Symbolism in “Twilight in Delhi”
Ahmed Ali thought that people did not give his novel “Twilight in Delhi” a reading which it deserved. According to him, people are unable to feel and see its symbols but it is not true at all; even after his death, may writers tried to explore his novel. Here we also are discussing the use of technique of symbolism in his novel. It is because, this novel has great importance for us. This piece of literature has given fame to Ahmed Ali. It was widely read in the world. It is much more than mere a story. Through symbolism, Ahmed Ali strikes superstition beliefs, ups and downs of life, culture, colonialism and history. We see history in the background, culture on the front and the life story of Mir Nihal being representative of Muslim middle class. If Ahmed Ali has given description of every object, it is not extra instead it refers something; symbolically it means something. For instance, henna tree has unique symbol, Asghar’s clothes indicates acceptance of new values. Mir Nihal’s life also gives a message in hidden meanings. Thus, each object, every character and incident of the story point out something important. Symbolically, they have another meaning other than their literal meaning.
A lot of symbols can be found in the novel. For instance, palm tree, in the start of novel is green and its leaves have freshness in it but at the end, we see no leave in it. The unsullied condition of tree indicates freshness of life and the status of a flourished culture but at the end of novel, its horrible condition reveals the ruination of life and culture. How change effects the environment; it is shown through the technique of symbolism, which is attached to this tree.
The second but most important symbol of the novel is attached to the character of Mir Nihal. We see a prosperous Mir Nihal in start of the novel; he is living a happy life along with his family. Mir Nihal is not only the representative of a class but also a symbol of life. Whole story of the novel revolves around Mir Nihal and his family; the story ends with paralyzed condition of this main character, which shows that Muslim culture has also been paralyzed. Similarly, pigeon flying and kite flying shows the customs of a society, which, at the end of novel can no more be seen. Mir Nihal is also a symbol of old generation, who resisted change. They did not accept change easily as compared to new generation. They tried to defend their culture but their carelessness ruined it; they resisted but too late. Thus, the character of Mir Nihal is symbolized by the writer to indicate different aspects of life. An incident, which is related to pigeons, is; when a cat attacks on them while seeing unlocked cage. It symbolizes that the Muslims are not caring about their values; they are not protecting their culture. Cat is symbol of British people, whereas pigeons are symbol of Muslim culture. Cat’s attack on the pigeons, in real meanings, is attack on Muslim culture. Mir Nihal, at the end of novel see no more kites on the sky; it clearly shows that the people have lost their identities. No one is interested in renewing his culture. Mir Nihal although does not say anything yet he understands that the things have been shattered.
The character of Asghar Ali is the symbol of new generation; a generation which accepts change and does not resist. He likes his own culture but also the English culture, due to which, culture becomes hybrid. He wears English clothes; Mir Nihal rebukes him because he cannot bear British invasion. As compared to him, his son likes it. Asghar Ali indicates a generation which wants change at any cost. It shows that the British people first won the mind of people and then physically defeated them. The character of Asghar is an example that Muslims open heartedly accepted the colonialism and when they realized that they have committed a mistake it was too late for them to react.
Mir Nihal’s house is also an important symbol. It is divided into two parts. Zanana and Mardana. Zanana is fixed for women. It is important to note that when illness of a family member becomes critical, he is moved to Zanana part of the house, where he is cared by women. Ironically, those women, who were being deprived from their rightful shares, cared for their dear ones in hard days of life; men feel consolation in hands of women. Mehru is symbol of helplessness, whose marriage is a blunder. Bilqees’s character shows that women become slaves after marriage and they can do nothing but to spend a miserable life.
Faqirs, pirjis, poets, beggars and molvie are also symbols. They symbolize for superstition beliefs. People believe on beggars and faqirs more than religion. They believe that amulets can cure their diseases. Beggar’s scolding indicates the worst future. Similarly, owl’s hoot symbolizes for downfall. Qawali is symbol of enthusiasm. The word twilight is also a symbol. The profession of alchemy symbolizes for wastage of time. In fact, Ahmed Ali tried to put symbol in each and every object. Symbolically, every word refers something and has a deeper meaning in the context of the whole story.
The crux of the whole discussion is that Ahmed Ali is the master of technique of symbolism. He knows how to use it, when to use it and where to put it. It is not wrong to say that he got fame due to the technique of symbolism. In fact, title of the novel is full of symbols. As mentioned earlier, the word “Twilight is symbol”. Likewise, “Delhi” word is also a symbol. It becomes a character simultaneously a symbol. In short, the whole novel is a symbol of life. There is an element of universality in it because of the technique of symbolism, due to which Muhammad Hassan Askari said:
“This novel does not remain the story of Delhi alone, but is simultaneously the story of the life of mankind. When we finish the book, the centre of our tragic sense is not only Delhi, but life itself.”