Ahmed Ali as a Novelist
“Twilight in Delhi” is a novel, through which we can adjudge Ahmed Ali’s writing style. It is the best piece of literature so far as literature in English language around the world is concerned. Undoubtedly, Ahmed was the best storyteller and a blessed writer. There was a competition in Urdu literature among writers in that era but Ahmed Ali preferred to write in English language. It was not possible to compete gurus of Urdu literature but Ahmed Ali tried his best to compete them; whether he competed them or not, it is another topic yet it is sure that he learnt a lot from them. Poetry, novels, and dramas were being written in Urdu and they became best for every nation. In that time, when people were concentrating only on Urdu language, Ahmed Ali concentrated on both; English as well as Urdu. Undoubtedly, most of his work is based on Urdu language but he got fame in English especially because of his novel “Twilight in Delhi”. There are two main reasons behind his fame. Firstly, there was no rival writer in that era, who could write and compete Ahmed Ali as everyone was concentrating on Urdu. Secondly, English was a universal language and was being read everywhere. Urdu was bound to specific people, whereas there was no boundary for English language. Thus, Ahmed Ali became famous without putting much effort.
It absolutely does not mean that he has gained fame without having a creative mind. In fact, he is best until now. No one can surpass him till today in respect of his artistic qualities. He had command in English language and knowledge about every literary technique. He was a good storyteller; He knew how to use symbolism; he knew how to describe a scene and above all, he was well aware about the fact that reality based literature is liked and appreciated in the world, therefore, he wrote reality based stories and novels without mentioning any utopian world in them. If he is famous today and is read over the world, it is because of his artistic qualities. Here, we will focus mainly on his novelistic qualities especially with reference to “Twilight in Delhi”.
First and foremost thing which is best about Ahmed Ali is that he is a good storyteller. He wrote about his own people. In “Twilight in Delhi” he talked about the decay of a culture and nation but with a plot; he wrote history but it is not boring. He blended historical incidents in a plot. The story of Mir Nihal apparently is the story of an individual but it actually presents the downfall of Mughal Empire; it reveals the decay of a culture; it transpires the downfall of a nation. With a plot, he described many other elements in this novel. Readers does not need any historical knowledge while reading this novel; it is because it is a simple story but not as simple as it seems. It is more than mere a tale because it is creative; every symbol has a meaning; every word suggests something and every character is representative of his class and generation. In storytelling technique, we can compare Ahmed Ali to Geoffrey Chaucer. Hence, his storytelling technique is so stunning that every word increases the interest of reader in the novel.
Secondly, Ahmed Ali’s work is based on his autobiographical experiences. As mentioned supra, he talked about his own culture. Every culture has something interesting to see. “Twilight in Delhi” is about values and norms of Muslim society. Muslim culture and values seek attention of every nation. “Taj Mahal” is an example of it. Indo-Pak culture is very impressive and a lot of nations try to feel it. Since the novel is based on this amazing culture, therefore, it increases interest of the readers. Carlo Coppola wrote about autobiographical work of Ahmed Ali:-
“Ali’s best stories are those which are autobiographical in nature, or which explore the internal workings of his psyche.”
About “Twilight in Delhi”, Ahmed Ali himself once said:-
“my purpose in writing the novel was to depict phase of our national life and the decay of a whole culture, a particular mode of through and living, values now dead and gone already right before our eyes. Seldom is one allowed to see a pageant of History whirl past and participate in it too.”
Ahmed Ali masterly described the national life, particular mode of through and living and values in his novel, therefore, it made his novel more interesting for the readers.
Symbolism is another technique, due to which he is famous. “Twilight in Delhi” is full of symbols. Even writers, who belonged to his culture, are unable to define symbols used in the novel. Ahmed Ali felt that people did not give his novel a reading which it deserved, therefore, they are unable to see and feel its symbols. Being students of literature, we know that symbolism is the technique of saying something in hidden meanings. “Twilight in Delhi” is a good example of it, in which we see a bundle of symbols. For instance, the broom under the bed is symbol of superstition beliefs, Zana-Mardana division of the house revealed monetary value of the women; Mushtari Bai is a symbol of double standards of men in Muslim society, Asghar’s English clothes indicate openheartedly acceptation of British culture and invasion; at the end, Mir Nihal’s paralyzed condition indicates the paralyzed condition of Muslim culture and their values. In addition to it, beggars, streets, “Qawal” (singers), fruit vendors, prostitutions, in fact each and everything prove that Ahmed Ali is a creative writer and he has command on the technique of symbolism.
Realistic presentation of every object and character is an important technique of Ahmed Ali. We see no utopian world; no exaggeration; no blunder and no amplification in “Twilight in Delhi”. Everything seems true to nature, whether it is a scene, an object, a character or a feeling. Moreover, he put reality in front of his readers. Although, he presented his own culture yet he did not hide evil of his society nor he tried to give any justification of their evils. He described them as he saw them. If they were bad, he wrote them bad. If they were good he wrote them good. In fact, every word of the novel is believable and seems true. In “Twilight in Delhi”, parade scene at the durbar is considered an extraordinary piece of real description and proved that Ahmed Ali was a realistic writer.
As regards the command on English language, Ahmed Ali was interested in learning English. His vocabulary was strong and flexible. He used words from his own experience. He translated Urdu verses into English. Urdu was his mother tongue even then he wrote this novel in English. It is difficult for a writer to translate a culture in another language because culture and language are interlinked with each other even then Ahmed Ali very beautify depicted a cultural-life in secondary language.
Being a novelist, Ahmed Ali had every such quality which was required. Due to these artistic qualities, no one could surpass him. He is unmatchable. Many critics appreciated his work. In an interview, Ahmed Ali said about “Twilight in Delhi”:-
“My book was launched absolutely on its own merits. My book introduced itself into the world, and the moment it came out, all the great critics, all the greatest living critics of England at that time, wrote the finest, most glowing reviews of it. They paid compliments to may English, to the lucidity of my style, the depiction of life, which was a vivid”