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Delhi between the Mughals and the British
By Manju Gupta
Ahmed Ali: Twilight in Delhi, Rupa & Co., 275 pp, price not given
The British came to India at the beginning of the 17th century, when the Mughals were in power and expanded their trade, competing with their rivals?the Portuguese, the Dutch and the French. It is in this period that the author sets his novel about a Muslim family who sees the British in power and its negative impact on Delhi. He says that his grandparents saw the ghadar of 1857, the blind persecution and massacre of the citizens of Delhi. The triumphant British let loose an orgy of blood and terror in Delhi whose destruction was mourned by Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last of the Mughals to be banished to Burma, and who wrote pathetically:
Ravished were the people of Hind,
so unenviable their fate.
Whoever the ruler of the day saw
fair and free was put to the sword.
It was in 1947 that India was partitioned into India and Pakistan, following which the country was freed of the British yoke, while ?the British found an escape and left in a hurry, degrading the East to the Third World and leaving behind a series of intangible, ethnic, social, politico-economic and geographical problems, a crisis of identity into local and refugee and a burden of hatred? for generations to come. The author, who is a novelist, poet, writer, diplomat and scholar, crossed over to Pakistan after Partition and decided to write his novel. On leaving Delhi, he felt that he had been banished permanently from Delhi due to Partition, with the ?loss not only of home and whatever I possessed, but also my birthright, when I had no hatred of any caste or creed in my heart...?
Twilight in Delhi is a novel about Mir Nihal and his wife and their son Asghar who wants to marry Bilqeece, who the parents do not approve of. When Asghar?s elder sister comes to Delhi, he informs her about his desire but the parents are dead set against such a bond. So his sister Begam Waheed takes her brother Asghar away with her to Bhopal to allow things to cool down.
Mir Nihal discovers that his mistress Babban Jan, whom he had loved dearly, has died all of a sudden. He is shocked with grief and wonders as to ?who would come for him when she had gone? His wife was there, no doubt; and so were the children. But the world they lived in was a domestic world. There was no beauty in it and no love. Here, at Babban Jan?s heart, he had built a quiet corner for himself where he could always retire and forget his sorrows in its secluded place.?
The day comes when Asghar gets married to Bilqeece and soon Bilqeece becomes pregnant. In time, she gives birth to a son, much to Asghar?s sorrow. He loses all interest in his wife and as the author says, Asghar ?began to live more and more away from the house. Bilqeece consumed herself and suffered in silence, weeping when she was alone. Life for her became a living death.?
Mir Nihal suffers a stroke and his right side gets paralysed. ?Days and nights he lay in bed with thoughts becoming his only pastime. There was no joy left now, no pleasure in anything. The day dawned, the evening came, and life went on?? One day Bilqeece dies of tuberculosis and then Asghar falls in love with the younger sister of Bilqeece.
So concludes the author, ?Life, like the Phoenix, must collect the spices for its nest and set fire to it, and arise resurrected out of the flames??
(Rupa & Co., 7/16, Ansari Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110 002.)