Our seers and poets of yore believed that it is the word that creates the world. They attached greatest importance to the ‘word-culture’ — of using the most powerful instrument of speech for their own satisfaction and for others’ delight. Among them, Valmiki, an exemplary exponent of the calculus of speech shaped his favourite character Hanuman, in his Ramayana, as a splendid specimen of word-culture. For instance, look at this scene —
Seeing Rama and Laksmana, the wanderers in search of Sita, passing by the Pampa lake, Sugriva sends Hanuman to meet them “warily, in disguise and find out whether they have come as friends or foes.”
Excited by the opportunity granted to him, Hanuman, approaching Rama and Laksmana, presents himself thus: “Revered Sir, I bow to thee and to this younger gentleman whom I take to be your brother. You both are dressed like hermits, but armed like soldiers. Besides, in you is apparent a grace, which comes only of royal birth. May I know whether you are gods or ordinary men? I would also like to be enlightened on what brought you to these parts”.
Rama and Lakshmana remaining silent, watch Hanuman intently.
Hanuman continues: “Gentlemen, why are you quiet? You are, by the might of your figures, frightening the creatures of this region. But I can see from your gracious looks that you have not come here to hurt any of us. You also seem by the way you sigh in distress, to be on the lookout for something you miss. Kindly tell me the truth about yourselves”.
Yet Rama and Lakshmana remain silent.
Hanuman, realising that it is of no use to vex them with his questions, rather, feeling it desirable to tell them about himself, says: “Revered Sirs, please do not suspect me. Permit me to introduce myself to you. I am the son of Wind God. I am an adviser to the monkey king Sugriva. He lost both his kingdom and his wife to his greedy elder brother, Vali. I have come here at my Lord’s behest. He is prepared to be your friend if you have no objection. I for my part am very anxious to bring you and him together”. Then, Hanuman remains quiet with bowed head.
Impressed by Hanuman’s words, Rama says to Lakshmana —
Nasamavedvidusah Sakyamevam prabhasitum”
— “To speak in the way, he has done, is not possible for one who has not studied Rigveda with an eye to its meaning, not memorized Yajurveda and has no knowledge of Samaveda either.”
“Brother, I am quite pleased with the art of speaking of this worthy messenger of Sugriva. From his very speech you can judge that he is a great scholar and a trustworthy minister”.
Rama goes on to praise Hanuman’s style of speaking further:
— “His speech emanating from his bosom and articulated by his throat is marked by ‘absence of prolixity, is unambiguous, and unfaltering, and does not make a grating impression on one’s ears, uttered as it is in a modulated tone’”.
“Look, how marvellously he spoke! He has not spoken a single syllable without significance, he has not wasted a single word, nor has he missed an appropriate word. He has not taken more time than his ideas needed. Every word that he spoke can never be forgotten. Such a voice promotes general good and remains forever in the minds and hearts of generations to come.”
Such is the language of the heart that Hanuman cultivated which Rama found praise-worthy. More than the content conveyed, it is the manner — “speaking a good deal with no fault in one’s face or in eyes, or in forehead or in eye brows, or in the limbs” — in which Hanuman presented it that added dignity to the diction.
Nowhere else in the Ramayana, do we observe Rama praising anybody on his own. Does the saint poet Valmiki, by making no less than the Purushottam (the ideal man), Rama, speak highly about Hanuman’s skilful communication, expect us to realise the importance of the art of communication?
There is yet another instance in Ramayana where Valmiki highlights the need for a speaker to take note of the state of mind of the people whom he/she is going to address for making his/her communication effective/functional.
Hanuman, having found Sita in the Asoka grove of Ravana, returns to his fellow monkeys. On seeing their anxious faces, he cries ‘Drushta Sita’ and this announcement makes them jump with joy at once. ‘Seen Sita!’ — what an apt communication in the given context! Had Hanuman announced about his finding Sita with any beginning other than ‘Drushta’, say with a pronouncement such as ‘Sita’, it could have only aroused the monkeys’ anxieties
to further heights, by raising innumerable questions in their minds such as — ‘what happened to her?’ ‘Is she alive?’ ‘Could Hanuman see her?’ etc., even before Hanuman could complete the rest of his statement. And herein lies the greatness of Hanuman — in paying attention to the state of the mind of his fellow monkeys and conveying exactly what they were anxiously waiting to hear, without causing any consternation. That is the effectiveness of his communication!
Indeed, the need for such an effective communication is perhaps more evident in today’s world. Today, if one has to navigate through the maze of complexity, one should be able to “markedly influence the behaviour, thoughts, and/or feelings of a significant number of their fellow human beings” all “by word” alone. Leila Slimani, the French novelist once observed in an interview, “Knowing how to talk is a great power” and according to her whoever had that wisdom can just by speaking do many things: “can transform something, move someone from one idea to another, seduce, teach, transmit.”
The need for such power is of course, felt more in the case of leaders. In an interview on leadership, Robert Delaney, the former officer in the US Navy, when asked, “If you could pick only three most important things about leadership, what would they be?” replied: “Articulateness, moral integrity and vision.” Please note: the first requirement of a leader that he quoted is ‘articulateness’. And the reason is quite obvious: as Howard Gardner observed, it is only through powerful narrative that one [leader] can draw others alongside.