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Moni Mohsin on Ruby, politics, and choices

Moni Mohsin sat with us for an absolutely delightful chat, and we just can’t get enough of her (and her book The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R of course!)


South Asian literature has historically been seen as heavy and weighted, so do you feel a little more liberated working with a freer style like satire?

MM: It’s not that satire is lighter per se because you can go to really dark places with satire too. I choose to write social commentary that allows me to portray my society as accurately and as truthfully as I can while also exploring its more comedic side.


If you had to pick five desert island reads, they would be:

MM: Ah! This is a difficult one not least because my essential reading keeps changing, but if I have to give you top five today they would be:

George Eliot’s Middlemarch because it is so wise, profound and capacious.

Digging to America by Anne Tyler for its wryness, humour and subtlety.

The Complete Works of Shakespeare because God knows when I’ll be rescued.

Some David Sedaris to lift my spirits.

Nuskha-e-Wafa by Faiz Ahmed Faiz so I can keep myself busy by learning all of his greatest  ghazals and nazams by heart and stunning everyone with my brilliance when I finally get rescued.


How have you been spending your days indoors?

MM: Editing, writing, recording my podcast ‘Browned Off’ and watching tons of Netflix. And eating chocolate!


If you didn’t pick satire, what would be another narrative style that you might consider?

MM: I’d write funny romances and whodunnits.


Do you think social media can have a positive impact in a field like politics, or is that too positivist? In theory of course yes, it is possible, like anything else, but do you think the system and political structures create politicians and workers on ground level who could actually wield it as a constructive tool?

MM: Of course social media can have a positive impact. Many activists use it for just such a purpose: they speak truth to power and set the record straight. As with everything else, in using social media too there is a choice involved.


What would Ruby do if she were embroiled in today’s South Asian politics? Do you think she would play the system like a fiddle or is the current situation maybe a bit too much even for her?

MM: She would do exactly what she does in the novel: she’d start off believing she is doing good. But very soon, in order to prove her loyalty to her party, she’d find herself peddling misinformation and abusing anyone who disagreed with the party line. And she’d still believe she was doing good.


There is a general despondency that seems to have settled in amongst people, with the pandemic and the general world-politics vortex where something goes wrong every day. We find ourselves once again in an age of anxiety. Do you think satire has the potential to push society towards introspection at such a time? Or is it consumed more like page 3 entertainment because people are too tired?

front cover The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R
The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R||Moni Mohsin

MM: I don’t really know. I think for satire to act as a catalyst for reform, there has to be some consensus on morality – on what we deem to be right and what we believe to be wrong. But in today’s deeply divided world I’m not sure we have that agreement any longer, if we ever did. My own ambitions as a writer are more modest. I am pleased if I can make someone smile when they read my work or recognize something I’ve written as being truthful.


Power and age very easily sway younger, more impressionable people. It happens with Ruby as well, who listens to one speech by Saif Haq and completely discards her reservations about a figure like him. Was the affair between Saif and Ruby a conscious narrative choice from the very beginning, considering it echoes the #metoo movement very closely, or was it something that born later out of the sequence of narrative events?

MM:  It is not just the young who fall prey to the false promises of the powerful and the privileged. The affair between Ruby and Saif, while it is an actual thing in the book, is also meant to function as a metaphor for how we the public, who should know better, allow ourselves to be seduced by celebrity and by the intoxicating but divisive rhetoric of populist leaders.


Saif is said to have been modelled on Imran Khan, although he is an echo of several public figures we have seen. Did you have any specific figure in mind when you wrote him or is he more of an amalgamation?

MM: In creating Saif Khan I channelled the arrogance, entitlement and charisma of several populist leaders who are prominent in the world today.


The heightened focus on integrity in a field that obviously seems to have none is a very striking anomaly through the novel. In India for example politics seems to have given up on pretences and external polish. Do you think perhaps that morally bankrupt politicians are more effective when they work with the façade of integrity, parading the importance of being earnest? Or is the scene changing in that regard?

MM: I don’t think that Indian leaders have dispensed with their soaring rhetoric about purifying their country and returning to some mythical golden age while simultaneously stepping into a glittering future. Populist leaders never tell their adoring public the truth: that they have no quick fixes and that meaningful change comes only through hard work and sacrifice. The best they can do when their hypocrisy or incompetence comes to light is to either blame others (the opposition, or minorities, or bad neighbours or hostile super powers or the ‘lying’ media or whatever) or else, conveniently ignoring the truth.


The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R is an exciting satire on the life and times of our current politics.


The life and dilemmas of Ruby R.

Ruby finds herself in politics, a field where even the best of people like Saif Haq have the moral compass of a plastic bag. But this is a game where Ruby will not be defeated. Get a glimpse into Moni Mohsin’s delightful new read through this excerpt:


Ruby had intended to push her way through the crowd to congratulate Saif on his rousing speech. Though neither as sophisticated nor as socially connected as Kiran, Ruby was not lacking in confidence. She knew from experience that diffidence in a woman was seldom rewarded. But once near the lectern, she was overwhelmed by unaccustomed shyness. Hugging her folder to her chest, Ruby lingered at the edge of the cluster around Saif. A couple of girls, she saw with a stab of envy, had managed to push through the thicket of boys and were now at his side, their radiant faces turned up to him like sunflowers.

He beamed at them from his great height. His caramel- coloured eyes crinkled at the corners and long vertical grooves creased his cheeks. Their voices raised in excitement, the boys were all speaking at once. One was suggesting they repair to the college canteen; another was asking how Saif intended to win the next election; a particularly loud one was demanding a selfie with him; Jazz was insisting that they go to a restaurant, while the handler with whom Saif had arrived—a beefy, middle-aged man sporting an ill-fitting blazer and a comb-over—stood by impassively.

Saif raised his hands as if in surrender and said in a loud but amused voice, ‘All right, everyone. All right.’ They fell silent at once. ‘I had a prior appointment, but you know what?’ He grinned at his fans. ‘I’ll cancel it. How’s that?’ His announcement was greeted with whoops of joy. Looking over the bobbing heads surrounding him, Saif glanced briefly at his companion who nodded and turned away. Pulling out a cell phone from his jacket pocket, he went towards the exit. Saif turned back to his admirers and laughed.

‘Okay,’ he said, clapping his hands, ‘let’s go to your restaurant then. But it better be a desi place. I’m sick of bland white food.’

Front Cover Ruby R
The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R||Moni Mohsin

An ecstatic Jazz, his face lit up by a gigantic grin, whipped out his cell phone and spoke rapid Punjabi into it. Then he announced: ‘It’s arranged. Choy Saab says there’s only one small table  of diners and they’re finishing. Restaurant is empty otherwise. He’ll hold it for us.’ Several students peeled away, citing essays and other commitments, and slouched reluctantly towards the exit. Kiran, brushing past Ruby without a word, followed them out. Ruby had to leave for her babysitting job. She would have to hurry if she wanted to be on time. But she was finding it hard to wrench herself away. It was as if Saif exerted some gravitational pull that forced her to stay in his orbit.

‘Ruby?’ Jazz called out. Their posse, now reduced to a core of about fifteen fans and Saif, was heading towards the exit. ‘You coming?’

‘Er, I’d love to, but I have to go somewhere,’ she said, edging away.

‘Can “somewhere” wait?’ asked Saif. He broke away from the crowd and approached her. ‘You’re a student here, right?’

‘Yes, master’s in business and media,’ she said primly, tightening her grip on her files. ‘But I did my undergrad in political science. From Punjab University, Pakistan,’ she added stupidly, colouring in embarrassment.

‘Wow! I would love to hear your views on our plans.’

Ruby patted her hair to ensure that her protuberant ears hadn’t burst through.

‘It’s just that I have this, er . . . commitment and I . . .’

‘Well, if it’s with someone significant then I mustn’t keep you.’ He smiled his crinkly smile at her.

‘Oh? Oh, no.’ Her hand flew to her mouth. ‘It’s not that. Not at all, no, no.’

‘So, then?’ He cocked a teasing eyebrow.

The group was getting restless behind them. Jazz cleared his throat noisily. Saif, his gaze squarely on Ruby, gave no indication that he had heard. Ruby fiddled with her folder. If she didn’t make it to her job tonight, she would be letting down Annie and Jack. She couldn’t really afford to forgo the payment and fall behind in her bills . . .

‘Okay, I’ll come,’ she said impulsively. ‘But I have to quickly send a text first.’

Ruby was not the impulsive sort. She was, in fact, quite the opposite—calm, cautious, deliberate. But much like the committed dieter who gives into temptation and has a slice of cake, and then follows it with a milkshake because the damage is already done, having broken her iron schedule once at Kiran’s behest, Ruby succumbed again. Knowing for certain that tomorrow would find her back at the library table in her usual place beside the window in the third aisle from the door, Ruby allowed herself this one indulgence. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. In what world would Saif Haq ever invite Ruby Rauf to dinner again?


The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R is exciting, and we can’t help but wonder how Ruby will fare in Saif’s ruthless world.

What’s new this December: books you can gift (or keep!)

‘Tis the season to be jolly – and what better way to be jolly than with some new books! Here’s what’s new at Penguin Random House this month. Choose to gift a fellow bookworm, or treat yourself!


From Pony To Unicorn
Front cover of From Pony to Unicorn
From Pony to Unicorn || Sanjeev Aggarwal, T.N. Hari


From Pony to Unicorn lucidly describes the X-to-10X journey that every start-up aspiring to become a unicorn has to go through. The book effortlessly narrates the fundamental principles behind scaling. Peppered with anecdotes, insights and practical wisdom, the book is a treasure trove of lessons derived from the authors’ rich personal experiences in both building and guiding several start-ups that went on to attain the ‘unicorn’ status and became public-listed companies.


The Impeccable Integrity Of Ruby R.
Front Cover of The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R.
The Impeccable Integrity Of Ruby R. || Moni Mohsin


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 again. 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 campaign as his social media manager.

With quicksilver dialogue, shrewd political insight and a thoughtful take on the MeToo debate, this sparkling novel reveals Moni Mohsin on top satirical form.


Masala Lab
Front cover of Masala Lab
Masala Lab || Krish Ashok


Masala Lab by Krish Ashok is a science nerd’s exploration of Indian cooking with the ultimate aim of making the reader a better cook and turning the kitchen into a joyful, creative playground for culinary experimentation. Just like memorizing an equation might have helped you pass an exam but not become a chemist, following a recipe without knowing its rationale can be a sub-optimal way of learning how to cook.


Not Many, But One Volumes I & II
Front cover of Not Many, But One Volume 1
Not Many, But One Volume 1 || G.K. Sasidharan
Front Cover of Not Many, But One Volume 2
Not Many, But One Volume 2 || G.K. Sasidharan


Sree Narayana Guru (1855-1928) was a spiritual leader and social reformer who led powerful movements to promote social equality. Not Many, But One brings together his work in two rich volumes of translation and interpretation, pieced together for a modern readership.


Your Best Day Is Today!
Front Cover of Your Best Day is Today!
Your Best Day is Today! || Anupam Kher


Your Best Day Is Today! is a compendium of experiences, lessons, and positive takeaways that will help you deal with the dark times in your life. It is a guide to getting in touch with your inner self and finding solutions to the problems that arise with adapting to changes in life. It is also a reminder of how you are not alone and there is always a way to make the best of any situation life throws at you. This book will inspire you and fill your heart with immense love, faith, and joy.


Non Obvious Megatrends
Front Cover of Non Obvious Megatrends
Non Obvious Megatrends || Rohit Bhargava


For the past ten years, Rohit Bhargava’s signature annual Non-Obvious Trend Report has helped over a million readers discover more than 100 trends changing our culture. Now for the first time, Rohit and his team of Non-Obvious trend curators reveal ten revolutionary new Megatrends that are transforming how we work, play and live.


Deadly Cross
Front Cover of Deadly Cross
Deadly Cross || James Patterson


A scandalous double homicide opens the psychological case files on Alex Cross… When a glamorous socialite and high school principal are found murdered, lying half naked in a car, the shocking double homicide dominates tabloid headlines. In a world of trouble, corruption, and secrets, Cross is left facing a desperate choice between breaking a trust and losing his way…


Paris By Starlight
Front Cover of Paris by Starlight
Paris by Starlight || Robert Dinsdale



Every night on their long journey to Paris from their troubled homeland, Levon’s grandmother has read to them from a very special book. Called the nocturne, it is a book full of fairy stories and the heroic adventures of their people who generations before chose to live by Starlight. And with every story that Levon’s grandmother tells them in their new home, the desire to live as their ancestors did grows. And that is when the magic begins…


Ready Player Two
Front Cover of Ready Player Two
Ready Player Two || Ernest Cline


Days after winning OASIS founder James Halliday’s contest, Wade Watts makes a discovery that changes everything. Hidden within Halliday’s vaults, waiting for his heir to find, lies a technological advancement that will once again change the world and make the OASIS a thousand times more wondrous—and addictive—than even Wade dreamed possible.

With it comes a new riddle, and a new quest—a last Easter egg from Halliday, hinting at a mysterious prize.


Front Cover of Dearly
Dearly: Poems || Margaret Atwood


Before she became one of the world’s most important and loved novelists, Margaret Atwood was a poet. Dearly is her first collection in over a decade. It brings together many of her most recognisable and celebrated themes, but distilled — from minutely perfect descriptions of the natural world to startlingly witty encounters with aliens, from pressing political issues to myth and legend. Dearly is a pure Atwood delight, and long-term readers and new fans alike will treasure its insight, empathy and humour.


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