Mon. Jun 17th, 2024

Ahmad Ali: short biography

Ahmed Ali, a distinguished Pakistani writer, left an indelible mark on literature with his insightful exploration of Islamic culture and tradition in the backdrop of Hindu-dominated India. Born on July 1, 1910, in Delhi, India, Ali’s legacy spans across novels, translations, and critical analyses, showcasing his prowess in both English and Urdu

A versatile figure, Ali’s educational journey took him through Aligarh Muslim University and Lucknow University. Ali had many roles, including being a professor, diplomat, and businessman. In 1932, he helped publish Angarey (“Burning Coals”), a book of Urdu short stories that got banned for criticizing middle-class Muslim values. He was also one of the founders of the All-India Progressive Writers Association in 1936, which wanted new ideas in Urdu literature.

Ali’s first novel, “Twilight in Delhi” (1940), made him famous worldwide. It talks about the decline of traditional Muslim aristocracy because of British rule in the early 20th century. Another important book is “Ocean of Night” (1964), which looks at the split in Indian culture before the 1947 partition.

Ali’s work usually deals with changes in society, cultural identity, and the clash between old ways and modern life. People still like his writing because it shows deep truths about being human and the complications of history and culture.

Table of Contents

“In a Muslim’s house, life was passed in quiet dignity, in complete surrender to God’s will.”

Introduction to Twilight in Delhi:

“Twilight in Delhi” by Ahmed Ali is his first novel, showing how India changed after British rule. It’s set from 1911 to 1919 and focuses on Mir Nihal, a Muslim merchant who doesn’t like British rule. Through Mir Nihal and his family, Ali shows how society dealt with colonialism, lost its culture, and dealt with family issues.

Mir Nihal fights against British rule and wants to keep Muslim traditions alive. He doesn’t give in to British pressure and wants to protect future generations from British harm.

Through Mir Nihal’s story, Ali talks about identity, tradition, and strength. “Twilight in Delhi” was banned by the British at first, but now it’s praised for its powerful messages and vivid descriptions of old Delhi.

Some more information:

Title of novel; Twilight in Delhi
Setting; Nostalgic
Mode; Fiction
Genre; Historical fiction
written Time; 1940
Themes; Social and political change, family ties, cultural conflicts, and Religion.

“Amidst the chaos of colonial rule, the heart of Delhi beat with the rhythm of its people’s resilience.

Twilight in Delhi Character list:

1) Mir Nihal:

Mir Nihal is a key character who holds onto old-fashioned values in early 20th-century Delhi. He strongly opposes British rule because he thinks it’s bad for his culture. But he has a hard time dealing with his son Asghar, who prefers Western ways. Mir Nihal’s character gets even more complicated when we see him struggling with his religious beliefs while being involved with Babban Jan, who is a dancer and a prostitute. His love for flying pigeons shows a different side of him, as he seeks freedom from society’s rules. All these things make Mir Nihal a fascinating character as he tries to figure out who he is in a changing world.

2) Asghar:

Asghar serves as a stark contrast to his father, Mir Nihal, representing the younger generation’s disillusionment with traditional values and their fascination with Western culture. Unlike his father, Asghar embraces English fashion and customs, embodying a sense of rebellion against the societal norms upheld by his family. His romantic pursuits and disregard for traditional marital arrangements symbolize the shifting dynamics within Indian society, as the younger generation seeks to assert their autonomy in the face of cultural conservatism.
There are three loves of Asghar mentioned in the novel: Mushtari Bai, Bilqees, and Zohra.

3) Begum Nihal:

Begum Nihal, Mir Nihal’s wife, plays a crucial role in the novel. While not as outspoken as some characters, her influence is felt throughout the story.

As the head of the Nihal family, Begum Nihal represents traditional values and family responsibility. Despite her age and eventual blindness, she remains actively involved in family matters, offering support and guidance. One significant moment is when she stands up for her son Asghar’s happiness. When Mir Nihal objects to Asghar marrying Bilqees, who comes from a poorer background, Begum Nihal supports her son’s choice, showing her independence and motherly love.

Overall, Begum Nihal is a complex character who adds depth to the family dynamics in “Twilight in Delhi.” Her actions demonstrate the strength and adaptability of women in South Asian society.

4) Babban Jan:

Babban Jan is a significant character in “Twilight in Delhi.” Despite societal judgment, she plays an important role in Mir Nihal’s life. As a dancer and prostitute, Babban Jan faces criticism from society. However, Mir Nihal cares deeply for her, providing her with a home and financial support. Her relationship with Mir Nihal adds complexity to his character, showing the tension between tradition and personal desires. Babban Jan’s presence challenges societal norms, highlighting the complexities of love and companionship in a judgmental society.

5) Mushtari Bai:

As Asghar’s first love, Mushtari Bai represents a departure from traditional values. She introduces Asghar to a world free from societal constraints, enticing him with the allure of pleasure and freedom. However, Mushtari Bai’s actions ultimately lead to tragedy, illustrating the consequences of unchecked desires and the pursuit of fleeting pleasures. Her character serves as a poignant reminder of the complexities of love and the challenges of navigating societal expectations in a rapidly changing world.

6) Bilqees:

Bilqees is an important character in this novel showing the strength of old-fashioned values in a changing city. As Asghar’s wife, Bilqees stays loyal to him, even when he doesn’t treat her well. Her commitment to their marriage shows how important family is to her. Despite coming from a simple background, Bilqees is humble and kind. She stands out from the city’s flashy lifestyle, reminding us of the importance of staying true to ourselves. Bilqees’ sad story reminds us of the challenges people face when traditional values clash with modern life. Her character shows us the struggle of holding onto what’s important in a world that’s always changing. Through Bilqees, “Twilight in Delhi” tells us about the value of sticking to our roots, even when everything around us is changing.

7) Zohra:

Zohra is a character in “the novel who plays a significant role in the family dynamics. As the younger sister of Bilqees, she is introduced as a supportive and caring figure, especially after Bilqees’s tragic fate. Zohra takes on the responsibility of caring for her niece after her sister’s passing, showcasing her nurturing and compassionate nature.

Throughout the novel, Zohra’s character evolves as she grapples with her own emotions and desires. Initially portrayed as a dutiful sister, Zohra later becomes entangled in the complexities of love and relationships. Her decision to pursue a romantic connection with Asghar, despite the societal norms and family expectations, demonstrates her courage and independence.

8) Begum Waheed:

Begam Waheed is not just Asghar’s older sister, but a nurturing figure who took on a maternal role when their mother faced challenges with her mental health. Despite her reservations about Asghar’s choice to marry Bilqeece, she ultimately supports him when she sees his desperation for the match to succeed. After her marriage, Begam Waheed moves to Bhopal with her husband’s family, but her life takes a difficult turn when her husband passes away. Despite facing hostility from her in-laws, she remains resilient and assists with organizing Asghar and Mehro’s marriages, showing her enduring love and dedication to her family.

Storyline of Twilight In Delhi:

“Twilight in Delhi” intricately weaves together the personal dramas of the upper caste Muslim family of Mir Nihal and Begam Nihal with the broader sociopolitical changes of early 20th-century Delhi. The narrative unfolds against the backdrop of British colonial rule and the onset of World War I, showcasing the clash between tradition and modernity.

The story follows the struggles of Mir Nihal’s son, Asghar, as he navigates the complexities of love and societal expectations. Despite familial objections, Asghar is determined to marry Bilqeece, a woman from a lower caste whom he loves deeply. Through his relentless pursuit of Bilqeece’s hand in marriage, Asghar challenges traditional norms and confronts his family’s resistance.

Meanwhile, Mir Nihal grapples with personal hardships, including the loss of his mistress Babban Jaan, and his struggle to maintain his prized pigeons. As Mir Nihal reflects on life’s hardships, he gradually comes to accept Asghar’s unconventional choice of bride, symbolizing a shift in his perspective and values.

The narrative unfolds against the backdrop of significant historical events, such as the Durbar ceremony and the Spanish flu pandemic, which further shape the characters’ experiences and perceptions of the world around them.

As the story progresses, the family faces tragedy and loss, including Bilqeece’s battle with tuberculosis and the death of Asghar’s brother, Habibuddin. Amidst these challenges, Asghar finds solace in his growing affection for Bilqeece’s younger sister, Zohra, leading to further complications and tensions within the family.

Ultimately, “Twilight in Delhi” is a poignant exploration of love, loss, and resilience in the face of societal upheaval. Through its richly drawn characters and evocative portrayal of Delhi’s cultural landscape, the novel offers a compelling glimpse into the complexities of life in colonial India.

“The whispers of history echoed through the streets, telling tales of love and loss, triumphs and tragedies.”

Historical Background:

“Twilight in Delhi” by Ahmed Ali is set in the early 20th century during a pivotal period in India’s history. To understand the historical background of the novel, it’s essential to consider the socio-political context of the time:

  1. British Colonial Rule: During the early 20th century, India was under British colonial rule. The British East India Company gradually expanded its influence over the Indian subcontinent, eventually leading to direct British control by the mid-19th century. British colonialism profoundly impacted Indian society, culture, economy, and politics, leading to widespread social and political upheaval.
  2. The Decline of the Mughal Empire: The Mughal Empire, which had once been a dominant force in the Indian subcontinent, had significantly declined by the early 20th century. Delhi, the setting of the novel, was once the capital of the Mughal Empire and held significant cultural and historical importance. However, by this time, the Mughal Empire had weakened, and Delhi had lost much of its former glory.
  3. Indian Nationalist Movement: The early 20th century witnessed the rise of the Indian nationalist movement, with leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Subhas Chandra Bose advocating for independence from British rule. The Indian National Congress, founded in 1885, played a significant role in mobilizing Indians against colonial oppression.
  4. Social and Cultural Changes: The period depicted in “Twilight in Delhi” saw significant social and cultural changes in Indian society. Traditional social structures were being challenged, and new ideas were emerging, influenced by Western education and values. The novel explores themes of tradition versus modernity, as characters grapple with the changing dynamics of Indian society.
  5. World War I: The outbreak of World War I in 1914 had far-reaching consequences for India. India’s participation in the war, both militarily and economically, had a profound impact on the country and its people. Additionally, the war contributed to growing nationalist sentiments and demands for self-rule.

Against this backdrop of colonialism, cultural transformation, and nationalist fervor, “Twilight in Delhi” provides a vivid portrayal of life in Delhi during a period of transition and upheaval. The novel captures the complexities of Indian society and offers insights into the personal struggles and aspirations of its characters amidst a changing world.


Ahmed Ali, a significant literary figure, explores Islamic culture in colonial India through works like “Twilight in Delhi.” Born in 1910 in Delhi, his legacy spans novels, translations, and critical analyses in English and Urdu. “Twilight in Delhi” navigates societal changes, family dynamics, and the clash between tradition and modernity amidst British rule, the declining Mughal Empire, and Indian nationalism. Through characters like Mir Nihal and Asghar, Ali delves into themes of identity and resilience, leaving a profound mark on South Asian literature.

By Romana

Hi everyone I'm Romana the creator of "Literaturebs.Online". I've always had a passion for stories, so I decided to build this space to share my love of literature with fellow bookworms like you. From classic novels to modern masterpieces, I hope to inspire and engage readers of all ages. Join me as we embark on a journey through the wonderful world of words!"

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