Twilight in Delhi is the only Indian novel that called for the freedom of India from British rule. It brings history alive, depicting most movingly the decay of an entire culture and way of life. "See there go the horses and the Farangis
" "Don't you see them? Those are the people who have been our undoing, and will be yours too
" "But you will be brave, my child, and fight them one day. Won't you
?" "You will be brave," Mir Nihal repeated as he wiped the child's tears with his fingers, "and drive them out of the country
" The detail, as E.M. Forster said, is "new and fascinating, it is poetic and brutal, delightful and callous."
First published by the Hogarth Press in 1940, Twilight in Delhi was widely acclaimed by critics and hailed in India, and all over the English-speaking world, as a major literary event. It has since become a great classic, and is now available as a Rupa publication. Twilight has been translated into French, Spanish, Italian and Urdu.
About the Author
Novelist, poet, critic, diplomat, scholar, Ahmed Ali was born in Delhi in 1910. Educated at Aligarh and Lucknow universities, standing first-class and first in the order of merit in both B.A. (Honours), 1930 and M.A. English, 1931. He taught at the universities of Lucknow, Allahabad and Agra from 1932-46 and joined the Bengal Senior Education Service as professor and Head of the English Department at Presidency College. Calcutta (1944-47). He was BBC's representative and director in India during the War and went to China in 1946 as British Council Visiting Professor at the National Central University, Nanking. He was a distinguished visiting professor at Michigan State University in 1975 and Fulbright Visiting Professor of English and History at the Universities of Southern Illinois and Western Kentucky in 1978-79.
He became famous in 1932 with the publication of Angarey, in Urdu. He co-founded the All-India Progressive Writers Movement and Association and was the pioneer of the modern Urdu short story. After the Indian subcontinent was divided he lived in Pakistan and established embassies in China and Morocco.
Ahmed Ali had a deep interest in Sufism and a passion for Ghalib. His writings voiced concern over the decay of Muslim culture and the injustices of colonial powers. He was proficient in several language including French, Chinese, Persian and Quranic Arabian. His career spanned the better part of the twentieth century. Ahmed Ali died in Karachi in 1994.
To pay tribute and in recognition of his enduring contribution to international letters and services to the nation, the Government of Pakistan issued a commemorative postage stamp on Professor Ahmed Ali in 2005.
Back of the Book
"It is beautiful written and very moving
At the end one has a poignant feeling that poetry and daily life have got parted, and will never come together again."- E.M. Forster
"It may well be that we shall not understand India until until it is explained to us by Indian novelists of the first ability, as it was that we understood nothing of Russia before we read Tolstoy, Turgenev and the others. Ahmed Ali may be the vanguard of such a literary movement.-Maurice Collis in Time and Tide
Twilight in Delhi is a gem of novel. It is a classic.K. Natwar Singh
The damage done by colonial powers to the heritage of conquered people is irreversible; yet racial memory is a collective storehouse that time and history cannot eradicate. In Mexico and Peru, the Spaniards conquered the vast Aztec and Inca empires in the early part of the sixteenth century, and became the rulers of millions of human beings, sanctified by Papal bulls to convert heathen peoples to Christianity and impose their languages upon them, which the Portuguese also did in Brazil. In Africa, the British, Dutch and Portuguese captured, enchained, baptized and hsipped twenty million able-bodied men, women and children as slaves to the Americas, of which only twelve million reached alive. And on the lands they had captured, they imposed their rule and language
When the Europeans came to the Orient, it was to an Islamic World; and they had been awed by Islam since the conquest of Spain, Sicily and parts of France in the eighth and ninth centuries. Islam had come to symbolize for them 'Terror, devastation, the demonic hordes of hated barbarians, as Edward W. Said says in his incisive analysis, Orientalism. For Europe, he continues, 'Islam was a lasting trauma. Until the end of the seventeenth century the 'Ottoman peril' lurked
to represent for the whole of a Christian civilization a constant danger.
The British arrived in India at the beginning of the seventeenth century when the Mughals were in power, having been preceded by the Portuguese who came to Calicut in 1498 in search of 'Christians and Spices,' followed by the Dutch, who sent a fleet to the East in 1595. During the reign of the Great Mughals the British expanded their trade and competed with their rivals the Portuguese, Dutch and French. Their territories were confined to a few miles within the island of Bombay and Madras city, a few factories and warehouses in the Bay of Bengal, with a fortified post set up at Aramgaon about 1625. For fifty years after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the English merchants kept away from politics and fighting. Though commercially astute, the Company's servants were not trained for politics or war. But after the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and the capture of Delhi by the Afghan Chieftain Ahmad Shah Abdali, when Mughal power began to decline, the East India Company's forces were built up by the wily robber baron Clive, who changed the mercantile character of the Company to that of war lords. After the successful Battle of Baksar in 1764 and the maneuvering of the revenue collection of Bengal from Shah Alam in 1765, the British could look to mastery of India. They succeeded in establishing virtual control by 1818.
Though elated by their achievement, the British were afraid of the hidden fire of religion that had been revived by the movement of Shah Waliullah (1703-62). The great scholar and theologian of Delhi, who had gone to the Hedjaz in 1730 and studied the conditions of Europe, Africa, and Iran, as well as Turkey and its European empire, had seen the shadows of decadence lengthening over the Muslim world. Returning in 1732, he issued warnings against the corrupt social system, addressing admonishing letters to the princes and lords demanding the abolition of the entire decrepit feudal order, warning against the danger from foreign powers which he described as 'stars glowing in the darkness like the eyes of serpents or the stings of scorpions. And even though he wrote secretly for help to Ahmad Shah Abdali, the Afghan King, in 1761, he failed to call the 'Muslims to rally round the throne (in the words of Percival Spear in his History of India) 'and took refuge in the concept of the community of the faithful looking only to God. Yet the impact of his movement was so great and lasting that it continued to be felt till the end of the nineteenth century. It was vengefully suppressed as the 'Wahabi' conspiracy by the British Indian Government (which replaced the East India Company after the fiasco of 1857) with mock trials of Muslim scholars, many of whom were hanged or condemned to penal servitude in the Andaman Islands, where most died of hardships greater than anything suffered by American prisoners at Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay
The danger was real enough to awaken the British after their successes in the eighteenth century to the urgency of what was to be done to consolidate their position, and led to open debates and discussions at the dinner tables of public men over how best to revamp the policies of governing and of reshaping India into a new Western mold. Conservative Tories like Warren Hastings and W.W. Wilson stood for non-interference in the prevailing religiosocial institutions of the country. Warren Hastings (Governor 1772-85) tried to locate himself within the Orient, and laid emphasis on Indian institutions of learning. But the Tories were challenged by the Evangelicals of William Wilberforce, who, with William Pitt and Charles Grant (Chairman of the Company's Board of Directors) supporting them, were hungry for souls, like the Spaniards and Portuguese in the sixteenth century and wanted to save the Indian people from idolatry and Islam by preaching the Gospel. They were joined by the Radicals in denouncing Indian customs. Thus, while the Evangelicals preached Christianity openly in schools and market places, the Radicals denounced Indian culture, beliefs and religious practices as barbaric and superstitious. Supported by reformers and helped by sympathizers like Ram Mohan Roy, they became responsible for evolving a policy that changed the face and mental attitudes of India to what we- the splintered pieces of a whole-have inherited, warped and distorted into a new image of Prajapati (with the sacrifice of himself to himself at the behest of the gods who, it so happened, were his own offspring).
With the coming of William Bentinck, a Benthamite, as Governor-General (1825-35), the framework of 'anglicizing' was completed with the planting of Western ideas through education, in order to fulfill, with typical English imperialist arrogance (overlooking the state of ignorance and immorality at home) 'the great moral duty to India, and to introduce and promote knowledge of the sciences, to which Bentinck added in 1829 the British language, 'the key to all improvements'. Thus Persian, the centuries old court language, was abolished as well as Arabic and Sanskrit, with the object of producing (in the words of Tomas Babington (Lord) Macaulay's Minute fo 1835) 'a class of person, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste and character, in morals and intellect. Hence schools and colleges were set up to convert Indians to brown Englishmen through knowledge imparted in the English language, a tradition which has been followed by the surrogates to this day.
This change was, however, confined to the sophisticated urban population; village life continued undisturbed by the so called "civilizing" influence of Westernization and remained as unenviable as it had been under the time old tyrannical caste system and Brahmanic domination, untouched by the 'benevolent' British rule. That is why, it seems, the Hindu English novelists of the thirties and later, in search of the real India, turned to the countryside for 'copy', as here alone lived the India of 'Brahma' and Prajapati; of Varuna, Mithra; of Rama
. and Yagnavalkys ( in the words of Raja Rao), symbols of the India the West preserved but did not ostensibly understand, in glaring contrast to their unseating of the Mughals and erasing of everything Islamic.
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