In 1940s India, revolutionary and nationalistic feeling surged against colonial subjecthood and imperial war. Two-and-a-half million men from undivided India served the British during the Second World War, while 3 million civilians were killed by the war-induced Bengal Famine, and Indian National Army soldiers fought against the British for Indian independence. This captivating new history shines a spotlight on emotions as a way of unearthing these troubled and contested experiences, exposing the personal as political.
Diya Gupta draws upon photographs, letters, memoirs, novels, poetry and philosophical essays, in both English and Bengali languages, to weave a compelling tapestry of emotions felt by Indians in service and at home during the war. She brings to life an unknown sepoy in the Middle East yearning for home, and anti-fascist activist Tara Ali Baig; a disillusioned doctor on the Burma frontline, and Sukanta Bhattacharya's modernist poetry of hunger; Mulk Raj Anand's revolutionary home front, and Rabindranath Tagore's critique of civilisation.
India in the Second World War: An Emotional History (Oxford UP, 2023) recovers a truly global history of the Second World War, revealing the crucial importance of cultural approaches in challenging a traditional focus on the wartime experiences of European populations. Seen through Indian eyes, this conflict is no longer the 'good' war.
Ari Barbalat holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of California in Los Angeles. He lives in Toronto with his family.