Only in Ahmedabad, my hometown, would you find a business owner who, having gratuitously named his store ‘Hitler’, would ask the world to compensate him for the expense of creating a new brand.
The store’s co-owner Rajesh Shah seems to be enjoying his moment of glory as it is attracting considerable media attention around the world. What is otherwise an ordinary men’s wear outfit in the Vastrapur area of Ahmedabad has become an international story.
The city’s small Jewish community is understandably angry at Shah’s choice of branding. What is not understandable is that a large majority of the city’s residents could not care less about the name.
Various media reports, including the one today on the New York Times’ website by Malavika Vyawahare, quote Shah as being rather blasé about the nomenclature. “None of the other people are complaining, only a few Jewish families. I have not hurt any sentiments of the majority Hindu community. If he did something in Germany, is that our concern?”, he wonders without a trace of irony in Vywahare’s dispatch.
As if that was not enough he says if the Jewish community is so exercised over the name, it should pay him to change the branding because he has already spent what he could on calling it ‘Hitler.’
In asking “If he did something in Germany, is that our concern?”, Shah betrays staggering selfishness which is not as uncommon as you might think.
Shah’s defense has generally been that no one objected during the run-up to the store’s inauguration when he put up a teaser banner saying “Hitler opening soon.” The whole approach seems to be ‘I have done what I think is right. If you think I am wrong, pay me to set it right.’
It might surprise many to know that in parts of India, including Ahmedabad, Adolf Hitler transcends his real persona as someone who presided over one of history’s most horrifically sick killer regimes. For them Hitler is this cutesy caricature of a charmingly dictatorial uncle who dispenses tough love and is a strict disciplinarian, whose bark is worse than his bite even as at his heart he is a genuinely caring man. In the perverse imagination of some Hitler is a man of admirable virtues such as adherence to strict discipline who might have minor character flaws. This deeply offensive dilution of what the man actually stood for is a result of both willful and genuine ignorance about the horrors that he unleashed. Even when those who hold such a view of Hitler denounce him as a mass killer there is always a “but” followed by some ridiculously mitigating explanation of his actions.
What makes Shah’s enterprise particularly galling is that he seems to be aware of what Hitler represents but is cavalier about the implications. Not just that, he is actually saying that if the Jewish community is so offended by it they should compensate him for the costs he would incur to rename the brand, remake his storefront sign and reprint business cards. For him it is a great business inconvenience even though he knows he is cashing in entirely on Hitler’s name recognition without any regard whatsoever for its profoundly sinister implications. In case the name Hitler does not ring a bell among his unsuspecting customers, Shah has used a swastika inside a circle on the ‘i’ in the name. That is rather crafty because the right facing swastika has millennially been a Hindu symbol of all things good and auspicious.
One is tempted read deep socio-psycho-cultural meanings into Shah’s choice of a business name. In reality, it is nothing more than a petty businessman’s way to generate cheep publicity. To that extent he has succeeded but in the end of the weight of his stupidity could prove too much to bear. Then again, may be not. After all there is a very prominent politician in the state of Tamil Nadu called M K Stalin who has also enjoyed a successful career as a playwright and actor. On May 29, 2009, I wrote this about him:
“When it came to choosing a name for his son in March of 1953, for Dr. Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi it was a no-brainer. He named him Stalin. Born into the lap of the Dravidian movement of southern India whose leaders were captivated by the statist grandiosity of the Soviet Union and communism the two most popular names for the newly born children of the era were Stalin and Lenin. He was “bestowed” the name “oblivious to the fact that this political connotation would also ultimately lead to a political career.”
It has also been pointed out on Stalin’s website that “Stalin in (the) Russian language means ‘Man of Steel’, and M.K.Stalin has since been living up to his name.”