Twilight in Delhi Themes, Characters and Summary

Twilight in Delhi is Ahmed Ali‘s first novel, originally published in English by the Hogarth Press in Britain in 1940.

It focuses on old Delhi,decay of culture,colonialism, alienation, gender roles, nostalgia, and the passage of time and empires.

As Bonamy Dobree said,

 “It releases us into a different and quite complete world. Mr. Ahmed Ali makes us hear and smell Delhi…hear the flutter of pigeons’ wings, the cries of itinerant vendors, the calls to prayer, the howls of mourners, the chants of qawwals, smell jasmine and sewage, frying ghee and burning wood.”

The novel is rich with symbolic imagery. The palm tree, the henna plant, dogs, cats and pigeons refer not only to the behaviors of characters but also the whole Muslim society.

“Twilight in Delhi” Title Significance

The novel starts at dawn, with “twilight” referring to the rise of the sun as well as the rise of the protagonist Mir Nihal’s living standards. By contrast, descriptions of twilight at evening in the closing sentences portray the overall downfall and destruction of not only the family of Mir Nihal but also the Mughal Empire altogether.

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Summary of Twilight in Delhi

Twilight in Delhi begins on a hot summer evening as Mir Nahal comes home to find his wife awake. She wants to talk about the marriages of their two children. Mir insists their son, Asghar, must be married first, but they are interrupted by a snake sneaking into Mir’s pigeons’ quarters.

 After this,Asghar arrives home and is scolded by his father for his English fashion. Asghar leaves rather than argue.He wants to marry Bilqeece, a girl from a lower class. Asghar knows his father will be against of their marriage. He asks his older sister, Begam Waheed, to help him.

He tells his sister that he would suicide if they will not marry him with Bilqeece. Begam Waheed talks to their mother, Begam Nihal, to ask for her help.

When she talks to Mir, he becomes angry because he’s worried that this will ruin the family’s reputation.

Asghar goes to visit his mistress, Mushtari Bai, along with a friend of his. The friend reveals Asghar’s love for Bilqeece, which causes Mushtari to become jealous as she’s in love with Asghar herself.

 After they spend some time together, Asghar goes home and learns that his mother has agreed to help him marry Bilqeece. Begam Waheed suggests that Asghar return with her to her home in Bhopal to wait out the time before he can marry Bilqeece.

After some time, Mir returns home to find his family suffering from heat sickness. The heat is so extreme that several of his beloved pigeons have died. He buys new ones at the market, and one of his servants arrived in a hurry to reveal to him that his mistress, Babban Jan, is dying.

 He hurries to her home, forgetting to lock the pigeon coop. He returns to find that Babban Jan has passed away just minutes prior. Grieving, he gives her mother some money before leaving.

At home, he finds that his pigeons were killed by a stray cat.At that time,Asghar makes his own decisions about who he wants to marry. After retirement, he spends time focusing on his old hobby of Alchemy.

Asghar and Bilqeece get married in an days-long ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, Bilqeece’s family tearfully says goodbye to her as she leaves to be with Asghar.

The marriage has some problems from the start, with the two finding themselves awkward around each other and Bilqeece not feeling at home around her husband’s family.

She tries to fit in, seeking to please his father, but there’s little result. Asghar wonders if there is a true spark between them, but when they talk about getting their own home and Asghar getting a job, things improve. They move out and get their own place, filling it with English items. This causes controversy with their families, but they don’t care. Soon they have a daughter named Jehan Ara.

Bilqeece’s father passes away and she goes into a depression, and this causes more conflict between them.

 Soon, she comes down with tuberculosis and dies. Asghar is left to be a single father to their daughter. Bilqeece’s younger sister Zohra helps him, and he soon becomes fascinated to her.

They keep their relationship secret at first, but soon Asghar talks to her parents about marrying her. They agree, but,Zohra’s mother refuses to accept the marriage.

At the same time, Asghar’s older brother Habibuddin comes home as he suffers from an illness, and Mir is greived as he sees India’s chaos at the same time his eldest son dies.

After the funeral, Asghar receives a letter from Zohra, telling him she’s being married off to someone else. He’s left with a broken heart. Mir returns to his room and reflects on all the misfortune that has befallen his family, and dies in his sleep.

Through the story of Mir Nihal and his family, Ali is able to portray the state of India after colonialism and the family traditions and ties. 

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Twilight in Delhi Character Analysis

Mir Nihal

The main character of this novel Mir Nihal has experienced the changes of life throughout this short span of time like “Twilight”. Twilight in Delhi concerns an upper-class Muslim merchant Mir Nihal and his family.

Mir Nihal is the head of his family. He is a traditional man and representative of the values of Muslim culture in old Delhi before colonization.

He is religious as he attends mosque and prays every day, but he has different hobbies and interests, including pigeon flying and alchemy.

“The loss of his pigeons had made him sad.For they were to him the precious toys which a child loves so much,whose loss leaves him brokenhearted”.

Mir Nihal and his family belong from an upper-class Muslim merchant’s family.He does not want to have relation with low class.That’s way he is against Asghar’s marriage with Bilqeece who belongs from a poor family.When Begum Nihal tells him about Asghar’s desire to marry with Bilqeece he says;

“How can he!It is impossible,he must be mad.How can my son marry Mirza Shabaz Beg’s daughter?You don’t want to bring a low-born into the family?There are such things as the family honor and name”.

In Twilight in Delhi, Mir Nihal was an orthodox Muslim who aims to save the future generations from the the British..Their personal lives reflects the larger sociopolitical changes occurring in the city.

He has an affair with the dancing girl Babban Jan. He also suggested he fathered a child with Dilchain, the family’s maid-servant.

He dislikes British rule but does not enroll himself in movements that are aginst Brirish people.

Nihal calls the British “Farangi” which shows his hatred for British.Nihal says to Asghar about English shoes;

“You are again wearing the dirty English boots! I don’t like them.Throw them away”.

He is strong in the start of novel but ends the novel weak and alone.His paralysed condition show the decay of Muslim culure,values and also the end of Mir Nihal’s life like twilight.

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Asghar is the youngest son of Mir Nihal and Begam Nihal. He is representative of a new generation of Delhi.He is less traditional and more interested in English culture.He wears English shoes and has a hair cut in English fashion that annoys Mir Nihal.Asghar feels annoyat his father and says;

“I must not wear English pumps or English shirts; I must not grow my hair in English fashion.If I had stayed in Dehli he wouldn’t have even allowed me to learn English.He is always shouting at me and getting angry”.

He insist to marry with low caste girl that creates aconflict between him and Mir Nihal. He is a deeply romantic. His childhood was unhappy, since he was moved towards her sister while his mother was suffering a mental breakdown, and he feels that nothing has happened good in his life.Often he says;

“I am the most unfortunate creature in the world”

He always disagrees with his father’s views that shows gapbetween the older and newer generations.Even in marriage concern he is also against his father’s wishes and says;

“He thought of marrying her, but the thought of his father and mother stood in his way. They would never allow the marriage, he said to himself.”

 He has three loves throughout the novel Twilight in Delhi: Mushtari Bai, Bilqeece,who is later his wife and Zohra, Bilqeece’s younger sister whom he loves.

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Begam Nihal

Begam Nihal is the wife of Mir Nihal. She is traditional like her husband.

When her children were younger, she suffered a mental break.

She shows that she is unaware of her husbnad’s activities but she not unaware.She also knows his relation with his maid-servant Dilchain also knows her illegitimate child by Nihal.

She still fulfills the duties of a proper wife and mother.She arranges the marriages of both Asghar and her daughter Mehro.

But later towards the end of the novel “twilight in Delhi” she loses her eye-sight that shows her helplessness.


Bilqeece is the lover and later wife of Asghar.She is very shy and fragile, and has difficulty expressing herself.She grows to love him, and even worships him like a God.

But after somtime Asghar shows her coldess and irritation.Asghar has become indifferent that makes her sad and she began to remain depressed and ill.

Even he was more interested in maid-sevant then Bilqeece and does not care. Mostly he remains outside the house.

She says in the days of her ailment to Asghar;

Do not worry on my account,please,I will not survive and live for long.You should marry again.I free you of the debt of my mehr”.

She dies a few years later of the Spanish flu due to T.B. in the middle of “Twilight in Delhi“.

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Habibuddin is Asghar’s older brother, and Mir Nihal and Begam Nihal’s second son. It is noted that he is their favorite son, and indeed that he is the favorite among all the members of his family.

 He has a generous nature. Later on in the novel, he fall victim of tuberculosis disease, and dies after a long battle with the disease. His death symbolizes, the loss of all that is good and beautiful in the world.

Begam Jamal

Begam Jamal is Mir Nihal’s sister-in-law, the widow of his brother Mir Jamal. She lives with the family of Mir Nihal since her husband’s death.

She also loves to gossip, and to cause trouble by spreading other people’s business in the novel “Twilight in Delhi

She interferes in Asghar’s marriage plans again, which causes gap between her and Mir Nihal. She leaves Nihal’s house,that disheartens Mir Nihal.


Zohra is Bilqeece’s younger sister, and later Asghar’s lover. She is more confident and takes care of Bilqeece and Asghar’s daughter after Bilqeece’s death.

Though she and Asghar carry on an affair,but her mother decides to marry her to someone else.

She has sent a despairing letter to Asghar in which she wrote;

I have just learnt that they are getting me married in the morning….I love only you..Tell me what should I do?..But God’s will be done….forgive me, and remember me now and then…Good-bye”.

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Begum Waheed

Begam Waheed is Asghar’s older sister in the novel “Twilight in Delhi“. She is like a mother to him, and took care of him when their own mother was ill. Asghar lives with her for his studies.

He requests her to make his parents agree for Bilqeece.

Although she thinks like her father that Bilqeece is not suitable match for him but she is willing to help him when she sees him sad and says;

“You should not worry,so long as I am alive I shall always do all I can for you”.

She lives in Bhopal, with her husband’s family. After her husband’s death in the novel “Twilight in Delhi” she was forced to live in her husband’s house.


Mehro is Asghar’s younger sister.She is only 14 years old, she is beginning to receive proposals for marriage.

Like Asghar, she has a romantic nature, and dreams of a prince like stories her mother tells.

But she is married with Mehraj who is aged and disfigured due to accident.He is contray to her imaginative prince.

He is insecure and possessive men who does not allow her to visit her father’s home.

                                 Themes of Twilight in Delhi

1.    Marriage

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Marriage is important theme in Twilight in Delhi.The theme of Marriage creates a difficulty as Asghar has passion for Bilqeece and he threats of suicide.

Marriage also become the source of quarrel between Asghar and Mir Nihal. Asghar wants to marry Bilqeece who belongs to a lower status family than Mir Nihal’s family,that makes Mir Nihal angry as he wants Asghar to marry with a high class girl.

When novel opens,Begum Nihal discusses about the marriage of Asghar and says;

“Asghar is now twenty-two,it’s time to think about his marriage lest the boy starts keeping bad company”.

So, Marriage plays an important role throughout the novel.

2.    Decay of Muslim Culture

Symbolism in Twilight in Delhi

One of the major themes in Twilight in Delhi is Decay of Muslim’s culture. The effects of Colonizers has been clearly shown in the novel through the example of Asghar.

Twilight in Delhi deals with the decay of Mughal Kingship and Muslim culture.

Before the arrival of the British in Hindustan, there was rule of Muslims everywhere but at when colonizers came, the whole Muslim society faced a huge decay.

Mir Nihal, who is used to live in the past.Now,he is unable to survive in the present Muslim society. His attitude shows his love for the Muslims of Delhi.Mir Nihal always thinks about glorious past and splendorous Delhi in his ailment.Ali has used Urdu poetry and Urdu words in novel to show a shift from English literature to Urdu.

“Delhi was once a paradise,Such peace had abided here;But they have ravished its name and pride,remain now only ruins and care!”

 (Bahadur Shah)

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3.    Sex

Sex is one of the most important themes of the Twilight in Delhi. Almost all the characters are sexually suppressed.

Every male of Delhi went to prostitutes to fulfill their desires and when they become habitual they cannot satisfy with their wives because they don’t know the art of capturing men through sex.

So most of men have no longer interest in their wives.Mir Nihal, the most energetic man, goes to Babban Jan. A young lady who gave him pleasures and with her death the whole world of Mir Nihal seems to be destroyed.

 He also has relations with his maid Dilchain.Despites these ladies hee had wife at home but he thinks about her;

“There was no beauty and no love in it”.

Asghar also had a young beautiful lady Mushtari Bai. He fell in love with Bilqeece but after marriage he lose his interest in her because of her lack sexual understanding.

“Asghar had become indifferent.His dreams had come to an end, and he did not find his wife,so charming as he had done over years ago”.

 It wasn’t her fault because most of the women are shy and they have no art of pleasing men.LikewiseBilqeece who remains busy with her daughter that irritates Asghar and he says;

“What is the use of wife when you get no comfort and no love……?”

The whole family of Mir Nihal represents the society of Delhi in which men is interested in prostitutes and keep their women unawareness of what is happening in surroundings. Marriage is deteriorated in “Twilight in Delhi” due to difference of desires.

4.    Hybridity

Ali has used postcolonial term hybridity to show the decay of Muslim’s culture due to British rule.He has presented characters side by side to show that how the British culture was affecting the youth and was creating hybridism.

Mir Nihal is the representative of old culture and has clash with his son,who is the embodiment of new culture.Asghar dresses up like English men which is not liked by his father.

Nihal calls the British “Farangi” which shows his hatred for British.Nihal says to Asghar;

“You are again wearing the dirty English boots!

I don’t like them.Throw them away”.

Hybrid culture is promoting imbalance and inequality between colonizers and colonized.

Generation Gap

The major conflict in the novel is between the colonizer and the colonized and between younger and older generations, e.g. Mir Nehal and Asghar.Young generation is unable to understand his forefathers.They have least interest in old traditions and values than that of their older generation.

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Songs and Poetry (Motif)

Throughout the novel, the character’s emotional states are reflected through songs or poems of Urdu poets. The songs are often performed by, beggars and workers.

The poems are more often recited by the novel’s characters that are appropriate the situation. These verses act as a reminder of Delhi’s rich heritage of poetry.


Twilight in Delhi Themes

Mir Nihal’s pigeons are an important symbol of the loss of the old Delhi.Pigeon is also symbol of Delhi’s peace that has gone away.

The death of pigeons shows the loss of Babban Jan and end of Mir Nihal’s life that ids like Twilight.

These loss make him able to accept the change and he gives consent of Asghar and Bilqeece marriage.


Cat is symbol of British people, whereas pigeons are symbolizes for Muslim culture. Cat’s attack on the pigeons, in real meanings, is attack on Muslim culture.

Mehro’s Marriage symbol of Social Evil

Her marriage is symbol of social injustice in regarding woman’s right.She is symbol of helplessness.She is married with an ugly,aged and disfigured man.Mehro is suppressed in patriacal society.

Palm Tree

palm tree is symbol of life.It is fresh in the start of novel but at the end of novel it is destroyesd and has no leave.It shows the end of life,culture as well as freshness.Characters of novel die one by one like the leaves of palm tree.Nihal looks at the tree and remembers his freshness of youth and glorious past that is disappeared like the leaves of palm tree.

Irony in Twilight in Delhi

Gender Roles

In “Twilight in Delhi”, the separate rooms were allocated to men and women and the women were not allowed to go out without any purpose while the men could do whatever they want.

Begum Nihal, Mehro and Bilqueece are confined in houses. They were taught to remain loyal to their husbands.Mir Nihal remained in affair with Babban Jan. His son, Asghar also visits his mistress Mushtari Bai.

The irony is that the girls are not consulted even about their own marriages, Mehro Zamani accepts her marriage with the aged Meraj while Asghar forced his parents for marrying him to his beloved Bilqueece.

Conditions of Mistresses

The character of Babban Jan and Mushtari Bai is ironical as they are sad and depressed but at at same time they sing and dance to please others. Mushtari Bai describes herself as

“A candle who burns its own self and sheds the tears of blood and blackens its habitat with its smoke.”


Asghar’s likeness for English shoes is also ironical. He dislikes British culture but at the same time he likes English boots. He complains about English men but still he tries to hide his shoes from his father’s eyes because he knows that his father dislike their use.

Nihal says to Asghar;

“You are again wearing the dirty English boots!I don’t like them.Throw them away”.

Twilight in Delhi Metaphors and Similes

Twilight in Delhi

The decaying civilization of the Muslims of India is described by a metaphorical title “Twilight in Delhi”. The title of the novel is a metaphor that is used to show the end of Muslim’s glory.


Ahmad Ali has used the simile of blanket for the night. He says,

 “Night envelops the city covering it like a blanket”.

The night has concealed the men of Delhi, just like a blanket hides everything under it.


The simile of coma shows the paralyzed condition of Mir Nihal. Although he is alive, but it seems that he is not in his senses, “he lay in the bed in the state of coma”.Itshows the end of his rule and power.

Literary Elements in Twilight in Delhi


Postcolonial Novel


The setting of the novel is Delhi 1857-1919 and it has been written in the context of British rule in the sub-continent.


The novel has been narrated from the first person point of view.The narrator is omniscient.


The tone that is used in Twilight in Delhi is Pessimistic, Mournful.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Mir Nihal and Delhi is the protagonist and the British is presented as antagonist in Twilight in Delhi.


The death of Baban jan and the pigeon’s death foreshadows the ruin of Mir Nehil.

Mir Nehal’s illness foreshadows the downfall of Muslims.


The Allusions of Mughal Emperors have been used in the novel.


There are images of death, illness, animals and burning of candle.


There is parallelism between Mir Nehal’s condition and the condition of the Muslims of the sub-continent.


Peace has been personified by the pigeons.


Twilight in Delhi is a post-colonial novel by Ahmed Ali that highlights the effects of Colonialism on Indian Culture, especially Delhi which was considered as the heart of the Indian civilization.

It shows how the British era served as a twilight in Delhi and old Delhi was destroyed deliberately by them.

On the other hand, a new Delhi was created outside the city to further uplift the importance or cultural significance of the real Delhi.

NOTE: This Post is written by “Ms. Yameena Yar Gondal”

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