As literature, ‘Ali’s first novel is reasonably interesting, a short of awkwardly written, Delhi-based Buddonbrooks. As history and cultural record, though, it is fascinating. Originally published in Britain in 1940 and making its first appearance in the U.S, Twilight concerns the upper-class Muslim merchant Mir Nihal and his extended family. Mir Nihal and his wife were young children during the 1857 Mutiny and the resultant brutality on both sides. Now, in 1911, two of their sons work in government offices and the third one wears English shirt and shoes—a sure sign of Delhi’s imminent demise.
Even the present crops of anti-British activists are beyond Mir Nihal’s ken—“He was one of those who had believed in fighting with naked swords in their hands. The young only agitated.” Mir Nihal’s intense nationalism often seems historical in rhetorical or in retrospect - Hindu feeling ran just as strongly against Muslim “occupiers” once the hated English left. The real residual power of the mogul golden age is not political (the surviving descendants of Bahadur Shah are all beggars and cripples) but cultural, and Ali’s book is first and foremost a tender record of traditional family ceremonies, of kite battles and the old aristocratic body of pigeon flying. The cries of the pigeon flyers are the ubi sunt accompanying Ali’s portrayal of the parallel decline of Mir Nihal’s family and of mogul Delhi!
In this novel written I English and completed in 1939, Ali, an Urdu-speaking native of India, commemorated the daily melody of traditional life in the old city Delhi among the last, impoverished heirs to the refined Mughal civilization that dominated India until the advent of the English. Set during the early years of this century, it recaptures the texture of family life for Mir Nihal, a well-born Muslim who loves pigeons and whose son wants to get married. It recounts how that son, Asghar,…. I have just finished reading a great novel (Twilight in Delhi by Ahmed Ali) (not for its plot but in it descriptions and language) set in Delhi, just after the war of independence (1857) about the life and times of an upper middle class Muslim family…. This novel is now deemed a classic and was written in 1940 by Ahmed Ali and initially banned by the British… for obvious reasons if you read it!
But is highly recommended, and describes a lifestyle which is now, sadly, vanished for ever….
If you are a Muslim you will find this book especially poignant and moving for all Sub continentals it tells of how much the British Occupation actually did to destroy Indo-Muslim heritage and culture; will be of interest to all those who want to know what real Islamic culture was like and the effect of imperialism on it. Especially relevant in light of recent events in NYC.Ahmed Ali poignant storyline acts as a prelude to the social events to follow that would change the city and its people forever. It allows us to go back in time and be a part of old Delhi, now nonexistent. The introduction (written much later) is a confusing blend of history of the city and author’s post – independence experience. I disagree about his comments regarding Rammohan Roy, which is inconsistent in the prose. But all in all, thoroughly enjoyable!