(vā′dē mē′kəm, vä′dē mā′-)
n. pl. va·de me·cums
[Latin vāde mēcum, go with me]
There are books you read and move on. Then there are BOOKS you read and go back over and over again. These books are your compass, your guiding light. They don’t give directions towards the end of the tunnel, neither do they tell you when you will arrive at the end. What they show you is this: the road ahead. They tell you: take one step at a time, one moment at a time.
If you don’t see a distant pulsating glow, it means the end is not here yet. And until you get there, the book is your torchlight, accompanying and guiding you with its fluorescent gleam. They are your vade mecums. Everyone has their own. Probably they were given to you by someone precious, or maybe the book came into your life at a precious time, or maybe it just reminds you of who you were in your glorious days or it can be any random book you happen to pick up. A happenstance.
I have four books that come to my rescue. I keep them handy, always close to me. Come hail, rain, or sun, I am comforted by their presence beside my bed, in my bag, and for the unforeseen unsettled hours, in my phone.
- Quiver, Javed Akhtar: Devoid of sentimentality, lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar’s collection of poems and ghazals seem simplistic on the surface. When you read the words out aloud and soak in their sounds, you will find hard-hitting truths peering from beneath the surfaces. Good, bad and even on those humdrum days, his poetry will light a spark in your head and give expression to thoughts that you probably had all this while but couldn’t find the words for.
Tumhe bhi yaad nahi, aur main bhi bhul gaya
Woh lamha kitna haseen tha magar fizool gaya…”
(This is a rough clunky translation:
You don’t remember, and neither do I
The moment that was wonderful, is lost and forgotten …)
- Four Degrees of Separation, Rochelle Potkar: Reading Rochelle Potkar’s free verse poetry is like reading about my everyday life: the scenes in the ladies compartment of a Mumbai local, nostalgia for the distant childhood home left behind in some other part of the world, the ever-shifting attachment to the city we call home, unrequited affections, chaotic families, the constant struggle to assert my freedom as a woman.
Why is the world telling us what to wear? All the time?
Why is this our most silent, daily question:
‘what to wear?’
And is it for ourselves or for someone else that we do this?”
-Skirt, Rochelle Potkar
- Ralph Waldo Emerson: I don’t know how to write about Emerson. I made an attempt once or twice. Can I just use one of his quotes to make my case?
From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all….When it breathes through his intellect, it is genius; when it breathes through his will, it is virtue; when it flows through his affection, it is love. . . .”
Reading Emerson as thought-provoking as a conversation with an old teacher or a mentor who knows you well and gives you more than you asked more, albeit in a winding and convoluted manner, nonetheless useful.
- Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed: I think everyone needs a Cheryl Strayed in their life. Or someone who is emphatic (mind you, not pitying or sympathetic) and tells you as it is sans any sugar-coating, yet not inflicting any injury within and without. Too much to hope from a person? Maybe. That’s why the book.
In an obscure movie called Next Stop Wonderland (1998), Erin Castleton, the protagonist played by Hope Davis, receives this wonderful piece of advice in a bookshop:
Bookseller: [after Erin has dropped the book] Don’t close it. You should never close a book until you’ve read something from it.
Bookseller: Well, just a sentence or a word. It can be very, very revealing. Just read something, anything.
After this whenever she is in a dilemma, Erin takes any book close at hand, shuts her eyes, flips open the book, places her finger somewhere on the page, and opens her eyes to read the word right in front of her finger. This word gives her a premonition of what will follow next. It is not really the word that is doing the work. The word just sets Erin off on the road she wants to take. It’s not the word, but what Erin interprets from and associates with the word that gives her a way out.
The word is just a medium. So is the book.
An aside: It was while watching Next Stop Wonderland, I found Emerson. On a series of disastrous blind dates—the result of a personal advert given by her mother—Erin repeatedly comes across a quote: Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Only the idiots that are her dates, misquote the line and attribute it to Karl Marx, W.C. Fields and Cicero. Then, on a serendipitous meeting with Alan, Erin throws the quote at him:
Erin: But wouldn’t you say that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds?
Alan: Well, actually, it’s “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” That’s Ralph Waldo Emerson.