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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


Take Advantage of the Situation and Revolt


When the call to write inspired by the Ghadar movement came, I was resistant. I was struggling through my first few months of being a mother in a one-room cabin in the Catskills. I took care of my newborn daughter, made fires to keep us warm and had begun to slowly lose myself in a bubble of milk, watching the autumn leaves fall. I felt too exhausted and disconnected to write, but I knew within my resistance was also knowledge. So I began to read Ghadar di Gunj. The poetry was impassioned, filled with life and vigor and the questions for me arose: What is this apathy that has settled over so many of us like dust? What happened to our will to revolt?

I have my reasons and I’m sure you have yours. It made me think that within our resistance is an untapped source of power. What prevents us from revolting is where our work lies. For myself, I was living far away from home and my circles of support because as a new parent, I could no longer afford to live in NYC where I grew up. In this country, parenthood is becoming a privilege for the elite while poverty continues to be a weapon that separates us from our communities and ourselves. This is where my work lies.

So with only a few minutes to spare, I am sending this dispatch from deep in the woods.

—Bushra Rehman

Bhukhey Marnn Bacchey Kaall Vich Sadey
Khatti Khann Saadi Englistan Walley
Kannak Beejkey Khann Nun Jaun Mildey
Paisa Chhad dey Nahin Laggan Valley
Laayiya Tax Firangiyan Bahut Yaaro
Bhukhey Marann Gharib Dukaan Valley
Karo Paltan Nun Khabardar Jaakey
Sutey Payey Kiyon Tegh Chalaan Valley
Musalmaan, Pathan, Balwan, Dogar
Singh Soormey, Yudh Machaann Valley
Hindustaniyan Morchey Fatey Keetey
Burma, Misar te Cheen, Sudan Valley


Our children are dying in famines
The English are enjoying the fruit or our toil
We sow wheat but we get barley to eat
We are not left with a penny, all is taken by the tax collectors
The English have levied heavy taxes
Poor shopkeepers are dying of hunger
Go and arouse the army
Why those who wield the sword are asleep?
Muslims, Pathans, Warriors, and Dogras
Valiant Sikhs, the Battle Criers
Hindustanis winning battles in
Burma, Egypt, China, and in Sudan


Take Advantage of this Situation And Revolt

Fear fell over me like a deep prayer
my family said hold your tongue
my daughter cried all through the night
and my will to revolt shrunk

I got lost rubbing two pennies together
I got caught spying on myself
I stuffed my ears with old furniture
and lost my will to revolt

I lost my will to revolt
I lost my will to revolt

But if I glue my ear to the wall
I can hear the echoes of Ghadar
the faint scratching of the prisoners
listen they’re speaking in code

Saying, go and arouse the army
wake them from their sleepy holes
take advantage of this situation and revolt
take advantage of this situation and revolt

Bushra Rehman grew up in Corona, Queens but her mother says Bushra was born in an ambulance flying through the streets of Brooklyn. Her father is not so sure, but it would explain a few things. Rehman’s first novel, Corona, is a dark comedy about being South Asian in the United States and was noted among this year’s Best Debut Fiction by Poets & Writers. Rehman’s co-edited the anthology Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism which was included in Ms. Magazine’s 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of All Time. Her writing has been featured in numerous anthologies and on BBC Radio 4, WNYC, and KPFA and in Poets & Writers, The New York Times, Crab Orchard Review, and The Feminist Wire, among other publications.