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Thursday, September 27, 2012
by Rebecca E. Hoffman
One person's understanding of a word or expression can be vastly different from another's reading of the same thing, and if you're ignorant of such differences it can get you into trouble. For example, the "thumbs-up" gesture is recognized by many to indicate approval or appreciation, but in some countries it is considered offensive, rude, or obscene.
I was surprised to learn that Rajesh Shah was somehow unaware that calling his Ahmedabad, India, clothing store "Hitler" would agitate a lot of people. NBC News reported on Aug. 29 that "to [Shah] Hitler was just the nickname given to his business partner's grandfather, who was known for his 'strict nature.'"
Apparently, the name Hitler did not conjure images of brutal killings or genocide in Shah's mind, until he applied for trademark protection and had done some research. According to this report from Agence France-Presse, also from Aug. 29, Shah said that he would change the shop's name only if "he was compensated for re-branding costs." Shah told AFP:
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.
[Editor's note: A "hoarding," in Indian English, is a billboard.]
I wondered how much good will Shah could have garnered in a brand like that, particularly given the logo with the swastika in the dot of the "i". But then I realized that, just as with the thumbs-up, you'll never get the entire world to feel the same way about something. More importantly, it turns out that the word "swastika" comes from Sanskrit, meaning "all is well" or indicating auspiciousness. Indian homes and Hindu temples often display swastikas as symbols of prosperity or greeting. So, to sum up, the swastika started out with all these happy meanings, and the Nazis came along and ruined that lovely symbol for the rest of the world, just like they did with everything else.
There certainly was opposition to Shah's choice. According to the "India Ink" blog at NYTimes.com, he has received a barrage of phone calls each day, as well as other forms of protest, and has decided to change the name. "We want a name that is as powerful as the last one, but one that has a more positive association than negative," Shah said.
After Israel's consul general in Mumbai met with Gujarat state government officials, Shah was informed that his license would be revoked unless he changed the name, India Ink reported.
This Sept. 3 AFP story at Yahoo.com notes that "[s]ome Indians express private admiration for a leader seen as strong and decisive, while knowledge of the Holocaust and the other atrocities during the Third Reich is often patchy."
Shah may not be able to display his "HITLER" sign above the door anymore, but one hopes that his eyes are opened to the sizable chunk of history he was missing. And perhaps the customer base that the store had built will grow based on the unspoken "the store formerly known as" subtext underlying the new, hopefully less controversial, name. After all, any publicity....
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