The Mughal Past and the Politics of Memorialization in Ahmed Ali's "Twilight in Delhi"

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Monika Bhagat-Kennedy


The recent dominance of Hindu nationalist politics has emboldened many in India and the diaspora to call for the realization of an essentially Hindu nation-state, intensifying concerns about the future of the country’s espoused secular ideals and sizeable Muslim minority. In light of ongoing controversies surrounding the status of Mughal-era markers and monuments in the Indian public sphere, this essay argues for renewed attention to Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi (1940), the first major English-language novel by an Indian Muslim writer, which presciently mourned the saffronization of Indian society and attendant erasure of Muslims from the national imaginary. While Twilight has often been read as an excessively maudlin text about elapsed Mughal hegemony and decaying ashraf [noble] Muslim culture, the essay argues that the novel was invested in the futurity of Delhi and India more broadly. Close examination of Ali’s portrayal of Mughal monuments and the city of Delhi reveals them to be evocative sites of composite Indian belonging, locations that are understood to be both Hindu and Muslim in character. The essay contends that Ali’s novel stands as a corrective to ongoing assertions that Muslims lack an authentic claim to the country—a poignant monumentalization of a plural India when independence was on the horizon.


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