It is clear to every reader that Ahmed Ali takes interest in presenting his own culture. He loved his culture. “Twilight in Delhi” is entirely about the downfall of Muslim civilization. Cultural values are beautifully depicted in this novel. Carlo Coppola has rightly said that Ahmed Ali’s best stories are those which are autobiographical in nature. Ahmed Ali belonged to a Muslim “Imam” family. He saw people of Delhi and experienced their values. In fact, he was part of Delhi Muslim society. With wider experience and knowledge, he wrote this novel and portrayed a beautiful culture in it. “Twilight in Delhi” is not bound to a single subject; there are a lot of different things, which have been discussed by Ahmed Ali in it. In this article, we will talk about the themes, used in this novel.
“Twilight”, the word itself is a whole theme. Twilight, as we all know that is the time after sunset, when things become unclear. As mentioned supra, Ahmed Ali has written about the collapse of a culture and a nation. Through Mir Nihal’s family, he has presented the whole Muslim class. British were colonizing the country but Muslims were unaware about it. Their norms were also going to be snatched from them but they were uninformed; their identity was going to be changed. Twilight here symbolizes for the time, which elucidates struggle of Muslims to identify their culture and to maintain it. Mir Nihal was seeing his son wearing English clothes but he remained unaware about the change in the whole society. He was considering it a change in an individual but it was the change in whole culture. He was ignorant that old values were going to be replaced with new ones. In a very short span of time (the time of twilight), a large change was going to be taken place. Muslims were seeing the power of British people but they did not notify change in their culture. They acknowledged the change in power but not in their society. When it comes into the knowledge of Muslims, it was too late for them. Their culture had become paralyzed till their acknowledgement. Thus, Twilight word is self-explanatory; it was a short period of time, in which Muslims could not realize that darkness of night is near to them. Hence, twilight symbolizes for unclear and vague things, it stands for short period of time, therefore, it is a major theme of this novel.
Depiction of domestic life and culture is another major theme of this novel. Whole novel revolved around customs of Muslims society, who were living in the grand city of Delhi. A lot of customs can be identified in the novel. The people, who are unaware about the customs of Delhi Muslims, can read this novel and get knowledge about Muslim culture. Domestic life of the people is very beautifully presented by Ahmed Ali. We see people flying pigeons, gossiping, flying kites, listening ghazals, singing songs, talking and enjoying their lives in many such like activities. Women were bound to household activities, whereas men were bound to earn bread for their families. Every custom of Muslim civilization of Delhi has been minutely mentioned in this novel. Ahmed Ali’s efforts in this regard cannot be ignored. He also demonstrated some superstition beliefs such as putting broom under the bed, “Nazar Lagna”, amulet practice, considering storm the marriage of Jin’s etc. Thus, the novel is also about the domestic life of Muslims and it is the prominent theme of the novel.
Some other themes, such as change in culture, loss of values, resistance against change, downfall of an empire, effects of colonization, are also there, which are interlinked with each other. Undoubtedly, there was a heavy change in culture, wherein people were losing their values. In the background, downfall of Mughal Empire has also been mentioned. Moreover, the question that how colonization effects a nation is also answered by Ahmed Ali. These are also related themes of the novel but they are interlinked with each other. These themes can be covered in “customs and values” and in the theme of “Twilight”.
Religion is the major theme of this novel. Ahmed Ali himself belonged to a well respected family, who was duty bound to mosque related activities. Morning “Azan” has its own importance in the novel. “Molvi”, “Faqir” and Jins are related to religion. In those days, religion was an essential part of everyone’s life. People offered their prayers. “Imams” as well as “Muazans” were well respected, who remained away from moral corruption. Even when a person became extreme ill, a “Faqir” was called in order to soothe him. Qawali was famous among them and people often enjoyed themselves listening to famous Qawals. Sufism is also related to religion and Sufis were also well respected in their culture. On the other hand, superstition beliefs were also being followed by them along with religion. On illness of a person, instead of calling a doctor or medic, they call for “pirji” or “faqir”. Thus, people found hope in their religion; however, with the passage of time, this hope was fading. Anyhow, religion is also a major theme of this novel.
“Sex” is perhaps favourite them of Ahmed Ali. He talks about it because people of his era were passionate about it. Every character, in the novel, directly or indirectly is passionate about sex. Prostitution was the part of that culture. Brothels (spelled Kotha in the novel) were everywhere and people spent most of their time in brothels instead of homes. Asghar, when became sad, he went to brothel, where he found sexual satisfaction. Mir Nihal had illicit relationship outside of his house. He used to come late at home because he spent his time in the company of tawaifs. Asghar was deeply in love with Bilqees but at the end, he realized that it was not love but attraction. Bilqees could not sexually satisfy her, therefore, his love came to an end for her. Enjoying the company of prostitutes was considered bad but at the same time it was symbol of aristocracy. People, who are fond of prostitutes, were considered noble. Indeed, sex is also a major theme of this novel.
No one can forget the theme of colonialism in postcolonial literature. Ahmed Ali, in his interview said that I did not write against British people. He is right, it is not against British people but it indeed reveals the effect of colonization on a society. In hidden meanings, he capture clear picture of a society, who suffered due to colonialism. Chinua Achebe has directly attacked white people but Ahmed Ali did it indirectly. Definitely, colonialism ruined the life of people. In fact, its marks still can be found on the people, whose ancestors suffered due to it.
A wide variety of themes can be found in this novel. Above discussed themes are apparent and are visible to anyone but apart from them, there are some themes, which are hidden because they are presented through symbolism. Ahmed Ali symbolically described a lot of themes in “Twilight in Delhi”. Thematic concept of Ahmed Ali was remarkable. He knew what to write and how to write. He had an incredible ability to express any idea in shape of words. “Twilight in Delhi” is significant example of it. It is not wrong to say that if the novel is fresh today it is because of its remarkable themes.