The novel emerged in South Asia not as an import from Europe, but rather as the product of multiple sources and as a genre capable of fulfilling a distinct function. I argue that the novel as a genre arose in colonial India because of its ability to hold divergent points of view and to subtly critique the British government. I focus on two early Urdu novels, Nazir Ahmad's Mirāt ul-'Arūs (1869) (The Bride's Mirror) and Ratan Nath Sarshar's Fasāna-e Āzād (1878–1883) (The Tale of Azad), to examine how novelists used techniques such as the contrasting character pair to explore irreconcilable problems under colonial rule. I uncover how Fasāna-e Āzād drew from the earlier Indo-Persian and Urdu genre of the romance (dāstān) in its use of contrasting character pairs, reimagining the technique to carve out a space for debate and critique in the novel. This strategy represents one of the ways that early vernacular-language novelists fashioned the novel genre as a form uniquely suited to engaging with the challenges and contradictions of the colonial period.