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Twilight in Delhi (New Directions Paperbook) Paperback – June 1, 1994

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Product Details

  • Series: New Directions Paperbook (Book 782)
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation; Reprint edition (June 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081121267X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811212670
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As literature, Ali's first novel is reasonably interesting, a sort of awkwardly written, Delhi-based Buddenbrooks . As history and cultural record, though, it is fascinating. Originally published in Britain in 1940 and making its first appearance in the U.S., Twilight concerns the upper-class Muslim merchant Mir Nihal and his extended family. Mir Nihal and his wife were young children during the 1857 Mutiny and the resultant brutality on both sides. Now, in 1911, two of their sons work in government offices and the third one wears English shirts and shoes--a sure sign of Delhi's imminent demise. Even the present crop of anti-British activists are beyond Mir Nihal's ken--"He was one of those who had believed in fighting with naked swords in their hands. The young only agitated." Mir Nihal's intense nationalism often seems ahistorical in retrospect--Hindu feeling ran just as strongly against Muslim "occupiers" once the hated English left. The real residual power of the mogul golden age is not political (the surviving descendants of Bahadur Shah are all beggars and cripples) but cultural, and Ali's book is first and foremost a tender record of traditional family ceremonies, of kite battles and the old aristocratic hobby of pigeon flying. The cries of the pigeon flyers are the ubi sunt accompanying Ali's portrayal of the parallel decline of Mir Nihal's family and of mogul Delhi.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In this novel written in English and completed in 1939, Ali, an Urdu-speaking native of India, commemorated the daily melody of traditional life in the old city of Delhi among the last, impoverished heirs to the refined Mogul civilization that dominated India until the advent of the English. Set during the early years of this century, it recaptures the texture of family life for Mir Nihal, a well-born Muslim who loves pigeons and whose son wants to get married. It recounts how that son, Asgar, fell in love, married, fell out of love, had a daughter, and became a widower. Ali's Proustian command of detail makes this archetypically human story sing. When, for instance, cats manage to kill Mir Nihal's pigeons, Ali makes us feel a visceral sense of his loss--and of his impending doom. At book's end, Mir Nihal lies bedridden after a stroke, Asgar is widowed, and the English have torn down Delhi's ancient walls and are building a "New Delhi" that will swamp the old. A perfect novel, the more valuable for its unique subject. John Shreffler

Customer Reviews

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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Mr. A. Jehangir on October 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have just finished reading a great novel ( Twilight in Delhi by Ahmed Ali ) (not for its plot but in its descriptions and language) set in Delhi, just after the War of Independence (1857) about the life and times of an upper middle class Muslim family...this novel is now deemed a classic and was written in 1940 by Ahmed Ali and initially banned by the British...for obvious reasons if you read it!
But it is highly recommended, and describes a lifestyle which is now, sadly, vanished for ever...
If you are a Muslim you will find this book especially poignant and moving but for all Subcontinentals it tells of how much the British Occupation actually did to destroy Indo-Muslim heritage and culture; will be of interest to all those who want to know what a real Islamic culture was like and the effect of imperialism on it. Especially relevant in light of recent events in NYC. Stunning.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By @souvikstweets on February 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book by Ahmed Ali is a wonderful chronicle of early twentieth century Delhi, almost all Muslim, & a coming together of practices, beliefs & customs stitched neatly in a story.

I'd have to say that as a story, or just as a plain work of fiction, it does not really capture the imagination; however, with the backdrop of Delhi, it comes alive as a memoir of times gone by, & mannerisms long forgotten. Having said that, I also felt that characterization was adequate in most places & there is a wonderful interlacing of details & nuances spread across the story.

The cultural elements that set a place apart, as in this case, the male early-morning sport of pigeon flying, the tendency to quote often from poetry in conversations, the set-up & lay-outs of a household, a typical Muslim marriage in the early twentienth century, classes of prostitutes - those that just meant a body & then those who were keen singers, & performers & wonderfully evolved at the art of conversation - the sporadic mention of Anti-British feeling among the old generation, & the early adoption of western ways in the young, the by-lanes, the Hakims, the azaans & the quality of voice.

Ahmad Ali's style is slightly archaic to read in the early twenty first century & his new introduction to the Novel - written probably sixty years after the novel - tries to justify the thoughts behind this book. While a whirlwind tour of the British in India, & a repository of lavish resentments against the British, at no point does the novel emphasize this except in the passing once or twice or the chapter on the King's procession in Delhi.

This is Delhi sans the boorish, & evidently is the story of times long gone.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Upasna Kakroo on November 12, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Twilight in Delhi was supposedly a chapter in history. For multiple reasons. One related to the context more clearly perhaps, was that it was a book written by an old-Dilliwallah, about the city, as it was, with the full background of the whys, the hows, the kuchas and the gallis. The book reads like a ruin. I mean you know it was, but can't find it now, entirely. You see it still, but in certain parts. On the surface, it seems non-existent, but it's there. It makes you think on while you assimilate different cultures and experiences, and allow yourselves to be molded into someone new inevitably, do you still look at the ruin and want to go back at times?

The tragedy of the ruin is people realize its importance much later. Some live their entire lives not bothering too and are happy. It's the ones who're undecided who create a riot for themselves.

More details- [Someplace Else blog: upasna[dot]blogspot[dot]com]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gaucho36 on January 31, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I loved this compact, sensual novel set in early 20th century Delhi. I would caution at the outset that if you do not know anything about Delhi and Islamic faith - many terms and phrases will fly by you and the character names can often seem confusing. There is incredible richness available for all readers, but those with a feel for Delhi and its history will experience layer upon layer of amazement.

The core story is essentially one of the both redemptive and tortuous aspects of love - especially in a culture where couplings are determined by parents in often very arbitrary ways. As a result - you have great matches and poor matches, mistresses abound, and - frequently - one is doomed to love from afar what one cannot have access to. But the real richness of this novel is its sense of time and place. The calls to prayer, the pigeons being flown expertly and passionately, the "caterwauling" of an alley cat.....and the light.....the bruised purple/black of a pre dawn sky, the slashing light of a late afternoon sunset pouring red liquid on all it touches. And, most importantly given the title, the surrender of daylight to the emergence of a lone star and the onset of evening. "Twilight in Delhi" is also an obvious reference to the changes induced by the British occupation - and the notion of an old way of life and culture losing its grip the same way a setting sun must eventually capitulate to nightfall.

Along the way there are a kaleidoscope of characters - faqirs, sweepers, servants, medicine men, barbers, kebabers.....there is so much packed in to a relatively short work. And there are frequent inserts of poems and song lyrics - many directly on point to the sentiments of a lost love or the mortality of human beings.
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Twilight in Delhi (New Directions Paperbook)
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