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Vivek Bald, a scholar and filmmaker reconstructs the lives of early Bengali immigrants in his new book, ‘Bengali Harlem’. Their immigration to America occurred in waves – first around 1880s onward as peddlers selling exotic Oriental ware. The second wave was around the WWI time frame as maritime laborers escaping brutal and inhuman conditions on the British ships. These men formed their own networks, had interracial marriages with African-American, Puerto Rican and Creole women. Bald narrates the lost stories of these sojourners who were primarily from Bangladesh (part of Indian subcontinent prior to 1947).

One such immigrant was Dada Amir Haider Khan, a seaman, a pilot and also a revolutionary. His political awakening was greatly influenced by his meetings with ‘Ghadr Sikh’ and Agnes Smedley. Khan would recite verses from ‘Ghadr Ki Goonj’, a publication of the Ghadr society. Later, Khan was caught in Hong Kong  for being a revolutionary and in his prison cell he wrote the memoir ‘Chains To Lose (1939-1942).’

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Chains to Lose by Dada Khan

 

 

Dada Khan’s memoir is a rare account of Ghadr and the political uprising as seen from a non-western perspective.

 

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