First History Lessons: Aspects of War


First History Lessons is a series of books published by the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata (IDSK). Aiming to simplify and explain important historical ideas, the series has been sponsored by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS). It includes illustrations by Ranjit Chitrakar, Sirajudaulla Chitrakar, patachitra artists from West Bengal. 

This edition was published in November 2023 and elaborates on ‘Aspects of War’. It was originally written in Bengali by Santanu Sengupta, history teacher at Polba Mahavidyalaya, West Bengal, and translated to English by Arunava Sinha who is a literary translator and a professor at Ashoka University, Haryana.

This book focusses on the regions of eastern India and Bangladesh and delves into how the natural world affects war, what constitutes warring for one’s rights and how war anywhere affects lives everywhere. To address these themes, this 62-page document spans across five chapters: Kinds of War (Chapter 1), Nature, the Environment and War (Chapter 2), War at home and abroad (Chapter 3), The Liberation War (Chapter 4) and A Report card of War (Chapter 5). 

To elucidate how nature affects war and its strategy, the author explores how the Mughal forces under Akbar had to adapt their technique and resources when they attempted to conquer Bengal owing to its vast difference in terrain from the northern plains of India. To fight in the swampy terrain of Bengal and Assam, the Mughals had to learn how to use boats in warfare. This highlights how climate alters the type of conflict a region witnesses.

The book also discusses how conflict is contagious and war in one place adversely affects distant places as well. It cites instances from World War 1 where the war waging in apparently distant European nations impacted many in India. A million and a half Indians, the book adds, fought the War on the British side. Many yet were sent to Europe to build roads and carry loads during this time.

The book studies various events like the Bengal Famine of 1943, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the Bangladeshi Liberation war of 1971 to highlight conflict and its various manifestations.

“But real war is never as black and white”, the book notes, adding that war is not simply about the good fighting the bad. War, in which millions are spent on destructive activities, often sows seeds for another conflict. In presenting the complicated history of war, the book questions how despite popular knowledge condemning the death, destruction and trauma caused by war, it continues to be a reality today.

Focus by Fiona Raval. 


Santanu Sengupta

Translator: Arunava Sinha

Illustrators: Ranjit Chitrakar, Sirajudaulla Chitrakar


Institute of Development Studies Kolkata (IDSK) and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, New Delhi


Nov, 2023