Staggering ignorance, or canny marketing in a country where Adolf Hitler holds a curious appeal?
An entrepreneur in India insists he meant no offence by calling his clothing store Hitler, saying it was inspired by a nickname for his business partner’s grandfather, apparently because of the older man’s strict nature.
“We had put up a cloth banner for over a month saying ’Hitler opening shortly’, no one objected to the name then,” proprietor Rajesh Shah told the Times of India. Only later, he said, did they learn more about Hitler, and now they don’t have the money to change the sign and print new business cards.
The excuse would carry a bit more weight if the branding for the store in Vastrapur, Gujarat, didn’t also have a swastika dotting the ‘i’ in its name. And although the symbol has ancient significance for Hindus, and appears regularly in India, in that context it normally sits on one of its flat edges, forming square shape. The shop has its swastika balanced on a point, forming a diamond, as the Nazis displayed it.
Protestations that this was nothing more than an innocent mistake might also seem more convincing were there not earlier instances of Hitler casting an enduring spell on some Indians.
In 2006 a Nazi-themed cafe called Hitler's Cross opened in a Mumbai suburb, complete with swastika and reportedly a large portrait of Hitler. The proprietor told the New York Times that “Hitler is a catchy name. Everyone knows Hitler.” In the face of protests he later changed the name simply to the Cross Cafe.
Western reporters were staggered a few years ago to learn that Hitler’s manifesto and memoir, Mein Kampf, was racing up the bestseller list in India. The book sold 10,000 copies in just six months in 2009. Some saw the dark influence of extremist Hindu groups but merchants said it was bought by business students for its inspirational value.
“Students are increasingly coming in asking for it and we’re happy to sell it to them,” said Sohin Lakhani, owner of Mumbai-based Embassy books, according to the Daily Telegraph. “They see it as a kind of success story where one man can have a vision, work out a plan on how to implement it and then successfully complete it”.
Bollywood got in on the act with a film whose working title was Dear Friend Hitler, a look at the German leaders supposed love for India and his role in ending British imperialism on the subcontinent. After scathing criticism – the Guardian called it “profoundly misguided – the title was changed to Gandhi to Hitler. But the resulting film was called “an unnecessary play with history.”
In a 2010 piece on Hitler’s appeal in India, the BBC found plenty of Nazi-related memorabilia for sale. And their research discovered a remarkable ability by some Indians to compartmentalize feelings about the German leader.
“The killing of Jews was not good,” said Dimple Kumari, a research associate in Pune. “But everybody has a positive and negative side.”
For his part, Mr. Shah, proprietor of the store Hitler, said he’d change the name but, after spending about $750 on branding, they’ll need someone else to pay for it.
“We have run out of money now. We are willing to change the name if we are compensated for the board.”