ON THE WAY TO THE GALLOWS
By Kartar Singh Sarabha
Kartar Singh, a Punjabi Sikh, was born in Sarabha village, Ludhiana district, in 1896. His father died when he was six and his mother when he was thirteen. He was raised by his grandfather, a farmer. Kartar attended the village school for five years and graduated from a missionary high school in 1911. He was attending Revenshaw College in Orissa when he got caught up in the nationalist movement to free India from British rule. He decided to go to America to aid the cause. He was then seventeen years old.
When World War I broke out in Europe, the Gadar Party seized the opportunity with Great Britain at war to return to India to launch their revolution. Kartar Singh was among the largest group of sixty men to leave San Francisco on the steamship Korea on August 29, 1914. He was deeply involved in planning an armed uprising for February 21, 1915. But before the nationalists could carry out their plans, they were betrayed by one of their members. Kartar and close to three hundred persons in the Punjab were arrested by government authorities and tried for their role in the planned revolt. He was sentenced to death, the youngest to be executed at eighteen years of age. In the hours before his hanging on November 16, 1915, he wrote one last poem, which he sang as he was led to his execution.
“On the judgment day
Before the gods
These will be my words, my statement:
I am a servant of Indians
India belongs to me
Yes, Indian I am
One hundred percent Indian
Indian is my blood and my caste
This is my only religion
My only tribe, my only clan
I am a particle of the ravaged India’s ruins
This is the only name I have
The only hallmark, the only address
Oh, Mother India this was not to be my fate
My good fortune
That with every movement of mine
I could have worshipped your feet
O Mother India
If my head is offered
My life is sacrificed
In your service
Then, I would understand
Even in my death
I will attain
A life of eternity.”
1. Based on this poem and its author, where was he from?
2. Where was this author’s main loyalty lie?
3. Why did he come to America?
4. What sorts of opportunities was he looking for in America?
5. Based on his background, do you think he was the type of person that America wanted?
6. What is the main overall theme of the poem?
7. What is the main emotion is the poem portraying?
Originally, I had intended to come to America last year.
Lack of money delayed me until early autumn.
It was on the day that the Weaver Maiden met the Cowherd1
That I took passage on the President Lincoln.
I ate wind and tasted waves for more than twenty days.
Fortunately, I arrived safely on the American continent.
I thought I could land in a few days.
How was I to know I would become a prisoner suffering in the wooden building?
The barbarians’2 abuse is really difficult to take.
When my family’s circumstances stir my emotions, a double stream of tears flow.
I only wish I can land in San Francisco soon.
Thus sparing me the additional sorrow here.
1. What was the original thought that America was going to be like according to the author?
2. How was the author treated once he/she got to America?
3. How badly did the author want to come to America based on the first half of the poem?