Byline: Fatima Syeda and Rizwan Akhtar
There is a lot of evidence of male characters in Pre / Partition fiction who became victims of the emasculating colonizing powers in the sub-continent. One such example is the character of Mir Nihal in Ahmed Ali's Twilight in Delhi. Throughout the novel, Mir Nihal can be seen as having fears of death and extinction in the backdrop of colonial existence which he had to bear with. The "impotent anger" (Ali 138) which he feels during the coronation scene qualifies his insignificant existence in a colonized state.
Though he feels enraged against the British who are ruling them, yet is unable to do anything about it. The helplessness and impotence seen in his character is similar to Okonkowo's character in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Both the characters are true reflections of men who once were representations of power in a patriarchal society and have now entered a state of subjugation under the colonial rule and thus can be viewed as the victims of political changes. Frantz Omar Fanon reads this powerlessness in his book Black Skins White Masks by looking at the Negroes as castrated. "The penis, the symbol of manhood, is annihilated, which is to say that it is denied." (Fanon 125). The Negro, according to him, is irrupted in his "corporeality" (126). Literally as well as metaphorically, the colonized men can be studied as men who are emasculated or castrated.
Colonization was an emasculating experience for the Indian native men in different ways. Hegemonic forces do not always control people through power but also through mind. In the process of Colonization, people are policed in a way so as to serve the purpose of only the empowering party. Mir Nihal, who has the potential to kill as great an enemy as a snake, cannot counter his British enemies. He feels impotent in the face of the power the British have acquired in the sub-continent and also in the face of the English manners exhibitant in his own son Asghar. Asghar's mannerism makes him confront the limits of "colonial alienation" (Bhabha Foreword x) which denies the individual his original self. Asghar can be seen in the novel walking around in his English shoes or English dressing gown, "the White man's artifice inscribed on the Black man's body" (Bhabha Foreword xvi).
He has decorated his house with sofas, chairs and tables of English fashion and feels happy when these English accessories attract the attention of the people around him. The economic dependence, sense of inferiority and a complex for English language, education and manners, and a colour of lesser significance all came together to incapacitate the men of the sub-continent.
The economic dependence had raised the status of the British in the eyes of these native men. They had started seeing the British government as their god. Siddiq, the bania tells his friends, "'For it is through it [the British Government] that we are getting all this.'" (Ali 136). These men reduce themselves to the level of subjugation quite naturally. Siddiq reprimands his friends on being ungrateful to the English and for himself he says, "I am just dying to see my gracious king..." (136). The Indians even joined the British army to fight for the British. Ahmed Ali brings out the irony of the situation, "Those who had been conquered were going to fight for the conquerors, lay down their lives for twelve or eighteen rupees a month." (208). The ones who hated the rule of the British reacted to this kind of subjugatory behavior only in form of sighs, curses or silent anger. "But the older residents ... were stricken dumb, or cursed the Farangis at home..." (137).
Even the loss of the British cannot bring out an open response from them. When the pavilion got burnt down, "Mir Nihal and Habibuddin felt sectretly happy." (137). Theirs is a life of slavery in which, though they are not exactly claimed and shackled, yet are unable to say anything let alone do something. Their condition is none better than their women who are powerless and thus can only curse the British. One curses only when one cannot do anything else. So when Begum Nihal curses the Frangis, "'May they be destroyed for what they have done to Hindustan. May God'sscourage fall on them.'" (137), she seems to be representing Mir Nihal's feelings, "... and they all burned with rage and impotent anger, for they could do nothing." (138).
Their condition is also a result of the impotence of the Indian rulers who could not counter the British manipulations and easily lost their homeland to the British colonizers. Habibuddin discusses the causes of the downfall of Delhi and regrets the kingship of Bahadur Shah Zafar who preferred to lay down his weapons and hand over his kingdom to the British instead of fighting them back. Habibuddin says about Bahadur Shah Zafar, "He loved to be looked upon as a martyr, and was too fond of a sufistic and easy life." (Ali 141). So this is how Bahadur Shah Zafar lets the English empower him. He lets himself go into the passive condition. Habibuddin says, "He allowed himself to be deceived by that traitor, MirzaElahiBaksh, who was an English spy and had sold himself to them." (141). The passive response of these rulers is quite evident here. Unable to do anything, they presented themselves and their people to be mistreated and looted.
The ultimate condition of these rulers is reflected in the form of a creeping, crawling beggar i.e. MirzaNasirulMulk, the youngest son of Bahadur Shah Zafar. "A beggar emerged from a by-lane, lifting himself up on his hands and dragging his legs along the floor; and a bag was hanging round his neck." (149). The physical condition of this man tells a lot upon the disempowered state of the native men.
Mir Nihal is too much conscious of the slavery the Indians are subjected to. He is extremely annoyed to see all the excitement the inhabitants of Delhi exhibited on the coronation ceremony of the English king. He is filled with rage to see the native rajahs and nawabs following the English procession. "And Mir Nihal thought of their slavishness and their treacherous acceptance of the foreign yoke, he was filled with shame and disgust." (Ali 144). It is quite distasteful for him to think that these princes have been winning concessions for themselves by betraying their own people. He questions the "empire[s] ..." (144) these princes have established for themselves. The word 'empire' is used ironically here for no power is vested in these so-called princes by the original rulers i.e. the English. No reaction or revolt is possible for the rule is quite established and is backed by powerful and forceful threats.
During the coronation ceremony, in the forefront the procession goes on and "in the background were the guns booming, threatening the subdued people of Hindustan." (144). The very presence of too many soldiers and the show of power is enough to intimidate the Indians. So the "once mighty Hindustan" (145) is reduced to a languished existence. "Already they had put the iron chains of slavery round their once unbending necks." (145)
The subjugation has marred the spirits of not only the political leadership but also that of the religious representations. The Jama Masjid had been "vulgarly decorated with a garland of golden writing containing slavish greetings" (Ali 145) for the new English king. Gone are the days when the Muslim men had the courage to defend their mosques against any British invasion. Mir Nihal reminisces the time when the same mosque was invaded by the British but only to confront a powerful resistance from the yet empowered Muslims. In those times "... it was better to die like men..." (146). In the present scenario, according to Mir Nihal, the manliness of the Muslim men can be seen nowhere. Mir Nihal himself cannot do anything against this kind of emasculation and rages futilely on the cowardice of this new kind of men who are "... chicken-hearted and happy in their disgrace." (147).
He himself is nothing better than them for he can see the disgrace but just like all of them can do nothing about it butonly weep "dry tears of blood" (147). "He was filled with shame and grief, until the tears of helplessness came into his eyes and he wiped them from his cheeks." (147). He mourns upon the miseries of those "who see and suffer and can do nothing." (147). He laments their impotence and reflects upon their condition, "A fire burns within their breasts; but the flames do not shoot up." (147). Their souls are deadened for "Only the soul is consumed by the internal heat and they feel dead, so dead, alas..." (147). A deadened and defeated Mir Nihal finds himself void of the power to challenge the mighty British. He, therefore, vests the responsibility upon the youngest one in the family i.e. Nasim. He believes Nasim and his generation would be brave enough to drive the British out of their country.
Towards the end of the novel, Mir Nihal can be seen reduced to an incapacitated being. "he was weary and...