Triple are the constituents of a book: the word, the author, the reader. The word which says what the author has to indicate, and the reader has to apprehend, seems to be the one element we seem to neglect, as if it were something we know so well that we may not investigate its nature, its function, its end. For the word, like every constituted thing, seems to have a birth, a lifespan, and a death.

In the word “Rama” before saying “Ra”, there was nothing, as it were; after saying ‘Ra” there is just “ra”; and when “ma” is said “ma” is heard; and then Rama comes to be after the two syllables have been experienced in an enunciation. Now the problem is, if Rama, or Agni, or Vriksha have any life at all beyond their birth, existence, and extinction, in a sentence like “Rama went into exile”, if Rama were just two syllables, two breaths, that the vocal chord shapes into a sound apprehended, we would have as many words as statements such as it must have been when man began – that is, if man began at all.

If (the word) Rama has just one single moment of existence, there would therefore be no language at all. All statements would just be cries. But since the word Rama has, or seems to have, some permanent existence, it is fair that intellectuals should inquire how it came to be that a sound began to have some sort of permanent existence.

But we all, anyone, anywhere in the world, would like to have a language that will mean the same thing and for all time.

It is just the same way that you feel you will live for ever, though your lifespan might be seventy or eighty years. The feel that you are everlasting demands that everything be everlasting. Hence the demand that the word be eternal. If man is eternal, so is the word.

Is the word Rama then eternal? The combination of “Ra” with “ma” which makes the word Rama, you will remember, creates a new entity. “Ra” and “ma” together is not “Ra” plus “ma” but is in fact beyond both sounds, hence it becomes a word. And so when you can pronounce the word correctly, and say Rama, you create a vibration which when it dies in the hearer (we have not yet come to the reader) you have another person who experiences the sound at the end of which experience he should know Rama in the way you wanted Rama understood. So that Rama must mean the same thing to you and to him and as such Rama has to be of an unchanging nature.

Thus a vibration or a series of vibrations must mean at all times the same thing, for otherwise you would not have used it, and the hearer would not understand it as such. This comes to mean finally that he who says the word enunciates the word, and he who hears it has to have the eternal part awakened in him so that there could be right communication. If the transient speaks to the transient it becomes a cacophony. But if the eternal, the unchanging, speaks to the unchanging, in me, in you, we have one language.

Now, some languages have history and according to some all languages have history.

It would be better to say just as Indian civilisation is the making of the rishis (the sages) and the Western, of heroes and prophets, that some languages seem to have this breath of eternity in them and have attained then the status of what Albert Einstein called “the language of the gods”, others are mere vernaculars.

The Sanskrit language is such a “language of the gods” and through Sanskrit all Indo-European languages participate in this, including the much abused, in India, English language. After all, remember, Shakespeare used the English language. Therefore my argument is, unless you, the writer, could go back to the changeless in yourself, you could not truly communicate with the reader, if at that level the reader exists truly, then the question “who speaks to whom?” would not arise at all.

There is considerable talk in the world of “communication”: At the UNESCO there is a special department devoted to the so-called subject of communication. It is my conviction (basing myself on my Indian background) that you cannot really communicate unless you have no desire to really communicate.

Mauna vyakhya prakatita parabrahma tatvam, silence, the illuminator of the Supreme Brahma’s essence.

Unless the author becomes an upasaka and enjoys himself in himself (which is rasa) the eternality of the sound (sabda) will not manifest itself, and so you cannot communicate either – and so the word here becomes nothing but a cacophony.

The word indeed is eternal. Man faces himself when he seeks the word.

The word as pure sound is but a communication that comes from silence. The word is but vibrant silence compounded into a momentary act. The act has to be like prayer if it should yield what you want it to yield. Even to say a flower, let alone Rama, you must be able to say it in such a way that the force of the vocable, has the potency to create the flower. Unless the word becomes mantra no writer is a writer, and no reader a reader.

For the right reader-to-be, the writer has therefore to become an upasaka of the word. Thus we give sound back to silence and the seemingly divided remains undivided.

Let us, therefore, not heed expressions like “the reading public”, “communication”, etc. We in India need but to recognise our inheritance. Let us never forget Bhartrihari, the great grammarian (ad 450–510).

The Meaning of India

Excerpted with permission from “The Writer and the Word” from The Meaning of India, Raja Rao, Penguin Books.