A few days ago, Twitter was abuzz with hashtag #tweetlike butterfly in which people from both sides of the border (especially Indians) were tweeting like Butterfly. How do you feel about Butterfly's popularity in India?
Moni: OMG! How did I miss that hashtag on Twitter? Where was I? Sleeping? I'm both flattered and touched to hear that Indian readers have taken the Butterfly so much to heart. Maybe she will become an ambassador of friendship and goodwill between our two countries.
You've written both serious fiction and satire. Which do you enjoy writing more?
I don't make a distinction between satire and serious fiction. Both, for me, are equally serious. In fact, as Saba Imtiaz recently wrote in her review of The Return of the Butterfly, some issues are so explosive that you can only write about them under the cover of satire. Do I enjoy writing? Let's just say, I enjoy the feeling of having written.
Butterfly makes for an unlikely social commentator – is this your way of airing political views in a society as sensitive to criticism as Pakistan?
My brief for the column that gave birth to The Diary of a Social Butterfly was to talk about important social issues in a light, non-moralistic, non-confrontational tone. As a writer I was interested in experimenting with voice, unreliable narration, character and short form fiction and since my editor at The Friday Times gave me great creative latitude, I came up with this frivolous, seemingly silly character who has a distinctive voice and I used her as a vehicle to air the 'important social concerns' my brief stipulated. That she doesn't seem to understand the import of half the things she sees and says makes her less threatening, if you will, and the fact that she doesn't preach (or very rarely) makes her digs bearable. In fact, it is precisely because she is as silly, as shallow, as culpable as the rest of us that she is allowed to get away with so much.
Are there parallels between you and Butterfly's?
Well, for a start, she and I are both 'Punjoos from Lahore only'. We are both most definitely non-vegetarian, we both love fashion, health spas, glossy magazines; we both give a lot of our time to friends and family and yes, we both enjoy good gossip. But then I'm also like bore Janoo in that I obsess about bore issues like global warming and minority rights, read bore books, watch bore films, visit bore places and have long, bore conversations about bore books and bore films and bore places. Like bore Janoo, I hope I have a social conscience.
You've said that Butterfly does not just belong to Pakistan. Have you found women like her in other places?
Butterfly is a universal character in that versions of her (wealthy pampered frivolous women) exist all over the world. Despite the fact that this particular Butterfly is very Pakistani and speaks in a distinctive Punjabi voice, readers from Italy, Lebanon, Malaysia, America and UAE have written to me to say how much she reminds them of people they know in their own social circles.
Have you ever offended anyone and been at the receiving end of their anger?
Only once. I inadvertently used the name of a society lady when describing a social climber with bad B.O (body odour). I was summoned to her house and given a tongue lashing. Other than that, so far so good.