The news that a restaurant in Navi Mumbai had been named after Adolf Hitler - the name has since been changed - did not really come as a shock. I wonder if the citizens of Delhi are aware that they have a Hitler in their midst, and a Stalin too. Just check the phone directory.
In fact, it has for long been a cause of bewilderment to me that we in India tend to have a fascination with two of the greatest mass murderers in modern history. Of course, most know Stalin in this country as the son of Tamil Nadu CM M Karunanidhi. It is a safe bet that at least over the last 30 years or so, no parent in Russia/Soviet Union decided on this dreaded name for their progeny. As for Hitler, some years back, I read with a certain amount of smug satisfaction the story of the son of a Bihar MLA who had been named after the Nazi dictator. The young Hitler had been arrested after attempting to murder his parents.
I am certain that no German in his right mind would dream of using this name. Even Hitler's last known relative (his late nephew) changed his surname before disappearing into obscurity. And his three surviving sons decided not to have any children so as to end the Hitler bloodline in their generation.
Such sensitivity appears lacking among our countrymen. Often the fascination is more naïve than morbid, almost an innocent ignorance of the man's evil doing. Many of my German friends visiting India have been shocked to be warmly greeted and told 'Hitler was a great man'. Their answer has always been the same: "No, he was not. He is hated in Germany."
One connection may be the usage of the sacred Hindu symbol of the swastika by the Nazi party. Devout Hindus claim the reason Hitler was defeated was because he committed the sacrilege of reversing the Hindu swastika that across the world became a symbol of hatred and fear. Back in the Seventies, a youth magazine published from Calcutta thought it was being cute when it introduced a range of 'Cuddly Hitlers', soft toys with the Nazi leader depicted as a sort of amiable teddy bear. The sense of outrage this generated saw the idea being scrapped shortly. Jews around the world hold India in the highest esteem as the only nation never to have practised anti-Semitism.
For a week or so, the restaurant received unprecedented, though negative, publicity. The 23-year-old owner is said to have been 'astonished' at the furor he'd created and appeared oblivious to the sense of outrage his publicity stunt had stirred up. Ignorance, I guess, is not always bliss.