Read Twilight in Delhi by Ahmed Ali Online


Set in nineteenth-century India between two revolutionary moments of change, Twilight in Delhi brings history alive, depicting most movingly the loss of an entire culture and way of life. As Bonamy Dobree said, "It releases us into a different and quite complete world. Mr. Ahmed Ali makes us hear and smell Delhi...hear the flutter of pigeons’ wings, the cries of itinerantSet in nineteenth-century India between two revolutionary moments of change, Twilight in Delhi brings history alive, depicting most movingly the loss of an entire culture and way of life. As Bonamy Dobree said, "It releases us into a different and quite complete world. Mr. Ahmed Ali makes us hear and smell Delhi...hear the flutter of pigeons’ wings, the cries of itinerant vendors, the calls to prayer, the howls of mourners, the chants of qawwals, smell jasmine and sewage, frying ghee and burning wood." The detail, as E.M. Forster said, is "new and fascinating," 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 as a major literary event. Long since considered a landmark novel, it is now available in the U.S. as a New Directions Classic. Twilight in Delhi has also been translated into French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Urdu....

Title : Twilight in Delhi
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780811212670
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 200 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Twilight in Delhi Reviews

  • Sairam Krishnan
    2019-05-17 15:38

    A glorious novel.I read City of Djinns earlier this year, and with Dalrymple reccomending this book, had been meaning to get my hands on it for quite some time.And on (surprisingly) moving to Delhi last month, bought it immediately. Read it this rainy weekend, and reading it, broke my heart.Ahmed Ali writes with a sadness that permeates into you, and you cringe inwardly at scenes that time has now rendered obsolete. The story of Mir Nihal and his family is a classic, and the novel brings to life Old Delhi and its inhabitants in a way that you can actually feel them, hold them.I've always been convinced that novels, in a way, are also about the places in which they are set. If a writer does not succeed in making us smell the air of that place, he has, in effect, failed as an artist. I do not rate Life of Pi highly because of this. Martel never resurrected my Pondicherry in those pages. He just couldn't.Here, Old Delhi is the protagonist, & the story itself; the characters are all drawn in relation to it. The rendition is almost magical - the pigeon fliers, the faqirs, the lace makers, the ice cream vendors, the poets!If the book leaves you sad & filled with anger at our colonial oppressors, it should. That was Ahmed Ali's aim.The most powerful passages for me for was when Mir Nihal watches the coronation of King George near Jama Masjid, curses his nation's lack of spine and laments the plight of the once-great Mughals. It is a moving, evocative scene where an old man remembers the glorious past and knowing that his city will never be the same again, walks home, lost and broken.Read this book not to understand what happened to Old Delhi, not to learn the history of your capital city, but to look at the time when Delhi was much more than what it is today - where poets composed, where artists discussed everything under the sun, and whose intellect, language, manners and culture were greater than the greatest of the cities of the Muslim world.As Ahmed Ali writes -"What happened to the great poets of Hindustan? Where were Mir & Ghalib & Insha? Where were Dard & Sauda & Zauq?"Where, in fact, is Delhi?

  • Sumirti Singaravel
    2019-04-26 13:43

    The British had only built a new capital outside the city walls. The present rulers have removed the last vestige on which the old culture could have taken its stand and are moving it farther away towards Indraprastha, affirming the prophecy of the book: Seven Delhis have fallen, and the eighth has gone the way of its predecessors, yet to be demolished and built again. Life, like the phoenix, must collect the spices of its nest and set fire to it, and arise resurrected out of the flames.To me, personally, Delhi is a rogue city. It is that city which has the smell of power in the air, the high-handedness of the money and corruption, the lofty words with hollowed purposes, promises unkept; the city which rapes its women and colors them in its own shade of darkness; the city which has miseries and mysteries around the next corner; the city which had glory and poverty stark clear; the city which brings awe and disgust. I have been to it only twice, and both the times as a visitor. My loathe towards Delhi could be best explained with the fact that I never tried for a job there until this day, although I do actively look for the best opportunities in other Metropolitan cities of India. And, I should add, I am wrong in my judgment.My shroud of wrong impressions got pierced and tore by William Dalrymple's The City Of Djinns. Yet, for all its beauty, it didn't make me fall in love with Delhi although it greatly helped me to understand it. Lo and behold, came Ahmed Ali with this book, who resurrected this city with all the emotions and liveliness vividly that one's heart goes to Delhi, to look at the city differently once done with reading.More than the city, the novel evokes the lifestyle of Delhites of early 1900's - the year when King George was coronated and the British brought the city under its command fully. It looks at the history through the eyes of an old man, Mir Nihal, who was much alive during the 1857 Mutiny and during the 1911 coronation of the King and continues to live until the dreaded year of 1919, when the Jallianwallah Bagh Massacre took place. Much like himself and his family, the city slowly weans away, until the power of Lord (be it the God, or the King, and that depends upon the reader) and he stands as a hapless witness to the slow degradation of a country and a civilization. Unless someone has come to Twilight in Delhi through Dalrymple, I don't think one would understand the very importance of this book. It portrays the life and lifestyle of a lost civilization which was erased by the imperialism of the British. Bahadur Shah, the last of the Mughals, continues to be told as 'Their King, even after his death, by the then people of Delhi. The poems of Mir, Ghalib, Zauq fills the air and it continues to be breath of every living soul of the city.The best part of the book is when Mir Nihal reluctantly attends the coronation of King George from Jamia Masjid amidst a jubilant crowd welcoming the King, the very place where he saw his own men butchered to death during the 1857 Mutiny to protect the city. The city has transmogrified, the crowd has forgotten, but Mir Nihal's pride and identity is much evoked by the sadness which engulfs him and his voicelessness to say the truth to the now forgotten people.The tone of the author is nostalgic and his unbridled admiration for the glory of the lost culture has the whimsical nature of a lover which longs for his lost love. And, this almost came as a surprise when one learns that it was Ahmed Ali's anger which drove him to write this work. And, for all his lament for losing a culture to the imperialists from the west, it is quite ironical that he chose to bring attention to the destruction of his city by writing this work in the language of the enemies, English. It worked. This book was praised high during its period, and that it is another an important reason why it came back in circulation.But, the old Delhi is not all poetry, romance and art. There are other glaring truth - unintended ones by the author - which comes to the knowledge of the 21st reader. Men, even those married ones, invariably have a mistress, women are pushed to household work and strict purdah, and a young girl as much as fourteen years old gets married to a sixty year old man only to die in the next six months. There are palanquin bearers whose story and life we never know, and the tales prostitutes who serves their masters are never told. There is also a subtle communal tone lacing the narration. Mughals and Mussalmans are portrayed as more patriotic of Hindustan than Hindus, and the author does make sly comments muffled under the grandeur voice and style. Sister of Ashwaq could remarry under the code of Quran but abstains from doing it because the Hindu morals and social code prevent it. Every muslim warns of how the coronation is bad omen, yet Siddiq the 'fat bania*' stands with the farangis, the British. Perhaps, the 21st century me is overlooking the nuances. Even the Arthasastra calls 'Banias*' to be men whom one has to see with suspect, and the Hindu-Muslim divide was more pronounced then, under a homogenised culture. Yet, I believe, the liberal tradition and mindset of today India was brought and assimilated into our culture, thanks only to the same British Imperialists. The nostalgia for a lost tradition and the anger at the imperialistic destruction is justifiable although, I am afraid, if not warned, there is a danger that one would linger on to the glories of the past and forget the gifts of the present.Yet. I wish, an Ahmed Ali had lived in every city in India to raise a voice and record how the imperialism, war, oppression changed the city and the country; and to make us remember what we once possessed and what we lost. As the story went, Mir Nihal was crippled and pushed to see the gradual demise and deterioration of his own sons and daughters while he continued to be alive remaining hapless and useless. Perhaps, that is how Delhi (or India) was crippled by the British - slow and steady - to remain yet without complete destruction when all her sons and daughters died until saved by a man in loain clothes and spectacles. But, that is another story. Another, history.----*Banias - The merchant caste who are allowed and largely responsible for trading and other related activities in pre-Independence India.Note: To have a better understanding of the background of this work, try to read the 'Introduction' in William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal

  • Isha
    2019-05-27 09:45

    Traversing hurdles created by publishers in Britain, this book’s publication was made possible by none other than Virginia Woolf. First published in 1940, the book gained immediate prominence and acclaim in India, only to be lost and re-found in post-partition India. Set in pre-partition India, the novel conjures a magical world of Old Delhi and a sense of nostalgia for passing of the Old world along with its culture, traditions, myths etc. which is established in the opening verse by Bahadur Shah:Delhi was once a paradise,Such peace had abided here;But they have ravished its name and pride,Remain now only ruins and care.Set in the political milieu of 1930s, the novel takes us back to the 1857 “mutiny” as phrased by the Imperial masters and the fall of disintegrating Mughal Empire with the capture and death of Bahadur Shah Zafar II. Witnesses of the 1857 revolution, Mir Nahal and Begum Nahal remember an alternative narrative to the revolution as opposed to what is taught by the British. A keeper of history and troubled by his own memory, Mir Nahal ruminates the banishment of Muslims from their own city in the aftermath of the Revolution and juxtaposes the men of 1857 to 1911 who are all too happy with subjection and revels in the glory of the British Empire. Murmuring to himself “…Time will show them a new and quite a different sight, a peep into the mysteries of life, and give them a full glimpse of the sorrows of subjection”, he comes across the progeny of Shah Jahan who in today’s world “have no place on the earth” and has become a laughing stock due to his “poverty and plight…”. Chronicler of history, we see an entire different Delhi with the eyes of Mir Nahal which is no longer available to us. The author rekindles the old Delhi, where pigeon flying or Kabutarbaazi is a serious art, the prostitutes are of two types, the cultured ones and whores, where in zenana “the time passed mostly between eating, talking, cooking, sewing, or doing nothing”. Graphic description of marriages, deaths, child births and religious festivals, brings alive the old traditions and rituals. A world where djinns, fakirs, hakims, alchemists are common household names and friends sit for hours “comparing notes and relating anecdotes about faqirs and herbs, remnants of an alchemic life”. However, with progression of novel, we see the passing of this world and its replacement by unfamiliar world, symbolized by the construction of the eighth city by the British. The author prophesies this change and the annihilation of old culture and its replacement by new customs, new ways and most of all the language, “on which Delhi had prided herself, would become adulterated and impure, and would lose its beauty and uniqueness of idiom.” Lamenting the death of his beloved Delhi, the author cries “She would become the city of the dead, inhabited by people who would have no love for her nor any associations with her history and ancient splendor.” With death or fading off of people associated with the old city, the city fades into a blanket of darkness and gloom. The novel is an interesting read for anyone fascinated by old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) and its culture and traditions which are lost today.

  • Momina Masood
    2019-05-20 10:48

    I am so sorry for not liking this book as it is a part of our course this semester. *sigh* Papers and exams will only make me more impatient with this. -_-

  • Eesha Sajid
    2019-05-14 16:50

    review to come soon..

  • Olga Kovalenko
    2019-04-27 16:32

    I got to Twilight in Delhi through City of Djinns by William Dalrymple. I found the book by chance in one of the second-hand bookstores somewhere in Asia. I don't even remember what country it was, but it wasn't India. I had it for five years and a few months more, before I finally read it and was amazed by the book's simplicity and, at the same time, subtlety. It reads like a story from One Thousand and One Nights and it reminds me of other stories, more real ones. “It was the terrible summer of nineteen hundred and eleven. No one had experienced such heat for many years,” so a chapter of Twilight in Delhi starts. Outside my room, the hottest summer has just ended in my own city, as well, and the story sounded in a more familiar key. “The temperature rose higher and higher until it reached one hundred and fifteen in the shade. From seven in the morning, the loo began to moan, blowing drearily through the hopeless streets. The leaves of the henna tree became seared and wan, and the branches of the date palm became coated with sand. The dust blew through the unending noon; and men went out with their heads well covered and protected. The pigeons flew for a while and opened their beaks for heat. The crows cawed and the kites cried and their voices sounded so dull.The sky lost its color and became dirty and bronzed. The loo did not stop even at night. the stars flickered in the sky behind the covering layer of dust. The sand rained down all night, came between the teeth, covered the beds, and sleep did not come near parched humanity.Tempers rose and from all around came the loud voices of women quarrelling, husbands beating their wives, mothers beating their children, and there seemed no rest for men.Fires broke out every now and then. At such times the sky was made red with the flames that shot up from the burning earth.”As Ahmed Ali continues his story of ruin, love and broken hopes in the Muslim Delhi, Mahatma Gandhi was holding his action of peaceful resistance in South Africa and more decades would pass before the Independence and the dreams of Midnight's Children would be written by Salman Rushdie. Another story comes across, as a thread of silk, hinting on a more intricate design made of events, accidents, lives, passions. On the other side of the continent, that same year of 1911, as The War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan states, “It was an uncomfortable summer for [Sir Edward] Grey, [British foreign secretary]. He had suffered another personal tragedy earlier that year when his beloved brother George was killed by a lion in Africa and the Morocco crisis was keeping him in London, far from the respite of his estate at Fallodon. The Cabinet was divided over how firm to be with Germany and how much support to offer France. In the country, the wave of strikes went on and the heat wave was breaking records. (In the evenings Churchill would collect Grey and take him for a swim in his club.)”The crisis over Morocco went on and Paul Bowles, whose marvelous novels and short stories are set in Morocco, was not even one years old at that time. But when he will cross the Atlantic to settle down in Morocco in 1947 the country would be still divided between France and Spain. Speaking about the Atlantic, 1911 was exactly the year when the Titanic was launched in Belfast.The heat that summer caused fires not only in Delhi. In Istanbul in the summer of 1911 a huge fire destroyed the downtown area. Right at that time Le Corbusier traveled across the East getting inspiration and gathering material for his travelogue. Le Corbusier was a witness to the fire and noted that it was a melancholic spectacle. His drawings of Istanbul captivated Orhan Pamuk in his Istanbul. One could continue playing with threads till the end of days. The number of events and characters that pass from one year to another, that cross at one point and get reconnected at some other place and time once again, is enough for a lifetime or even two. And when your eyes get tired, you lift your head from another thread and see folds and waves of that glittering fabric, your heart is full of enchantment and beauty.

  • Danesh
    2019-04-27 10:40

    Twilight in Delhi is a novel by Ahmed Ali set in the pre-independence era. The main protagonist is Mir Nihal, the head of the household of an upper middle class Muslim family in Delhi. The chapters paint a picture of Delhi of the time, giving a feeling that things were not hurried and moving at a sedate pace. I often felt wanting to get myself transported into that era in order to escape the hustle and bustle of today’s life.The story revolves around Mir Nihal’s family and Asghar, his youngest son occupies quite a few chapters in the book. Asghar’s marriage is detailed in vivid detail along with his wavering character. The novel also captures the coronation of the British King George V as the Emperor of India, detailing the scene and the mood of the people. Mir Nihal feels saddened as he recalls the atrocities committed by the British after the 1857 revolution. The author calls for freedom from the British through the characters of the novel and this is the highlight of the book. Towards the end of the book, there is also mention of the Home Rule Movement and some more atrocities committed by the British.The tone of the book for the most part, is a bit sad and as the book draws to a close it does make the reader feel sad too. Overall though, the novel is engrossing and I, despite not being a fan of novels, was able to finish it in a week. The book would interest those who want to know about life in pre-independence Delhi and do not mind viewing it through the eyes of a middle class family.

  • Poonam
    2019-04-30 13:45

    This book has been on my 'To read' list since two years now. William Dalrymple mentioned this book in 'City of Djinns'. Indeed book is a classic - it chronicles the period when last Mughal king had collapsed, his relations reduced to beggars and maids and coronation of King George is about to take place. It is set in part of Delhi - we now know as old Delhi. It chronicles the lives and times of Nihal family. The pigeon flying days, days when people were still learning to get accustomed to foreign rule. As always, there are apples who kowtow to whoever rules and those who can't breathe in air that is devoid of freedom. The book also reminded me of M. S. Sathyu's 'Garam Hawa' focusing on lives of Balraj Sahni's family. Only a different period. 'Twilight of Delhi' was once published with support from likes of E. M. Forester and Virginia Woolf. I read it as a chronicle of period. As a story is it very sluggish, really nothing to impart other than general sense of pessimism, which is understandable. It is interspersed with lots of poems, alas, none of which appeal to me in English as they would have had they been in Hindi and Urdu. But yes, I can tick off another Delhi classic on my list.

  • Umesh Kesavan
    2019-05-06 09:35

    A poetic semi-historical novel on the Old Delhi. Best passage from the novel is when Mir Nihal's mistress passes away and to add to his worries,he comes back home to find many of his pigeons killed by a cat. The despair and emptiness is captured so evocatively by Ahmed Ali in these pages.

  • Sameen Borker
    2019-05-13 10:43

    “In dinon garche dakkan mai hai badi qadr-e-sukhanKaun jaye “zauq” par dilli ki galiyan chhod kar”Published in 1940, this novel on the capital is a necessary addition to all the other books written on the city. Quoting William Dalrymple in City of Djinns, he says, “Twilight in Delhi is not only a very fine novel, it is also an irreplaceable record of the vanished life and culture of pre-war Delhi.” If you’re as much charmed by Delhi as all those gone by (and the admins of this blog), you’d have an idea of what we’re getting at here.I have a friend who has traveled around the world quite a bit. She says she does not romanticize cities. I don’t understand how. Cities are about people and the preservation. Moreover, people are about cities many times over. And that’s why this novel is an imperative meditation on Delhi, or as it should be rightfully called – Dilli. A novel that was almost not published until Virginia Woolf intervened and rooted for it. The publishers called it ‘subversive’, but her intervention has left us with history.Ahmed Ali schooled at Aligarh and Lucknow universities. For a vocation, he taught in universities and was the head of Presidency College in Calcutta. During the partition of India, he was the British Council Visiting Professor to the University of China. When he tried to return to India in 1948, the then India’s ambassador to China did not let him and Ahmed Ali was forced to move to Pakistan. It is said that after he left India, on one of his travels his plane had to force land at Delhi. He refused to step outside saying this was not the place he knew. “It is not the Delhi it once was.”How can it ever be? That’s why preservation.Delhi was once a paradise,Such peace had abided here;But they have ravished its name and pride,Remain now only ruins and care.– Bahadur Shah ZafarSet in the 1930s, Twilight in Delhi tell us the story of Mir Nahal and his family. To be quite honest, the story in itself isn’t a masterpiece, and if that’s what you’re after, you might as well not read the book. Twilight in Delhi is about the journey of its characters through our very own Dilli. Mir Nahal lives in a large house divided into two sections – one for men and one for the women. He goes to work every day and returns to fly his pigeons. He’s a large man with a mistress, he has a wife who can’t see clearly, and he is a skilled a kabootarbaz. Mir Nahal’s son Asgher is now of marriageable age and being a young boy, he’s enamored with women and sex. He visits the kotha, but then falls in love with his friend’s sister Bilqeece Jan. He knows his parents will refuse the match as she has the blood of a Mughal and according to his parents, the Saiyyed’s cannot mix with Mughals.Twilight in DelhiThe story then progresses as Asgher does everything he can to marry Bilqeece and then finally tires of his own fantasy about marriage. In my opinion, that’s simply because no one taught Asgher how to be a man. He is always high on the rosy side of a life he imagines, but one he cannot live. As this conflict resolves and complicates itself, the rest of the family is shown living sometimes under repression, in heartbreak, in superstition, and above all the changing of their city due to colonial rule.Certain themes make the reading stark. The heat of Delhi makes an appearance ever so often. During a sandstorm, Begum Nihal tells her house help to place a broom under a leg of the cot. She says the storm is because the djinns are going for a wedding. In another scene, men are gathered around a large vessel in which milk is being boiled. A man buys a kulhad of milk, drinks it, and throws the kulhad away. Then, a cat licks milk off a kulhad while life goes on. Mir Nahal’s passive-aggressive rivalry with his neighbor over the flying of pigeons is a constant. He goes to the market to buy the best breed of pigeons and takes care of them better than his own children. One night when he leaves the door of the pen open, a snake kills many of his pigeons. Mir Nahal’s sadness drips off the page.Twilight in Delhi is a portrait of a city and its culture. Of course, it also gives a glimpse of the life of a Muslim family back in the day. The writing is very simple and relatable. There’s enough mention of all the magic that pervaded (and still pervades) Delhi – hakims, fakirs, djinns, chandni chowk, sher, poets, chamars, rajahs, elephants, greatness, despair and everything else that makes the city what it is.When one reads the book, one realises that it is true – so what if prosperity abounds the Deccan? Why would one leave the lanes of Delhi?

  • Rohit Pande
    2019-05-13 17:42

    Was a recommended read. Belongs to the time and part of Delhi I am least familiar with and so it took a while to get the book going for me. The central theme of the book probably is "being with the time". Once you get this idea that nothing out of ordinary is going to happen and the story is going to pace by the hours and the minutes of the day, you can appreciate the inanities of life, so lyrically presented. "Centuries and aeons pass but never a smile lights up the inscrutable face of time. Life goes on with a heartless continuity, trampling ideals and worlds under its ruthless feet.... building and demolishing once again with the meaningless petulance of a chilf who builds a house of sand only to raze it to the ground..." Interspersed with couplets from Faiz, Ghalib, Zauq and Bahadur Shah Zafar, I get a feeling the narrative would have been a better treat to read in Hindi/ Urdu.

  • Farhan
    2019-05-05 15:52

    I feel an urge to write back the entire book here for the plethora of excerpt that I should end up leaving here may only keep out a modicum of text from this so beautifully penned tale; but as it is a review, the statement of significance is that I find this book closer to home. Set in a Delhi of second decade of 20th century, its not just an obituary of a dilapidated city and its overhaul but also an insight of customs, family ties and outlook of muslims society of that era which ,whether acceptable or not, is not quite eroded by the storms of time. Fraught with prose, this book has a melancholic and yet beautiful matrix to support a common household tale which by no means challenge your realistic mind and yet does not fail to grasp your faculties and deep seated emotions of love in all its facets as it comes naturally. You despise the relentless flow of life just as much as you despise putting down 'Twilight in Delhi'.

  • Salman Khalid
    2019-05-13 10:46

    This novel is unnecessarily long making it dull and boring for readers. Story is also not very interesting either - more like a biography of Mir Nehal (main character) set in the background of Old Delhi rather than a novel.On a plus side, it describes the culture of Muslims of Old Delhi in quite depth and mentions some of the historical (and less reported) events of British period affecting Delhi. Language of the book is also beautiful with abundance of Urdu and Persian poetry translations.If you are keen about Indian culture and day to day lives of people in India during British era - try this.Looking for a leisure read? Unfortunately I can't recommend.

  • Subhashish Sarkar
    2019-05-23 16:42

    A book mentioned in 'City of Djinns'by William Dalrymple. I took his advice and what a read it has been. Took me to an era when Delhi was undergoing a tremendous change. A change where the old culture and customs were replaced by the influx of new. Ahmed Ali eloquently describes the impact these changes had on the residents of Delhi. Fell in love with Delhi again; there are so many layers to this city!Highly recommended read.

  • Divij Sood
    2019-05-19 17:55

    Remarkably ordinary book that has unnecessarily been elevated in status. Flat descriptive writing. Amazingly shallow character development and at the end of the book, you come out feeling you did not gain any insight in to a time period that the book attempted to explain. It would probably add value to someone who has been living under a rock and has no idea about Indian traditions in general and Islamic traditions in particular. Go read the Wikipedia page on India in the 20th century instead.

  • Lenore Beadsman64
    2019-05-15 14:31

    crepuscolo di un'erastoria di una famiglia musulmana di Delhi alla fine del secolo scorso, il racconto è di quelli dinastici, con gli intrecci parentali e le storie che si incrociano con la connotazione storicaabituata com'ero agli strali di Rushdie verso il governo e gli inglesi ho trovato questo racconto molto meno incisivo di come l'avrei preferito, è come se raccontasse un'epoca attraverso il filtro della nostalgia per la sua fine...

  • Nivedita
    2019-05-21 11:46

    Amazing write up on pre-Independence Delhi....the life of Mir Nihal and his family ...their survival through all the ups and downs of life.

  • Doel
    2019-05-23 12:52

    Must read for anyone who is in love with Delhi or wants to be

  • Gv
    2019-05-01 15:50

    Twilight in Delhi is a book of the kind that is unlikely to be written today. Its strength lies in the beauty of its descriptions. It lovingly describes the streets and street scenes of old Delhi – Chandi Chowk, Jama Masjid, Red Fort – from the late 19th and early 20th century, quoting liberally from Urdu poetry. That world has disappeared. In fact, it had disappeared before 1940 which is when Ahmed Ali wrote this book. Perhaps he wrote it to exorcise his own nostalgia for the simpler world of his parents and grandparents. In his foreword (in the edition that I read), he writes“In the process of transformation from Indian to ‘ brown Englishman, ‘ I found that I had lost not only my freedom but also my culture and individuality, and I have been engaged ever since in search of my self, my identity. Where between the heart and mind had it been waylaid ?”There is almost no plot. There are no heroes and certainly no heroines. What little plot there is revolves around the happenings in the household of Mir Nihal. What happens when a snake is suddenly found? When the terrible loo of summer blows? What is appropriate for the zenana and what for the mardana? How does a wedding take place? Or a funeral? Or a visit from the Hakim? Or the daily routine of beggars? Or when the son of the house falls in love? Or when a mistress dies of cholera? All events great and small are treated alike and described in great detail.Mir Nihal felt like an allegory for all the losses of the culture. By the end of his life, nothing is the same. His beloved pigeons die, his children are scattered and most are in the service of new British masters, living lives very different from his own. The feminist in me was sorely irritated by the portrayal of women in this novel. The women in the book have little agency. The author imagines that all of them are happy martyrs to marriage and motherhood. But that unquestioning glorification of even the bits that deserve change is to be expected in a novel so steeped in nostalgia.By the end of the book, I felt like I had been made to sit through one hundred ghazals. One ghazal is good for the mood, two is fine, but by number three rationality asserts itself and I want to escape the maudlin sentiment.Above all, Twilight in Delhi reminded me of Aavarana . I want to prescribe both these books to my friends from the right and the left so that they can see the common thread. Just as Aavarana mourns the destruction and desecration of Hindus and Varanasi at the hands of Muslim invaders, Twilight in Delhi describes the “Dilli” of Bahadur Shah and the Mughals that was lost to the invading British.Read both. Preferably at the same time.

  • Kshitiz Goliya
    2019-05-26 13:50

    I picked up the novel after it was recommended by William Dalrymple for readers who wanted to know more about the original mughal Delhi or Shahjhanabad as it was called. I wasn't disappointed.Through several characters and various chapters of their lives, the novel shows the daily life in the old delhi, right in the middle of its slow decline. From the bustling chandni chowk, to the crowded markets around Jama Masjid, the novel tries to give a feel of what it must have felt like to walk in Old Delhi's streets. He highlights the place of poetry in Delhi where even the beggars could quote Ghalib and Zafar and the myths among it's citizens regarding faqirs as well as alchemy. Then there is that rare sport of pegion flying which while difficult to find now was an indulgence enjoyed by many.The author also beautifully describes the seasons especially the scorching summers, which even today fills the outsiders with dread, along with sudden appearance of rains. Embedded in the chapters are the customs and traditions of the delhi muslims including their deep rooted patriarchy. However, while author steers clear of passing a judgment, he highlights the pain of his women characters to show a sense of solidarity.With British having a built a new capital at New Delhi, its old cousin was loosing its sheen with many of its walls and mosques already demolished by the white rulers.The novel also tries to show a sense of defeat in its old citizens and anticipation of new opportunities among it's young characters. One life ends, another is born, but the city lives on as it has for centuries; maimed, attacked and demolished but alive.Read it to feel the charms of old delhi.

  • Risha
    2019-05-06 17:47


  • Bablu Nonia
    2019-04-30 10:41

    Simple and Glorious book.A must read gem. It was true then and it is true now in an Indian society.

  • Erin
    2019-05-10 14:45

    The imagery in this book is transporting. The author recreates a decade in Delhi in vibrant details--sights, sounds, smells. The plot is not the as essential as the descriptions in this novel.

  • Hemali
    2019-04-27 10:50

    What beautifully written book. It makes me nostalgic and sad for a Delhi that I have never seen.

  • Naman Mukesh Chaudhary
    2019-05-23 15:49

    This book made want to go in that world and see the place which no longer remains the same. However, I did not need a time machine to go back, for the book was so descriptively written that I was transported back nevertheless. Beautiful!

  • Debasish Das
    2019-05-09 10:51

    Regarded as one of remarkable modern Islamic literature, Ali Ahmed's Twilight in Delhi was first published in 1940, but was almost forgotten when most of the books' stock was destroyed in a fire, till it was resurrected again in 1964.. till then the book has gone ahead to claim many critical acclaims for the work that somewhat proves that it transcends the language in which it is written, in slowing down the reader's pace to narrate the minutest of rituals in Chandni Chowk of 1911, but not by superfluously romanticizing the olden days..the tone is definitely sad, un-hurried and almost poetic, and involved in introspection and sentiments..Particularly engaging are the parts describing the marriage function in the Muslim families of yesteryears, and in describing the helpless weariness of characters in facing death and monotony of old age..Sometimes , the story line become too thin to retain the full attention, and the pace too slow , then one can take refugee in the beautiful narrative style that is never too-direct, just like the gentle life of those years perhaps..//when the water started singing, Mir Nihal added tea leaves, cinnamon and cardamom ..or, the sun had almost set, and the night, with its awakening cold, was spreading her dark and star-bejewelled wings over the earth..or, suddenly the western horizon became coppery, and it seemed that some hidden power was shooting tons of burning sand from below the earth towards the sky..the wind struck against houses and roofs and trees; blew with vengeance through howled through the courtyards, in the by-lanes, in the streets...or, already under the earth the worms must have set upon her lovely body, already she was in the land of the dead..and nothing could bring her back to life again ."

  • Ameena
    2019-04-28 09:44

    I heard a lot about this book and so glad to have it read finally.

  • Payal
    2019-05-19 14:25

    Promised to be a trip down memory lane, encapsulating an era gone by. Or so I thought. Am not sure I got a full sighted glimpse of that fact I was left with a sense of incompleteness, I wanted to know more about Delhi of 1911s. But what it did do is to take me into the strange workings of mind of women who lived in Zenana of that era. Filled with superstition, traditions, bllind acceptance.....Were the people of that era really so emotionally driven? Was the 'scientific thinking' mode so late in coming into our lives? But for once I liked the sadness of the book, it wasn't tragic and painful but just flowed like the rest of the book. Some authors make you cringe at the way they portray unhappiness, but here it all just seemed to flow......Yes I suppose there was a flow in the book, albeit a little slow. Events unfolding one after another with gentle continuity. And a whole lot of Urdu Poetry smattered all over.If we feel we are in an age of change, well so did the characters in the book! So in the end I would say it was an easy read, a little slow but something you would want to complete, the characters make you want to reach a conclusion!

  • Himanshu Saini
    2019-05-11 11:50

    Mir Nihal, main protagonist is upper class Muslim who has seen 1857 revolt as child. Now story is in 1911 and he is living with his wife, sons and daughter. Things which have attracted me in this novel are:1. Display of culture of people living in Delhi in early 1900. Kite and pigeon flying in particular. Role which fakirs, maulanas and other mystics played in the families, marriages, social fabric etc.2. Shift which took place with the advent of British Rule. How the old Delhi(Chandni Chowk and surrounding area) stared loosing its charm? And how Mir Nihal was peeved by seeing Indians welcoming British King George on his coronation.3. Beggar who later turnout to be Bahadur shah,last Delhi Mughal ruler's younger son depicts transient nature of life.4. Life of Azghar in particular shows how young people have started embracing changes.In end it was story of family and like any other family it has love, seperation, sickness, old age curse, death and every other aspect of life which will never be obsolete.And yes..finally how eighth Delhi has started spreading her limbs.

  • Claire S
    2019-05-19 17:27

    from wikipedia:Ahmed AliFrom Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaJump to: navigation, searchAhmed Ali (1910 in New Delhi – 14 January 1994 in Karachi) was a Pakistani novelist, diplomat and scholar, who was responsible for writing arguably the greatest novel ever written about Delhi. Born in Delhi, India, he was involved in progressive literary movements as a young man. Professor Ahmed Ali was born in Delhi in 1910, and 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 leading Indian universities including Lucknow and Allahabad from 1932–46 and joined the Bengal Senior Educational Service as Professor and Head of the English Department at Presidency College, Calcutta (1944–47). Professor Ahmed Ali was also BBC's Representative and Director in India during 1942–44. from China to Karachi in 1948; becoming Director of Foreign Publicity, Government of Pakistan.