Owners of an independent clothing store in India’s Gujarat state have agreed to change the establishment’s name after complaints from the local Jewish population, Israeli diplomatic staff, and even the local government. The offensive name? “Hitler”. Co-owner Manish Chandani says he never intended to upset anyone with the stores bizarre title–it’s named in honor of Chandani’s grandfather, who earned the sobriquet within the family for his notorious strictness.
The entrepreneurs behind the store hardly hesitated in naming their establishment after a man who is, in the west at least, perhaps the 20th century’s most hated figure. Indeed, in India and neighboring Pakistan the Führer has taken on a certain kind of celebrity unrelated to the xenophobic and neo-Nazi cults that revere his image in Europe, Russia and the U.S. For many in the subcontinent, relatively unschooled in European history, Hitler is known as an efficient administrator and the politician who pulled Germany out of severe economic depression, in addition to his even more admired role of the man who stood up to the colonizing British and their American cronies. Walking the streets of Dehli, one can find sheets and bedclothes from “The Nazi Collection” emblazoned with the swastika (originally an ancient Indian symbol conferring luck, burt here with a decidedly different referent). English translations of Mein Kampf are widely available in bookstores almost everywhere in India. And outside Mumbai in 2006, the Hitler’s Cross restaurant opened, sporting a large portrait of Adolf in the entryway (after much controversy, it has been renamed the Cross Cafe). Then this year, a controversial Bollywood film begins production, which casts Hitler in a supporting role in Gandhi’s movement for Indian independence. Apparently many Indians and Pakistanis, for whom the atrocities perpetrated by the infamous madman do not play a major role in the curriculum, have trouble understanding why they should be opposed to him. // Patrick Barrett