Ahmed Ali was a novelist, social critic, scholar, diplomat, and poet. In 1932 he and a few other Indian writers published Angaray, a collection of short stories in Urdu. This was noteworthy, because at the time, the British Crown was trying to Anglicize the people of India. In the words of one British official, the goal was to produce "a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste and character, in morals and intellect." Of course proselytizing Christian zealots were at the forefront of this movement, doing "the work of God." With their help, British practices were promoted, Indian customs were denigrated, and English was made the official language. In this political climate, it is no wonder that the writers of Angaray were labeled dissidents and agitators, and that the book was banned by the British Government in India. That same year, Ali co-founded the All-India Progressive Writers' Movement, a movement which helped to birth many novels by Indian writers. Twilight in Delhi was one such novel.
Ali had a great deal of trouble getting Twilight in Delhi published. The printers found many parts of the book subversive and refused to print these sections. For instance, what Ali called the War of Independence of 1857, the British Crown had labeled a mutiny. Oddly enough, Virginia Woolf came to Ali's aid and helped push the book through publication without any changes being made. Go, Virginia Woolf!
Twilight in Delhi follows one family living in the city during the first decade of the twentieth century. The book is separated into four parts, each about a different period in the life of this family. Through detailed accounts of weddings, funerals, and political protests, you learn about the customs and mores of Indian life during that time.
There is truly an ensemble cast, although the son Asghar plays a larger role than others. However, the seasons play as big a role as any person in the story. Often a description of the weather sets the scene for the upcoming chapter. And as the chapter comes to a close so does the day or season. Here is where the poet in Ali can really be seen. He describes the oppressive loo that blows through Delhi, the sand storms that rush through the city, and the way the city comes alive at night as it gets cooler. His descriptions are so vivid that you almost feel you have sweltered in the heat and tasted the grit of sand between your teeth.
Twilight in Delhi is about things coming to an end. The patriarch of the family in the twilight of his life, as he succumbs to age and ailment. The waning of Indian traditions and customs, slowly replaced by those of the Western world. The twilight of the city that Ali loved. The twilight of Delhi.