The Land of Five Rivers


Bhagat Singh

      The man who goes on hunger strike has a soul. He is
      moved by that soul, and he believes in the justice of
      his cause. . . . However much you deplore them, and
      however much you say they are misguided, it is the
      system, this damnable system of governance, which
      is resented by the people.

      —Muhammad Ali Jinnah, 1929

With batons they beat his comrade
Lala Lajpat Rai, whose heart would surrender

to the blows. In the foam spilling
from the dying man’s mouth Bhagat heard


the voices of Douglass and Du Bois,
and he wept at the sheer nobility of the oppressed,


be they Indian or American, and thereafter
he resolved to die a free man.


That the Angrez so wholeheartedly believed
their blue eyes were divine favors


rubbed him all wrong. They were first-class
thieves, the whole lot, and it mattered


not what their laws said about revolution,
nor which of them caught a bullet.


If it would cost him his life to reclaim
his life, then why hesitate? I can kill you too,


he shouted, and I will. And he did,
despite the Mahatma’s insistence on nonviolence.


His version of dignity had room enough
for bombs. For bludgeoning hunger and thirst.
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