Ghazal 16, Verse 4

{16,4}*

mauj-e saraab-e dasht-e vafaa kaa nah puuchh ;haal
har ;zarrah mi;sl-e jauhar-e te;G aab-daar thaa

1) the wave of the mirage of the desert of faithfulness-- don't ask about its state!
2) every sand-grain, like the temper of a sword, was glittering/'water-bearing'

Notes:

jauhar : 'Absolute or essential property; skill, knowledge, accomplishment, art; excellence, worth, merit, virtue; ...the diversified wavy mar streaks, or grain of a well-tempered sword'. (Platts p.399)


aab-daar : 'Polished, bright; of a good water (as gems); well-tempered (as steel, &c.); sharp (as a sword, &c.); pure, clean, white'. (Platts p.1)

Nazm:

That is, the way the temper-lines of a sword are aab-daar , in the same way so were the sand-grains of the wave of the mirage. The result is that in the land of passion, swords rain down. (17)

== Nazm page 17

Vajid:

Urdu text: Vajid 1902 {16}

Bekhud Dihlavi:

The way a wave in a mirage gives the illusion of water and causes the death of the water-seeker, in the desert of faithfulness there can be no success except an imaginary hope. An example of this is given: the sand-grain of the desert of faithfulness is aab-daar like the temper of a sword. The point is that faithfulness, in the end, takes the lover's life. (36)

Naiyar Masud:

At first glance, what claims our attention in this verse is the admirably contradictory use of the word aab-daar . In place of only 'sword', by means of 'temper of a sword' the effect of the simile aab-daar is augmented. And to the extent that the generality of 'every sand-grain' increases its intensity, to the same extent it also increases the meaningfulness of the simile (because the aspect of the temper of a sword, since it resembles small dots, is similar to sand-grains). aab-daar means 'glittering'. Sand-grains also glitter, and in a desert this glitter not only increases the feeling of heat and thirst, but also makes the effect of stoniness and unkindness and dryness more powerful.

aab-daar [literally] means 'water-bearing'. This is the opposite of the first meaning, but the basis for the simile even now remains perfect and just as it was. If we take aab-daar to mean 'water-bearing', then the simile becomes that every sand-grain was ready to offer water-- but in the same way as the temper of a sword remains ready to offer water to its prey; that is, to take him down into the valley of death.... Such an extraordinary and remarkable simile, at which even a metaphor would gaze in stupefaction-- not to speak of other poets, even in Ghalib's poetry such things are rarely to be found. (120-121)

When you draw near to an ordinary mirage, you realize that this too, like the rest of the desert, is a patch of ground; but when you draw near to the mirage of the desert of faithfulness, you realize that this patch of ground is distinct from the rest of the desert of faithfulness, because in this patch of ground every sand-grain is aab-daar like the temper of a sword. That is, unlike ordinary mirages, the mirage of the desert of faithfulness does not content itself with merely not satisfying your thirst; rather, it brings you additional troubles. (122)

In the word 'was' the implication 'is not' is present....

From the above interpretation we have seen that in the mirage of the desert of faithfulness there's no water to be seen; something like a wave of sand-grains glittering like the temper of a sword is to be seen. (129)

[If we remove the optional i.zaafat after saraab, we have a vocative: 'Oh Wave of the Mirage! Don't ask about the state of the desert of faithfulness', which yields further interpretive possibilities.]

== (1973: 129, 131-132)

FWP:

SETS == INEXPRESSIBILITY; WORDPLAY
DESERT: {3,1}
JAUHAR: {5,4}
SWORD: {1,3}
ZARRAH: {15,12}

ABOUT MIRAGES: Mirages are not that common in Ghalib's imagery, but in the divan there's {97,12}, and there's also the unpublished {130,5x}. Compare Mir's use of a mirage in M{485,1}.

It's a fantastic verse-- harsh, eerie, ominous. It sticks in my mind like a thorn. Naiyar Masud's detailed explication is many pages long and well worth reading in full. I have very little to add to it.

The key to the verse, as the commentators have pointed out, is the versatility of aab-daar , with its literal meaning of 'water-possessing' and its actual sense of 'glittering'. Both meanings are fully activated by the verse (for more such cases, see {120,3}). The aab itself is also echoed in saraab , 'mirage'. The glitter of a sword or of water; the threat/promise of sword/water (and to the passionate lover a sword may be a promise too). The mirage as a real vision of a false hope; the 'desert of faithfulness' as a lonesome, deadly wasteland. Do mirages actually come in waves? They seem to shimmer on the horizon, perhaps in a wave-like way.

The verse is resonantly full of long aa vowels in general-- emotional-sounding vowels, aren't they? like the aah of a sigh-- with the next largest group their short form a .