Have you ever pondered deeply of the early modern times that touched the grounds of India, the times of colonial India or maybe the happenings of the early 20th century India apart from the sluggish and awry readings in the history books? Does it give you a shrill in your veins when you think of India’s past or the atrocities of Britishers or the massive decline of the Mughal lineage? If it does then ‘Twilight in Delhi’ is a perfect book for you.
Published in 1940’s and set in the backdrop of 1910-1930, Twilight in Delhi has all the required elements to make you feel like a history book but it is much more than that. It should be seen as a living account of the author, a memoir of the citizen of those times, their feelings, emotions and philosophy in the hands of Britishers. It’s based on the life of Mir Nihal, his wife Begum Nihal and his son Asghar. It talks about the last 20 years or so of their lives in Delhi, with an elaborate description of Delhi and the erroneous decline of the golden Indo-Islamic heritage in India. He is saddened by the influence of British upon Delhi. Asghar is shown to have a progressive aim and modernised approach but is despised by his father. It is perhaps right to say that this book shows a clash between the generations within the family.
The writing style is also what makes this book the most memorable. It is lucid and lyrical at times proclaiming the author to be a poet as well. Some of the paragraphs on Delhi, India, Mughals and declining Indian cultures are written so immaculately that you are condemned to read them again and again until you are finished collecting gems embedded between the words. Some examples of those lines are:-
But the city of Delhi, built hundreds of years ago, fought for, died for, coveted for and desired. Built and destroyed and rebuilt, for five and six and seven times, mourned and sang raped and conjured, yet whole and alive, lies indifferent in the arms of sleep. It was the city of kings and monarchs, of poets and storytellers, courtiers and nobles. But no kings live there today, and the poets are feeling a lack of patronage, and the old inhabitants thought still alive, have lost their pride and grandeur under a foreign yoke. Yet the city stands still intact, as do many more forts and tombs and monuments, remnants and reminders of old Delhi, holding on a life with a tenacity and purpose which is beyond comprehension and belief.
It was built after the great war of Mahabharata by Raja Yudhishtir in 1453 BC, and has been a course of many a great and historic battle. Destruction is in its foundation and blood is in its soil. It has seen the falling of many a glorious kingdom, and listened to the groans of birth. It is the symbol of life, and revenge is in its nature.
The great revolt of 1857, Coronation of King George V in Delhi and World War 1 also finds a mention in this book thus making it a must-read a memoir of the people unknown to us today but their groans and despair still visible to us. This book is, perhaps, a must read for those who wants to divulge into the past unspoken to us and interact with India, the real India.
Author- Ahmed Ali
Trivia- The novel was not published until after the intervention of the prominent English writer E.M Forster and Virginia Woolf.