Here is the story of a name which of late seems burdensome.
The name is ‘Hitler’. Yes, the surname of Adolf, the Nazi who wreaked havoc on Jews in Europe, altering its very demography. His name is now synonymous with ‘holocaust’ and the community prefers to talk of the event than mention his name lest it perpetuate further.
So why this reference now? Because, a store in Ahmedabad has chosen to name itself after the vile German dictator of the past.
In the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the horrors of being a Jew and their attempts to escape from their tormentors forms the theme of the exhibits. Changing names, passports, wandering around the world till they found safe havens. In one corner somewhere, perhaps because it was inescapable, the name Hitler figures. Just once though, because history cannot obliterate itself.
I remember that every German avoided using the name Hitler. If one did, he was gently reminded that Germans prefer not to use it.
But imagine the fate of a lad who till he was in the 7th standard in a rural school in Tamil Nadu, did not know what his christened name meant. His teacher had called him over and asked him, “Do you know?” When the boy blinked in his innocence, he was told that Hitler was a horrible man who massacred people and it was hardly a proud name to bear.
However the name has stuck, and today, he plies a small but successful trade in Central Mumbai. His clients, when they know what it is, blink in surprise. Or are utterly aghast like a group of four boys and two girls were when they asked, after a transaction, what his name was. But Hitler says he never ventured to get a new name, because his father, a resident of rural Tamil Nadu had given it to him, having heard the name every now and then during World War II.
Of late, however, the name has become a worry, “for people have become intolerant”. That is why he was reluctant to be written about, though his name and his trade have already fetched him space in newspapers and someone even did a documentary on him. His children are continuously asked why their father has such a name.
Now, we have another person, Rajesh Shah, who opened his apparel store in Ahmedabad and named it Hitler. As the Economic Times reported, he “insisted that until the store opened he did not know who Adolf Hitler was and that Hitler was a nickname given to the grandfather of his store partner because “he was very strict”.
Just like that.
But the Jewish community whose numbers are small, have objected. The community merges with the local majority, and have found the country hospitable – they are, in fact, Indian natives who took to the religion mostly after the advent of the first Jews to Cochin. But a businessman being a businessman, Shah has asked that before he changes the name of the store, his expenses in building his brand be compensated. Or else, he would continue with it.
This is what the Economic Times published: “The outlet, which sells Western men’s wear, opened 10 days ago in Ahmedabad city in Gujarat with “Hitler” written in big letters over the front and with a Nazi swastika as the dot on the “i”.”I will change it (the name) if people want to compensate me for the money we have spent — the logo, the hoarding, the business cards, the brand,” Rajesh Shah told AFP. He puts his total costs at about 150,000 rupees ($2,700).”
But not all Hitlers can get away that easily. One restaurant in Navi Mumbai’s Khargar node which called itself ‘Hitler’s Cross” had to bend to pressure and change in 2006. When it was launched the board announcing its proud title bore a Swastika, which was inside a circle and had a cross. There were some amongst the gathering there, a Bollywood actor, Murli Sharma, and Manish Bhoir, the city’s mayor and a former Mayor who is now an MP, Sanjiv Naik. Sharma had then said he was ‘amused’ at the choice of the name.
The Jewish community, however, was not. The owner changed the restaurant’s name to Cross Café and things immediately went quiet. There was no point in commemorating a repulsive, horrid man – an understatement indeed – simply because a business had to stand out and be known.
But the hurt community can be kind. The AFP quoted the Israeli Consul, Orna Sagiv saying “ignorance” was the reason why such a name is chosen sometimes when reacting to the choice of the Ahmedabad store owner.
Our Mumbai’s Hitler, however, wishes it were that simple to change a person’s name. The name after all, was a result of an endearing father’s ignorance and lots of love. He recalls that a Stalin was one of his classmates and so was a Napoleon, a police officer’s son. The former did not evoke such surprise, and Napoleon, after all, was a hero. He would now like not to draw attention to his name. Some journalists who have met him would like him to retain it.
Some names can be amusing indeed. As in Andhra Pradesh, where just after Independence, and some before that, named their children after national heroes, their surname included. It would not be a surprise to find someone with a Telugu surname – the name of a village, a family name etc strung as a prefix and then Jawaharlal Nehru or even Babu Rajendra Prasad.
The incongruity of naming a child with another’s surname and retaining one’s own seems never to have struck the families. There are surnames, not just the ones of the Parsis but among other communities as well in India which can evoke mirth because of their sheer oddities.
PG Wodehouse who in his chuckle-evoking writings has often mentioned how a name assigned at the christening can often be a burden later and if only the infant had known what lay ahead, would have strongly protested. The baby’s bawling was often misunderstood for just one of the things babies do.
But a name like Hitler for an identity for a business in the 21st century is, as they say colloquially, way too much. Sometimes, there is a lot to a name one would like to steer clear of.