yih tavahhum kaa kaar-;xaanah hai
yaa;N vuhii hai jo i((tibaar kiyaa

1) this is a workshop of imagination/illusion
2) here is only/emphatically that, in which we/they/one had confidence/belief



tavahhum : 'Thinking, imagining, supposing; imagination, fancy, supposition, conjecture; suspicion; imputation'. (Platts p.345)


i((tibaar : 'Confidence, trust, reliance, faith, belief; respect, esteem, repute; credit, authority, credibility; weight, importance; regard, respect, view, consideration, reference'. (Platts p.60)

S. R. Faruqi:

This verse recalls the saying of Gautama Buddha, that 'all that we are is all that we have thought'. But Muhammad Hasan Askari has considered this a Sufistic verse, and has given a fine commentary on it. Askari says:

We ought not to take as the meaning of this verse that every thought is without foundation, so that the existence of man, or creation, is unreal; nor is its meaning that every thought is correct, therefore for every man's reality is that which would come into his thought. Mir is expressing both the affirmative and negative aspects of 'imagination'. The world is certainly a workshop of imagination, because it can't be perceived at all without illusion. But jo i((tibaar kiyaa , that is, those meanings that illusion has selected from among the perceptions-- if they are only slaves of our invention, then existence for man will become a deceit.... But if these meanings are according to wisdom, propriety, and insight, then by means of illusion, a door of mystical knowledge will open for man.

You will ask, if this affirmative aspect is present in the verse, then why didn't Mir say it clearly, or why didn't he give, if nothing more, then at least a hint? In reply I say that this very thing is the eloquence [balaa;Gat] of the verse. Two levels of the meanings that are hidden in the verse have already been expressed. In the third level affirmation again becomes negation. But this negation is not in connection with ordinary men, but rather with mystical knowers, because in the verse this hadith is being rendered: 'No one can have access to the mystical knowledge of the ancients'. Not to speak of the outer and inner sense organs-- not even through any subtle level.

Therefore in this verse the word 'illusion' proves itself even on a subtle level, and has been used with regard to the whole totality of things. Since it's not even possible to attain that level of mystic knowledge, a kind of despair and constraint overtakes the mystical knower. Just this state has been expressed in this verse. But in this negation, there's again affirmation. Or rather, put it like this: this very constraint is really connection. Hazrat Abu Bakr has expressed the mood of mystical knowledge in these words: 'to know about the senses that the senses are too weak for mystical knowledge'. In Mir's verse constraint and a mood of admiring amazement gleam more brightly.

There's no doubt of Askari Sahib's subtle insight, but in my view his commentary fails to do justic to both the basic words 'imagination' [tavahhum] and 'confidence' [i((tibaar]. 'Imagination' assumes those things to be present (that is, through 'illusion' [vahm] envisions them as real), which do not exist. It's not necessary that a thing in which 'confidence' would be placed would be real, or would be exactly the way assumed by the 'confidence' in it.

Now please consider some other aspects of the verse that are in need of attention. By 'this' can be meant the world, and also some such situation and state of affairs in which the poet finds himself. That is, in its spiritual and mental journey the verse confronts some situation about which the suspicion crosses his mind that perhaps all this that he's seeing is only the product of that illusion.

Consider the word kaar-;xaanah -- the word is usually used to express amazement or contempt, or for something the correctness of which would be doubtful. The word's other meaning is 'a working place, a place where things are made'. Thus the world is a kaar-;xaanah -- everything here is artificial and suppositional, and the supervisor or driving spirit of this workshop is 'illusion'. The meaning of the second line also emerges as 'if we would deny the existence of something, then it remains non-existent' (if we don't believe that the world exists, then the world really doesn't exist).

He's composed a verse that's out of the ordinary; it's not a verse, it's a miracle. The tone too-- how dignified but unemotional it is, with neither sorrow nor joy, without that burst of pleasure that comes from understanding something. It seems that someone, returning after making observations, is reporting, in everyday language, what he has learned.

Mir has composed this theme in Persian as well:

'The shape of life is made of illusion;
otherwise, existence is nothing more than belief'



It's a verse of a dozen words, and surely deserves some kind of prize for generating the maximum amount of ambiguity with the minimum amount of means. Or on the other hand, perhaps we should deduct points for its extreme brevity as providing a special advantage, since brevity is one of the best means for creating ambiguity.

The verse centers on the pair of terms tavahhum and i((tibaar , which both have wide semantic ranges of their own (see the definitions above). In the case of tavahhum , the meanings range from neutral ('imagination, fancy') to the negative ('suspicion, imputation'), and they're always tinged with the root sense of vahm , 'illusion'. Then, i((tibaar can mean something emotional ('confidence, trust'), something intellectual ('credibility, weight'), or something neutral ('importance, considerabion').

Moreover, almost all the other significant words in the verse have their own multivalences. What exactly is 'this'-- the world, or the mind, or something else? What exactly is a 'workshop'-- is the term neutrally descriptive (a factory), or idiomatically pejorative (a place of fakery, as SRF suggests)? Where is 'here'? And is the vuhii to be read as exclusionary ('only that'), or simply emphatic ('emphatically that')? Who or what is the subject of the second line?

In view of such brevity, compression, and built-in ambiguities, how much sense does it make to take Askari's approach, and try to decode the verse as a metaphysical statement (and a multi-layered one at that, with successive waves of negation and affirmation!)? It seems pretty clear that Askari's 'interpretation' is his own metaphysical statement, not Mir's; it cannot be derived in any remotely reliable way from the verse. (In fact, it's so complicated that I'm not even sure I've translated it entirely satisfactorily.) Surely the greatest charm of the verse is its very undecideability. It sets up a little thought machine, and invites the mind to play with it endlessly, with no possibility of closure. It's the kind of thing Ghalib particularly loves to do.

For other 'workshop' examples, see


Note for grammar fans: The hardest-working word in the verse is surely jo . Normally i((tibaar karnaa takes a kaa for its object; but that has been blithly omitted. So jo is required to mean something like jis kaa . And with the subject also omitted, the protean jo is really like a rough, sturdy bolt-- it holds the whole second line together, adequately if not elegantly.