Manu Sharma: Troubling Nostalgia: Theorizing through Migration

In his poem, Muhajir-Nama, Munawwar Rana writes:


Nai duniya basa lene ki aek kamjor chahat me

Purane ghar ki dhalizon ko suna chhod aaye hain

In a weak desire to build ourselves a new world …

We left the thresholds of our old home deserted

Agar likhne pe aa jaaye to siyahee khatm ho jaaye

Ki tere paas aaye hain to kya kya chhod aaye hain

We will run out of ink, if we come to write of it …

… of all that we have left behind, as we came to you


This poem, one among a large body of literature produced on nostalgia experiences in India, articulates the identity and lived world of a muhajir[1] that translates vaguely as ‘migrant or the doer of migration’.

The aim of this talk is to explore how phenomenological research on nostalgia can be informed by the experiences lived and navigated by migrants. The migration experience itself is interesting to me for three reasons. One, as a first personal subject at the center of such an encounter. Two, as a phenomenon around which experiences of nostalgia gather most densely making it rich for such investigation. And three, as an examination of existing, often euro-centric conceptual frames to excavate new possibilities of thinking about nostalgia.

Going through mainstream discourses on nostalgia in phenomenology and psychoanalysis; one discovers the movement of nostalgia as sickness/pathology as in the case of the Swiss soldiers to a more romanticized Proustian view of the phenomenon. Within these, that which often goes unheard, is the suffering of nostalgia by a migrant which I take as my point of departure. It is a phenomenon that finds itself neither purely in pathological language, nor in the mere romance of an imagined past. It is rather lived through a sharp break in one’s material, cultural, habitual worlds and in one’s own (embodied) sense of who they are and how to be in the world. While this is already a rich subject matter for literature, anthropology and sociology etc., it is seldom attended to in philosophical thinking.

In conclusion, the task of this talk is to 1. bring to light these very abundant contemporary lived experiences that are the site of nostalgic suffering 2. place them in correspondence with phenomenological conceptual frames, and 3. to examine what can be learnt about both from such a conversation.


Manu Sharma is a Prae-Doc researcher with the Vienna Doctoral School of Philosophy. Their interest lies in investigating affective landscapes, especially those of suffering and pain through phenomenology with a focus on how historical, cultural situatedness can implicate the discourse.


[1] The word muhajir itself carries a long history of shifting meanings, religious, social and political lived worlds that it expresses in correspondence with the changing political landscapes in India.