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See no evil: Shuma Raha reviews Moni Mohsin’s ‘The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R.’

Pakistani writer Moni Mohsin’s 2008 novel, The Diary of a Social Butterfly, which chronicled the musings of a society airhead whose life revolves around shopping, gossip and partying, was a fun read. In The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R., her latest offering, Mohsin attempts a serious subject — the venality of politics in Pakistan and a young girl’s hopes of being part of the change promised by a charismatic new leader.

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Sadly, Mohsin stumbles right from the word go and the book never manages to pick itself up from its wafer-thin plot and a protagonist who, although touted as bright and upright, comes across as equal parts unintelligent and morally compromised.

Outraged? Nope

Ruby Rauf is a studious, 23-year-old scholarship student in London, entirely focused on getting her degree in business and media, and finding a good job to pull herself and her mother out of the financial hardship they have fallen into after her father’s death. When she attends a speech by Saif Haq — a former moviestar turned politician who has set up a party called Integrity — she is mesmerised by his vision of a corruption-free Pakistan. Quite forgetting her initial scepticism about him, and her belief that his shot at political power is nothing but an ageing celebrity’s need to stay in the limelight, she begins to regard Haq as a saviour, the man who can clean up Pakistan’s politics and solve the country’s myriad problems.

Soon after, Haq offers her a job as his party’s social media spearhead. And Ruby, after some hesitation, abandons her life plan, gives up her studies in London, and returns to Lahore to take up the offer, convinced that she will be part of the lofty enterprise of rebuilding Pakistan under the leadership of Saif Haq.

Now, it’s not unusual for a young person to come under the spell of a magnetic, messianic leader. The problem is that from the

See no evil: Shuma Raha reviews Moni Mohsin’s ‘The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R.’

outset, Mohsin portrays Saif Haq as an A-list douchebag — entitled, ill-mannered, amoral and sexist. Indeed, the various pointers to his douchebaggery are so liberally and insistently strewn that you wonder if the author’s express purpose is to present Ruby (who is also supposed to be a feminist) as a singularly dense young woman. Why else would she not wise up to Saif Haq’s obvious lack of, er, integrity?

Ruby finds out that her dear leader is happy to let his party be funded by human traffickers and other big-wig criminals. Does that bring on disillusionment? Does that outrage her so-called values of probity? Nope. On the contrary, she throws herself into the job of becoming the party’s social media whiz and soon turns Haq into a huge phenomenon online.

Meme queen

While at it, she joyfully lets the 60-something Haq seduce her. To prep herself for the much-anticipated event, she even gets herself a bikini wax. As their hurried trysts on the office sofa continue, the reader is treated to ample evidence of Haq’s debauchery and the fact that when he is not talking about saving the poor, he is busy cavorting with his cronies and enjoying his life of wealth, privilege and vice.

But Ruby remains in her see-no-evil mode. She lets Haq fool her with his insincere words and revels in her position as a prized member of his party. She is the “meme queen”, the ruthless troll army mobiliser who goes after anyone who dares criticise Haq. Her corruption troubles her on occasion, but she doesn’t let that deflect her from the higher purpose of burnishing and defending the Saif Haq brand. When a friend asks if the youthful Haq dyes his chest hair, she hotly denies the vile speculation — no doubt because she has first-hand knowledge owing to her close encounters with his body hair.

Sudden pivots

Mohsin is in her element when she narrates high-society chit chat — rich, glossy women gossiping about other rich, glossy women who’ve had “work done” on their faces, or exchanging notes on the bottled water they use to wash their hair. Not Evian, one admits ruefully, “local only”.

The same acuity and observation are missing, however, when Mohsin dwells on the political milieu in which her story is set. A coarse trafficker here, a wheeler-dealer there are about all that she musters by way of fleshing out the underbelly of politics in Pakistan. (If Haq’s character was inspired by a current political leader of that country, Mohsin muffs it by making him too one-dimensional to be of interest.) Besides, many of the characters undergo sudden, inexplicable pivots, which simply do not ring true. Nor does the belated attempt to cast Ruby’s affair with her boss as some sort of #MeToo event.

As for Ruby, her long-lost integrity comes alive after Saif Haq gets married to a glamorous socialite. Clearly, the path to righteousness opens up when one is ditched by a lover.

The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R; Moni Mohsin, Penguin Viking, ₹499

The reviewer is a journalist and author.

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