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Songs of Revolt

Poetic responses to the literature of the Ghadar movement

By Ali Mir, Bushra Rehman, Purvi Shah, and Syed Mohammed Shahed


You hold twilight


I am struck by twilight.

The power of Kartar Singh Sarabha’s “If they ask you who you are” stems from its literal fire. In this potent manifesto vaulting work, duty & worship as one life-blood—freedom—the subtle presence of “sandhya” moves me. We too, in our current quests for liberation, seek to hold that which passes, the magic of a moment that joins our physical presence to our purpose.

The unified dharm & radical call to action in “If they ask you who you are” is triumphant. “Revolution lived in his veins,” noted fellow freedom fighter Bhagat Singh of Kartar Singh Sarabha, who at a wise age of 19 gave his life for the cause of revolution. But before his noosing, he led conversations and the publication of potent work to further resistance and mobilize a liberation movement—whose impacts we yet live today. In Ghadar di Gunj, we have a blessed twilight of words & action—a poetry we are still seeking.

The Ghadar rebels sought to dethrone colonialism and challenge their second-class treatment in the U.S. Today, I envision the Dreamers seeking citizenship, migrant labor searching for a way to feed family in our unequal global economy, survivors of human trafficking re-making homes.

With “If they ask you who you are” as a launching, I wonder who will we be: what can we achieve not only through essential resistance but also through risking our own evolution & disparate unions? What is the space of our own twilight?

Let’s start with my echo. It is part twilight: you thunder the revolution.

—Purvi Shah


You hold twilight

as if it were citizenship, your palm
clutching minutes as passing papers. You belong

to a world/a dream, but along an arid border,
a thousand interrogations of your name. See

how an arbitrary carving can become
a fence can become a wall, electric

divisions. Freedom is

radical, the ability to travel

as will. Like loose electrons discovering
new potential, the Dreamers

too want to be more than citizens
of a slave country or slaves of a citizen

country. Who is left out of every country? Off

the edges of Lampedusa, ask the names of the drowned.

As you read this line, twilight passes.

Your mind is its own country.

Here too, a thunder in awakening.

When a country falls
apart, there is still justice to be
cleaved. When day falls
apart, there is still twilight. At thunder, a flock

of ravens erupts. A few veer
off – with every moment, another
option & rebels creating
path. The nature

of change is radical. As migrant knows,
the nature of radical is to make change.

You reveal your own echo from the East: together twilight burns, struggling

for the invariable vision in new constellations. In sound
& re-sound, we labor to uphold our first infinity: death

over personal destruction, dignity
over being. In twilight,

you find a revolutionary

& welcoming home.


Purvi Shah is known for her sparkly eyeshadow & raucous laughter. She won the inaugural SONY South Asian Excellence Award for Social Service for her work fighting violence against women. Recently, she directed a community-based poetry project, Together We Are New York: Asian Americans Remember and Re-Vision 9/11. And she has an award-winning poetry book, Terrain Tracks. Make her day by getting it & sharing your responses! You can find her through the Huffington Post, at an event, and @PurviPoets.