Of words

“I food the birds”, she said.

My mind failed to comprehend.

“What?”, I asked and she repeated, adding more words to the story, “There was a Mommy bird, a Daddy bird and a baby bird. I food them pretzels”.

“Ah!” It dawned on me. My four year old niece was describing how she fed the birds.

“How?”, I wondered. Here is a child whose primary language of conversation is English; so much so that English could practically be her mother tongue. Why would she falter? Shouldn’t she know intuitively?

Obviously not. Watching a kid stumble through learning language confirmed what I had suspected all along. Language is such a poor form of communication.

It needs to be learnt to start with. We further constrain it with vocabularies and grammar. And then we converse in a different language making it even more complex. Our thoughts and feelings thus have to go through an arduous process of construction before they can be expressed in language.

Language doesn’t seem natural. A recent experience made me appreciate this more. We have been working for the past few weeks on creating the brand key and spirit statement for the company. The statements were conceived through workshops which were nothing but gruesome hours of trying to get the right words of who we are and how we work. As we peeled each layer away to identify the exact underlying feeling or quality the word that appeared on the whiteboard transformed, becoming stronger with each attempt until it all magically fit together. It was exhausting.

And then on one of those seemingly relaxing Friday evenings (aka the brief interlude of peace before the coming week’s mayhem begins), I watched a TED video by Elizabeth Gilbert where she talks about the creative process. The experience she describes is not too far from intense labour pain. Words come in exact phrases and haunt you until you type them or write them down. A force I have been lucky enough to reckon with.  I would often have the beginning or ending come into my being and will resort to writing with that, not knowing where it would lead me. Like this piece, many times, I write without an agenda. Language, it seems to me, does not hinder this process. At the right time and place it flows like coming from a different source that does not get constructed in a human brain.

Too bad it doesn’t work the way when you are having a conversation. Is it because we try too hard? Or do we let our brains interfere too much with communication? Or are we too conscious of what is being heard apart from what is being said? Or are words meant only for poetry and creative process and not for mundane communication?

With these two going on in the back of mind, I encountered the first verse of Khandogya Upanishad. Quite a coincidence. The first verse talks about “Ohm”. A mere syllable or so I had thought until then. The verse mocks my ignorance. Ohm is the syllable of permission, it says. Whenever we permit anything, we say Ohm, yes. Permission is gratification. He who knowing this meditates on the syllable Ohm, becomes indeed a gratifier of desires. But one should know this and utter the syllable with this knowledge and faith for it to be powerful, the verse cautions.

So, I conclude, words uttered with intention and knowledge, powered by the insuppressible creative force are powerful. Like a powerful computer in the hands of a scientist turning into Artificial intelligence and more. We mere mortals, mostly use it for Facebook and Gmail. Alas!

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Ameen Haque says:

    Beautifully written. You are right, language needs to be learned but communication comes naturally i.e. we have many languages – body language, visuals, music etc. are all forms of expressing ourselves. Some come naturally, others have to be learned.

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