Thursday, March 17, 2011

Of Channel ka bag and Jimmy Shoes! (Tender Hooks - A Review)

Tender Hooks is Moni Mohsin’s second book which features her sassy heroine, Butterfly, a character based on her column in Friday Times and the protagonist of her previous book, ‘Diary of a Social Butterfly’. In case you have forgotten, you are suffering from ‘sterile dementia’!

Although this book was totally out of my league, I enjoyed reading it. At first the book might appear to be a chick-lit, but appearances can be deceiving. If you scratch the surface and read between the lines, it is more than a society woman’s gossips, GTs (get together) and obsession with material wealth. It is a representation of the issues and problems that plague our daily lives; only it is shown from the perspective of Butterfly, who happens to be a ‘society woman’.

The plot is simple. Butterfly has to find a suitable girl for her cousin, Jonkers. The twists and turns come while meeting the suitable candidates and handling Aunty Pussy’s (Jonker’s mother) tantrums. All this is done in the backdrop of suicide attacks in Peshawar, terror threats to schools and colleges in Lahore, and eight hourly load shedding, to name a few.

What makes this book interesting and memorable are the characters. Butterfly’s character, being the protagonist, is the most colourful. She has a strong personality and her careless, silly, typical yet at times, sensitive, outlook on life makes her likeable. Of course, there are times when you’ll find her, for want of a better word, dumb. Like when she talks about her son, Kulchoo:

“Kulchoo is resting upstairs. I’ve told him, ‘No reading sheading, okay?’ So he’s watching a film on his DVD. Something called Black Hawk Down. I think so it’s a nature documentary. So serious my baby is. Between you, me, and the four walls, he’s becoming a little bit bore like his father, always watching documentaries about global warning and energy crisis and other bore-bore things like that. Vaisay, thanks God, he’s at home.”

A simple woman, no?! She reminded me of Queen Antoinette and her famous phrase, ‘Let them eat Cake’, in the following excerpt. Her response to the servants demand for a raise, who citied the increase in the prices of sugar as the major reason, was:

“‘So who’s asked you to eat so much sugar? It’s bad for your teeth. You should hear my dentist. He’s forbidden Kulchoo from drinking sugary drinks. And Coke tau is a total no-no. You know how many teaspoons of sugar it has? Ten. Ji haan. Ten. I’m telling you, you don’t want to pay thousands and thousands to fill cavities. Besides, also, you’ll get diebetees. And sugar puts on weight. Ask me, it’s been a year and I’m still trying to get rid of those five pounds I put on from eating all those ice creams and chocolate cakes in America last year.’

The men in her life are all boring; whether it is her ‘Oxen (Oxford educated)’ land-owner husband Janoo, her son Kulchoo or her simpleton cousin, Jonkers. They might be rational but it is the women who dominate the story and come up with solutions. Butterfly’s mother is always there to lend her a hand when the going gets tough. In Butterfly’s words, "‘Aik tau Mummy is also such a clever one, na. No wonder Janoo calls her Kernel Klebb. I think so she was a famous spy from a James Bond movie. The kernel, not Mummy.’"

All women in our society, with Butterfly, Mummy and Aunty Pussy being no exception, are the decision makers when it comes to finding suitable girls for their boys or cousins (I wonder what will happen to poor Kulchoo when he reaches marriageable age. Hopefully, he'll learn something from Jonkers!). Maids too, are of great value to a society woman and are portrayed in the book as sharp and industrious women, who groom themselves at the expense of their rich owners and take flight when they find a better opportunity. And this is something all of us can relate to – how life becomes ugly once the maid walks out.

So what is Tender Hooks really about? In a nutshell, it is about the degeneration of our society, both at state and citizen level. There are no facilities for the tax-payers, the rich are getting richer, lawlessness reigns and fear dominates. But the book ends on a positive note as Jonker finds the perfect girl and the wedding takes place without any mishaps. As Butterfly says herself:

“ Oh yes, and Jonkers and Sana will be very happy. How do I know? Haw, haven’t I told you? I have a sick sense about these things. Didn’t I tell you Jonkers would find a girl at the Butt–Khan wedding, haan? Past your mind back...” 

Moral of the story: When all else fails, believe in your sick, oops, sixth sense!

Note: Moni Mohsin is a columnist and the author of ‘The End of Innocence’ and the ‘Diary of a Social Butterfly’.