her because she writes like a dream,” she said. “She reads a lot and she’s a highly educated person… she went to Cambridge.”

The Diary, which appeared supine at the top of the coveted back page of TFT, was hotly awaited each week. This was how Mohsin managed to make it fun to read about politics. Here is a snippet from a column she wrote two years ago.

“Lo aur suno. Janoo says he’s going to receive Nawaz and Maryam at Lahore Airport. Crack!
I said to him, ‘Nawaz is your chacha who’s come back from Hajj that you are going to receive him? And what is Maryam of yours, haan? Your cousin sister?’
He said: ‘I’m going to the airport to support democracy.’
‘Democracy is coming on a flight?’ I asked. ‘From where?’
‘Democracy is in flight,’ he said. ‘It’s being chased out even as we speak.’
‘Who is chasing it?’
‘The Spooks,’ he said. ‘As always, they are busy dismantling it.’
But I think so the person who’s getting dismentaled is Janoo. It’s this heat, na. Kulchoo told me that Global Warning was melting geysers and ice taps in mountains like the Himalayas and the Apps but I think so it has melted poor Janoo’s brain. He was a pukka supporter of Benazir. Dye hard. Now look at him.”

The cheeky comments (Indian bums in our ear space), the depiction of the high society characters (crape de sheen is French. Mustn’t give jhoota credit to bossy Chinese for everything) and their language (guvmunt and Paris’s Shaan’s Alizeh) were so accurate that it felt as if you were actually having a conversation with one of those types and not a caricature.

“I was inspired by the very colourful and vivid lingo I heard all around me as well as the social and political concerns of drawing room wallahs,” she said. Take for example, the column she wrote last year about the Royal visit—khandaani types are always khandaani—echoing conversations from many a plush divan.

“Just look at Kate and William,” said the Butterfly. “How much consideration they’ve shown, how much sensitivity. To come to Pakistan now only to fill in that bore social gap for us between end of foreign holiday season and beginning of shaadi season. So we can enjoy properly. And do thorough compare of Kate to Diana Marhooma – her hair, her clothes, her shoes, her style shyle.”

According to Moni, some of her favourite columns are ones that commented on particular events such as 9/11 or the MeToo movement. “There’s only one I got into trouble over when a society lady I knew took umbrage at a column in which she thought I was taking direct aim at her. I had to go and apologise in person.”

Even her sister Jugnu has to fend off miffed aunty-types. Since it is drawn from caricatures “sometimes some insecure, brittle lady would come up and say it’s me you’ve written about isn’t it…but it wasn’t ever one person.”

Overall though, Moni feels her readers are generous and happily take her tongue-in-cheek commentary in their stride. “But then Punjabis are a self-deprecating lot,” she adds.

The column does have a sober voice, Butterfly’s husband, Janoo, who balances out the act. “I had to create a foil for Butterfly,” said Moni. “Someone to constantly set the record straight in case my readers thought I condoned her lopsided view of the world.” Some of her other memorable characters include the son Kulchoo, Mullo and Tony.

Besides the column, Moni has also written four books. Her debut novel The End of Innocence was published in 2006. Her other books are The Diary of a Social Butterfly (2008), Duty Free (2011) and The Return of the Butterfly (2014) which are based on the Lahore-based Butterfly as she navigates society and politics by her Janoo’s side.

It was perhaps inevitable that Moni Mohsin would move from print to social media. Fans would press her to do recordings after attending her readings at events and literary festivals.

This is how she found her way to Instagram. “However those who’ve never heard me ‘do Butterfly’ but have been reading the column for years had some difficulty adjusting to the sound of my voice and accent,” she admits. “In their minds she sounded different, which is fair enough.”

So what’s the Butterfly doing these days, besides posting to Insta? Moni currently lives in the UK where she is trying to read, exercise and not to go bloody insane in quarantine.

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