India in the Second World War

An Emotional History

May 2023 9781787389458 384pp, 27 colour illus
Available as an eBook Available from Oxford Scholarship Online
EU Customers


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.

This vivid book 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.


‘Excellent.’ — Kavita Puri, BBC History Magazine

‘[This] is an excellent book, innovative, well-constructed, and superbly written.’ — Asian Affairs

‘It is impossible not to be impressed and moved by Diya Gupta’s humane, thoughtful writing. This book is full of rich academic insight on the far-reaching impact of the Second World War on South Asia. It is also a must-read for all that it poignantly teaches us about how humans have coped with and made sense of brutal conflict and major socio-political change.’ — Priya Atwal, author of Royals and Rebels: The Rise and Fall of the Sikh Empire

‘Explores the delicate yet often compromised textures of Indian soldiers’ lives in the western spheres of the Second World War, separated from home, and trying valiantly, uncertainly, to make their way. A beautifully illustrated, sensitively researched emotional history.’ — Elleke Boehmer, Professor of World Literature in English, University of Oxford

‘A significant book for anyone interested in the Second World War, the history of the subcontinent, or Indian literature, drawing on extensive, multilingual archival research and conveyed in lively, smart prose.’ — Daniel Ryan Morse, Director of Core Humanities and Associate Professor of English, University of Nevada, Reno, and author of Radio Empire

‘An engaging, persuasive and innovative read, bringing an emotional history lens to the subject while seamlessly integrating Indian combatant and civilian experiences of the war.’ — Jonathan Saha, Associate Professor of South Asian History, Durham University


Diya Gupta is a literary and cultural historian, and Lecturer in Public History at City, University of London. Formerly a 'Past and Present' fellow at the Royal Historical Society and Institute of Historical Research, she takes multilingual approaches to life-writing, visual culture and literature, in relation to war. See

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