Hitler's Hot In India

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All over India, an unusual name has been popping up on signs in restaurants and businesses: Hitler.

Yes, Hitler. As in Adolph. Just last year there was even a Punjabi movie called Hero Hitler in Love.

To understand why a name generally associated with mass murder is turning up on storefronts around the country, reporter David Shaftel investigated and wrote about it in a recent issue of Bloomberg Businessweek.

He tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that he first started to notice the Hitler fascination when he'd pass booksellers around Mumbai.

"Mein Kampf and some various other biographies of Hitler ... are displayed rather prominently," Shaftel says. "Because these guys know what sells."

It's easy enough to spot swastikas anywhere in India – they're a Hindu symbol. The Nazis reversed the image when they made it their sign. "Every now and then, you see one that's the Nazi symbol — that's clearly the Nazi symbol," Shaftel says. "It's something you notice."

"But I'm not sure people know that, and I think that's where some of the affinity — or at least the curiosity in Hitler comes from," Shaftel says. Hitler not only appropriated the swastika — the term Aryan comes from the subcontinent.

More curious for westerners might be the lack of outrage associated with the name. While the better educated classes know some European history, they're a pretty small percentage of India's vast population. "There's no sense in the community that people might be upset by this — and most of the outrage comes from foreign countries," Shaftel says.

As for the movie, Hitler is the nickname of the main character — who has a horrible temper. "Anyone who's a bit bossy, a bit of a jerk, is nicknamed Hitler," Shaftel explains. "And this makes its way into popular culture. There's a soap opera that runs in India called Hitler Didi, which translates as "Big Sister Hitler" – and again, she's a bit cantankerous."

Yet there's no anti-Semitism intended in using the name. Indians just think Hitler was a strong guy — and kind of a curmudgeon. Also, Shaftel points out, when Hitler's campaign in World War II weakened Britain, it also expedited Indian independence.

Meanwhile, word does sometimes spread of Hitler's true nature. Since controversy hit the Hitler clothing store in Ahmadabad, they've started displaying a Gandhi t-shirt in the window.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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