The turn of socio-political events triggered waves of socio-cultural innovations impacting the social configuration. Literature, a powerful torchbearer of such events, functions as the curator of history and allows its readers to enjoy the moment with its power of storytelling.
Twilight in Delhi by Ahmed Ali is one of those masterpieces at a time when the history of the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent was being rewritten and Dili was gradually becoming Delhi. Ahmed Ali was an English teacher and portrayed life around him in Urdu as part of India’s progressive writers movement. He invented his writing in English in the 1940s, but told the story of British intervention in the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent in its early stages. With this account by Ahmed, he became the leading literary voice for Indian Muslims restarting their lives after being forced out of the corridors of power under the dominant and powerful British presence in their hitherto free and independent city.
Throughout Delhi’s history, it has been destroyed, occupied and has seen further socio-cultural changes. Yet this time it was a dominance that would take India’s long-established Muslim culture out of the echelons of power and out of their minds. Delhi’s history bears witness to the precise moment when this process of transformation began. Thus, Mughal Delhi felt the thrust of its socio-cultural twilight under rapidly expanding British power. This twilight in Delhi was not only that of Muslim power but also that of their cultural life. The Muslim way of life had been expelled from the palaces and existed only in Delhi’s alleys and houses. Mir Nihal’s house, still an exhibition of the Mughal Muslim way of life, also felt the cultural intervention entering his house as his son Asghar gradually adopted British living practices with his upbringing, work and dress. His wives were still carriers of Mughal Muslim culture when it came to socio-cultural events like marriage and death ceremonies. Life on the streets of Delhi was still more or less a Mughal Muslim lifestyle with its prayer calls, pigeon flights, kites, night gatherings and meetings, qawwali functions and marketing.
Twilight in Delhi is not just about the dry fall of Mughal culture and history; it talks about love and romance from the first to the last chapter and counts the love between Mir Nihal and Babban Jan Asghar and Mushtri Bai, Asghar and Bilqees and Asghar and Zohra. There are elaborate scenes of imaginative and real romance and love. Some love affairs culminate in marriage and some in death, but some marriages occur without love. Asghar’s marriage to Bilqees is a love affair, Mahru’s is a loveless marriage and Mir Nihal’s love for Baban Jan is unmarried. After the death of his first wife, Asghar falls in love again with Zohra, the younger sister of his deceased wife. Although Zohra was involved with Asghar for some time because of Asghar’s young daughter, her family did not agree to give their second daughter to a home where the first was not so warmly welcomed. Thus, Asghar is left alone with his daughter only after Zohra is married to another family.
Twilight of Delhi is reflected in the stories of several characters, which can be called respective twilights. For example, Asghar’s love life shines for a short time but very soon it falls to twilight when his wife dies, and he longs for Zohra’s love, but this twilight soon gives way to darkness when Zohra is married to someone else. The same goes for Mir Nihal’s love for Babban Jan, which shines for a while, but the cycle of nature proves cruel to her and she dies alone and unattended. This loss remained a source of long-standing pain for Mir Nihal. Similarly, Asghar’s sister, Begum Waheed, was able to enjoy marital bliss for a few years and her husband died at the age of 19, but she decided not to remarry and live as a widow all her life. .
Socio-politically, the twilight of Mughal Muslim rule and culture meant the dawn of British government and civilization in Delhi and its dominance throughout India as part of the strategy of civilization and colonization in India. British Empire. The Indians could witness the scenes of the British presence in the form of their soldiers, guns and official jobs. Indian Muslims saw the coronation of the British king in India instead of many coronations of their Indian kings. Thus, if, on the one hand, the city of Delhi appeared as a British socio-political whole installed in the places of power of the city, on the other hand, it always appeared Mughal in its socio-cultural location, although under the threat of British domination of the hegemonic culture.
The novel reminds us of the established literary traditions of India, especially concerning poetry, which is both mundane and divine. The story of the novel is dotted with various poetic instances, sometimes translated and sometimes transliterated. The writer successfully incorporated them into the structure of the story. These seem to be part of the story, translating and reinforcing its meaning and giving strong and bright color to Indian poetic traditions in Urdu. The novel is a story mixed with a story and must be part of the reading of fiction by Pakistanis in particular.
The author is a professor of English at Government Emerson University in Multan. He can be reached at [email protected] and Tweets at @Profzee