Sundarban سندر بن

Legend has it that in Sundarban jungle, the one who turns around to look, turns into stone. This became a widely used metaphor in Urdu poetry. A metaphor for the debilitating effect of remembering what was, temporally and/or spatially, left behind.

A few years ago, I looked back. Time collapsed. Past became a dream of the future, and took over the present. I took the counsel that said whatever ails you, confront it where you are, don’t run away from it or its ghost will follow you wherever you are and wherever you go. Little did I know that it was being away that ailed me. By staying I did just that – run away from what ailed me. I ran away from it. And it followed me, always gaining on me.

I made plans for a return sometime in the future, postponed them indefinitely, turned away from them, and concentrated on building a life where I was, tried to kill the exile within, but without letting go of the desire to return. This created a dissonance, a gray zone of immobility where you can neither move forward nor go back – a limbo. Slowly but surely, that state of in-betweenness grows like a vine and expands into your life, taking over your time, your thoughts, your passions, your dreams, and keeping you more and more in a state of pre-occupation. So much so, that you can neither take steps to stay nor to leave. You are trapped within yourself.

There are, of course, differences between an exile and an expatriate. One of them being that while the former is prohibited from returning, the latter presumably can return whenever he wants. But those that can return, mostly don’t, even if they want to. That is a precarious state. It is akin to being in a transit lounge. The exile that cannot return, knows that the plane going home has not yet arrived or perhaps may never arrive. The expatriate, who wants to return, is a passenger in the transit lounge, watching, day in and day out, planes leave for home that he can hop onto anytime, but just can’t.

I don’t think I have ever been able to think about this state of being clearly, let alone adequately articulate it. But I need to try to grapple with it. Or may be writing about this limbo is yet another way to escape from my predicament, away from it, into my own little world, deeper into limbo.


میرے اس کے بیچ میں پہلے سمندر  رکھ دیا
پار کرنے جو چلا، اس میں بھنور کیوں رکھ دیا؟
تیرے در پر اے خدا، اک سوال پوچھوں گا میں
تریاق میں، اے چارہ گر، تو نے زہر کیوں رکھ دیا؟
December 2000
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