Updated: March 7, 2021 7:55:31 am
IN The early 2000s, writer Moni Mohsin’s charming flibbertigibbet, Butterfly, had had a field day taking on the gaffes of high-society Pakistan, first in a column Mohsin wrote for The Friday Times, a weekly newspaper, and, later, as books. But, seven years after Butterfly’s last outing, Mohsin realised she needed a new heroine to articulate a very different story she wanted to tell. In this interview, Mohsin speaks of her new book, The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R, the nebulous confluence of politics and social media and the death of humour in the subcontinent.
After the breezy satire of your Butterfly books, what made you opt for a political novel?
I wanted to comment on certain trends I saw developing in Pakistan — among them the cult of celebrity, the toxicity of social media and the lure of populism — which I could not address in the voice of the Butterfly. So, I thought I’d create a new cast of characters and write a different kind of satire.
How much of the novel is inspired by real-life incidents or characters? Saif Haq seems to have more than a passing resemblance to (Pakistani Prime Minister) Imran Khan.
The Harvey Weinstein scandal first gave me the idea for the book. I asked myself how such a scandal would play out in the subcontinent. Would there be a public inquiry? Accountability? In what sphere of public life would it happen? Haq’s career trajectory is inspired by Imran Khan’s and I had great fun playing with ridiculous promises he has made in the past, such as ‘I will end corruption in 90 days’ and ‘Once I come to power, money will flow into our country’, etc. But Saif is also a composite character with a bit of (Donald) Trump (the reality TV background), a sprinkling of Amitabh Bachchan (filmstar past) and a bit of Boris Johnson (his wandering eye and raffish charm).
What are your views on Imran Khan’s idea of Naya Pakistan?
Actually, it’s not much different to purana Pakistan. If anything, this dispensation is more corrupt and incompetent than its predecessors.
As a satirist, how do you reflect on the general lack of humour in the subcontinent and the tendency to take umbrage at the slightest of instances?
I think we’ve always been a bit insecure about our place in the world and while we feel we are entirely within our rights disparaging other nations, we bristle whenever anyone voices the slightest criticism about us, responding with a degree of outrage that would be comical were it not so ugly.
In your work as a journalist, you have seen the confluence of social media and politics play out both in the UK and the subcontinent.
What do you think is different about the way it works out in these two distinct cultures?
I think the toxicity and vileness is pretty much the same the world over. But, in India and Pakistan, the trolls are professional, and, therefore, their attacks are more personal, intimidating and virulent. And, possibly, their misogyny is more naked.
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