Ahmed Ali once said that people did not give his novel “Twilight in Delhi” a reading which it deserved. According to him, people were unable to feel and see its symbols. It does not seem true. Even after his death may writers explored his novel. Critics as well as students of literature want to know symbolism in “Twilight in Delhi”. This novel is much important not only for us but also for Ahmed Ali. It was widely read in the world when it was published and it made Ahmed Ali one of the prominent writers of sub-continent.
“Twilight in Delhi” is not only a simple story. It is much more than that. Ahmed Ali strikes superstition beliefs, ups and downs of life, culture, colonialism and history in “Twilight in Delhi” through technique of symbolism. We see history in the background, culture at the front and life story of Mir Nihal as plot of the novel. Ahmed Ali gives description of every object. Nothing is insignificant in this novel. Everything explains something in hidden meanings. For instance, henna tree has unique symbol, Asghar’s clothes indicates acceptance of new values. Mir Nihal’s life also gives indirect suggestions. Thus, each object, every character and incident of the story point out something important. Symbolically, they have meanings other than their literal meanings.
A lot of symbols can be found in the novel. For instance, palm tree in start of the novel is green and its leaves have freshness but at the end we see no leave on it. Freshness of tree symbolizes for freshness of life and the status of a flourished culture but at the end of novel its sullied condition reveals horrible condition of life and culture. How change effects the environment as well as life is shown through the technique of symbolism in “Twilight in Delhi”. .
Second but most important symbol of the novel is found in character of Mir Nihal. We observe a prosperous Mir Nihal in start. He is living a happy life along with his family. Mir Nihal is not only the representative of a class but also a symbol of life. Whole story of the novel revolves around him and his family. Novel ends with his paralyzed condition, which indicates paralyzed Muslim culture. Similarly, pigeon flying and kite flying show the customs of a society, which, at the end of novel can no more be seen. Mir Nihal is also a symbol of old generation, who resists change. He does not accept change. He always tries to defend his culture but his carelessness ruins it. Mir Nihal’s character is also symbolized by the writer to indicate different aspects of life. He resists but too late.
Cat’s attack on unlocked cage of pigeons symbolizes that Muslims are not caring about their values; they are not protecting their culture. Cat is symbol of British people, whereas pigeons are symbolizes for Muslim culture. Cat’s attack on the pigeons, in real meanings, is attack on Muslim culture. Mir Nihal, at the end of novel sees no more kites on the sky; it clearly shows that the people have lost their identities. No one is interested in reviving his culture. Mir Nihal although does not say anything yet he understands that things have been shattered.
Asghar Ali’s character, on the other hand, is symbol of new generation; a generation which accepts change and does not resist. He likes his own culture but finds pleasure in adopting British culture. We observe a hybrid culture in very start of the novel. He wears English clothes; Mir Nihal rebukes him because he cannot bear British invasion. As compared to him, his son likes it. Asghar Ali indicates a generation which wants change at any cost. It shows that British people first won minds of people and then physically defeated them. Asghar’s character is an example that Muslims accepted colonialism with open arms and when they realized that they committed a mistake it was too late for them to react.
Mir Nihal’s house is also an important symbol. It is divided into two parts. Zanana and Mardana. Zanana is fixed for women, whereas Mardana for men. It is important to note that when illness of a family member becomes critical, he is moved to Zanana part of the house, where he is cared by women. Ironically, those women, who are being deprived from their rightful shares, care for their near and dear ones in hard days of life. Men feel consolation in hands of women. Nevertheless, division of the house symbolizes that women can never be equal to men.
Mehru is symbol of helplessness. Her marriage is a blunder. Bilqees’ character shows that women become slaves after marriage and they can do nothing but to spend a miserable life.
Faqirs, pirjis, poets, beggars and molvies are also also symbols. They symbolize for superstition beliefs. People believe in beggars and faqirs more than religion. They believe that amulets can cure their diseases. Beggar’s scolding is prophesy of a worst future. Similarly, owl’s hoot symbolizes for downfall. Qawali is symbol of enthusiasm. Profession of alchemy symbolizes for wastage of time and “nothing to do”. In fact, Ahmed Ali tried to put symbol in each and every object. Symbolically, every word refers something and has a deeper meaning in context of the whole story.
“Twilight in Delhi” proves that Ahmed Ali is master of technique of symbolism. He knows how to use it, when to use it and where to use it. It is not wrong to say that he got fame only due to “Twilight in Delhi” and that too because of technique of symbolism. In fact, symbolism reveals from title of the novel i.e. “Twilight in Delhi”. Word “Twilight” is a separate symbol. “Delhi” is separate. “Word Delhi” becomes a character simultaneously a symbol. Whole novel is a symbol of life. There is an element of universality in “Twilight in Delhi” because of the technique of symbolism. Muhammad Hassan Askari while explaining the technique of symbolism in “Twilight in Delhi” said:
“This novel does not remain the story of Delhi alone, but is simultaneously the story of the life of mankind. When we finish the book, the centre of our tragic sense is not only Delhi, but life itself.”Muhammad Hassan Askari on symbolism in “Twilight in Delhi”