Recently someone took a picture of an ice-cream cart selling Hitler ice-cream. The cart also had an image of Hitler on it. While this picture and the fact that someone was wretched enough to brand their ice-cream Hitler, has made a lot of people squirm in their seats; I don’t understand how Indians can go about raising eyebrows, wondering how someone could do something so (gasp!) “tasteless.”
Here are three reasons that I can think of:
1. Most Indians use the term “Hitler” to refer to an authoritative and disciplinarian figure. So if an aunt stops little kids from going out in the sun and playing, behind her back, she’s branded Hitler Aunty. If dad doesn’t cough up the moolah that sonny boy needs for going on a date, daddy dearest is termed Hitler. When mom asks dad not to drink so much that his friends have to drag his flopping body into the house, the next morning, dad tells the kids that their mom is a Hitler. When a teacher is strict about Homework, she is a Hitler. The boss is always a Hitler. These are just a few examples. Actually, at some point in their lives everyone must’ve been called a Hitler. Why? Even some dogs are names Hitler.
Don’t ask me. Started happening long before I was born, and will continue to happen – despite the teeny-weeny tweets done by our politicians and paparazzi alike.
2. Tiny villages that don’t care about social media still dot the Indian Landscape. Most of the villagers there won’t even care what the English-spouting, social-media savvy, colonial past-toting jokers like us are saying about Hitler. For them – the ice-cream must be sweet and cold – doesn’t matter whether it goes by the name of Hitler or the Queen of England. What the British were doing to us cannot be termed as cuddling either – so why are we so chummy with them, then? You want to do the explaining? Learn the regional language first…or at least learn Hindi – it is officially the national language of India. Wondering how many of the English-speaking elite can handle that? Trust me, nobody knows what Hitler did and most don’t know anything about Holocaust. They aren’t being evil or heartless – they just don’t know. They just want to sell that damn ice-cream, so that the hawker and the manufacturer can both go home and feed their kids.
3. India isn’t packed full of Jewish people either and that makes it doubly difficult to explain the whole Holocaust tragedy to a lay-Indian. According to this Wikipedia link India is home to 5000 Jewish people. 5000?! In a population of 1.252 Billion, it’s actually quite difficult to bump into a Jewish person, let alone know their history. Do you think that because an ice-cream or a lock or a pack of cigarettes, or even a fashion store is called Hitler, Indians become Nazis or anti-semitic? Perhaps you also think that the Hindu Swastika is a symbol of the Nazis? You’ve got it upside down, my friend. Hitler stole the revered and respected symbol of good-luck from India and turned it into the much-hated symbol of the Nazis. That flushes Swastika’s glorious 3500 year old history down the drain.
I do wonder at times whether our politicians really know the ground realities of India. When Shashi Tharoor says that naming the ice-cream Hitler was the height of tastelessness, he makes people wonder whether he really is an Indian who understands the nuances of Indian day-to-day life. Had he called it the height of ignorance, it would have made at least some sense. And when he doesn’t criticize the Hitler Didi show on the television, and doesn’t try to stop Hitler Hero from screening, one begins to wonder why.
Hitler shouldn’t be glorified – that’s right; but the critics must understand the context and the ignorance that in the first place made Hitler such an everyday word in India – and now that it has happened; don’t vilify those who did it in ignorance or in innocence. By doing this you mimic Hitler who killed the Jewish people because he “felt” they didn’t deserve to live.
If knowledge doesn’t bring along a willingness to understand the reasons and motives of others; if all that reading and learning cannot alleviate us above the need to make a mountain of an insignificant molehill; those who missed out on this education and decided that Hitler can be the name of their ice-cream are better. They do it in ignorance – we do it with full knowledge.