Book: Nostalgia for Eternity: Journeys in Religion, History, and Myth on the Indian Subcontinent
Author: Leonid Plotkin
Price: Rs 3000
How does one review a coffee table book about India? If the foreword is by noted and erudite American Indologist Wendy Doniger, should that make it easier? The Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of History of Religions at The University of Chicago, who has taught there since 1978, way before most of us were born, knows more than a thing or two about India and her culture.
The book, Nostalgia for Eternity, is the culmination and result of five years of travel with Indian pilgrims and claims to take the reader into the depths of millennia-old spiritual and mystic traditions.
For a Russian who grew up in America, studied and practice law in the best of organisations, Leonid Plotkin branched out in his early 30s into freelance documentary photography in 2007, and has since been published in NGC, The Economist and The Guardian among others. So if you think his work is based on photographs you have savoured somewhere, it probably because you are unknowingly acquainted with it. I have found his curiosity and empathy of the ‘other’ cultures, traditions and people to be the hallmark of his work.
As for this book, the dictionary spells ‘nostalgia’ as originally meaning homesickness in Greek. It must mean the same for the soul, as the core of all longing is the pining for the ultimate resolution beyond all daily strife and epochal battles. That kernel of this undying truth is what the book aims to explore and that is a lofty aim, if there was one. It is a visual representation ofa Bengali say Jo to Mot Toto Poth, meaning there are as many paths as there are people. It’s important to remember that all these paths lead to that ONE.
Plotkin holds our hand as we enter the enigmatic dominion of tantric worshippers of the Mother Goddess through evocative visuals that can also scare the faint of heart, and smiles alongside as we hum with the originally-African now-Indian Sidis, Bauls of Bengal and the Sufis all over the desert state of Rajasthan. The camera follows them in an attempt to see beyond the mystic layers of their inner worlds. The text does not distract or detract from the meditative mood of the tome.
You have to give it to Plotkin for that one thing, ‘the book is a stunning visual poem about the timeless human search for transcendence and ultimate truth’, spoken in spurts of topical monologues.
So, how does one review a coffee table book on India? For me, it is the impact the photographs can have on me and if the text can beckon me into the world as they together want to show me. Nostalgia for Eternity is an extended visual meditation on the highest human aspirations: to know the nature of one’s true self and to understand one’s place in the cosmos.