On Wednesday November 23, Moni Mohsin’s latest book was launched and was made available for purchase at the Last Word Lahore in Defence Phase 3 and the book launch kicked off with a conversation between Moni Mohsin and Mina Malik.
Moni Mohsin was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan. She is an award-winning author of three novels. She has also published three collections of her popular satirical column, The Diary of a Social Butterfly. She now lives in the UK and is currently writing a novel about the South Asian diaspora in London.
Mina Malik is a writer and poet based in Lahore. She is the co-founder of Risala, a literary magazine for children and prose editor at The Aleph Review. Mina holds a Master’s in Creative Writing from Oxford University and is currently working on her first novel.
Attending the event also was Safina Danish Elahi who is a lawyer, poet and novelist from Pakistan who is the founder of award-winning publishing house, Reverie Publishers, which is the publisher of The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R.
The conversation starts with Moni Mohsin giving a brief summary of the book at Mina’s request. Ruby Rauf is an idealistic, industrious scholarship student with a fixed plan. She is going to ace her exams and get a decent job so she never has to suffer the daily degradation of poverty gain. Yet, when she meets the compelling actor-turned politician Saif Haq, her world is upended. Dazzled by his charisma, inspired by his zeal, she quits her degree midway to join his political campaign as his social media manager.
Ruby soon discovers that politics, even with a leader as upright as Saif, is a moral minefield. Diligent, sincere but desperately naïve, Ruby longs to do the right thing but struggles at first to square her innate integrity with the difficult choices her job demands.
As she wades deeper into the quagmire of political intrigue and the savage world of social media, her values grow more ruthless. She out-thinks allies and rivals to deliver brilliant results. Resented and admired by her colleagues, favoured by Saif, Ruby appears to be unstoppable until one day Saif asks her to prove her loyalty by making the most painful sacrifice of all.
The next question asked of Mohsin was what inspired her to write this book. She answered by saying that she was inspired by Donald Trump’s sexist comments in 2016 and the Harvey Weinstein case that became public knowledge in 2018 to write this book. She observed that in both cases, there was a man who held a considerable amount of power and used it to manipulate, abuse and disrespect women. She noted that such instances are a relatively common occurrence and so she wanted to write a book about this in a Pakistani context. The main antagonist of the novel is Saif Haq, a celebrity turned politician who used to have a show in which he was dispensing justice, similar to how Donald Trump starred in The Apprentice.
In both cases, these men use the popularity and fame they gain from their media/acting careers to launch their political campaigns. By combining their celebrity fame and political power, they created a toxic combination which was most prevalent on social media.
Social media trolls hide behind anonymity to escape accountability for their actions. Mohsin spoke on how social media can be a unifying platform for all people globally but instead it is used to divide people and remove all middle ground. This, she stated, is how populism works. The removal of the middle ground and the banning of dissent promotes anger amongst society against each other which the powerful and the wealthy use to their advantage.
Malik then asked Mohsin about her feminist beliefs and whether they had any impact on the book itself to which she answered in the affirmative and said that two of the main aspects she focuses on is how women are forced to conform to patriarchal norms, values and beliefs and how different people in society are allowed to get away with things which others could not.
In the book, she portrays how patriarchy turns women against each other. Women are told by other women to keep quiet about what they go through at the hands of for example, their husband’s because they had gone through similar experiences and did not complain about it while the men keep on abusing their power over women.
Another thing Moni points out in the book is that “Overreach is different in people.” The example she gives is that of a Baloch tribal women wanting to marry a man of her own choice would be considered unacceptable in her society but for a woman living in Lahore in DHA this would be considered perfectly acceptable in most cases.
In the book, there is a scene where Saif attends a lunch with a group of students who were admirers of him in a hotel. By the end of it, as Saif is about leave, a waiter reminds him that he has to pay the bill to which Saif answers “Do you know who I am?” but the students tell the waiter that they’d pay the bill instead. This is yet another example of how powerful men get away scot-free.
The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R is highly recommended for people wanting to learn more about the toxicity of social media and politics and the detrimental effect of patriarchy on society. People such as Moni Mohsin are underrated yet critical in the development of our society and promoting equality for all.