What’s in a name? Ask Hitler, a Mumbai-based book seller
A bookseller named Hitler Nadar talks about why he was given this unusual name, and why it hasn’t really affected him as it should
“I don’t think my life would have turned out very differently if I wasn’t named Hitler. In fact, I think people remember me because of it,” confesses Hitler Nadar, the proud owner of a secondhand book shop in Matunga. Nothing about this bookseller’s personality resembles that of his namesake. He has an easy smile, a laugh with a ring to it, and an affable way. He narrates stories of his business and life to me as he sets up his shop, adding details to anecdotes as he pops in and out of the cupboard in his stall.
Why his name is Hitler remains a mystery. His own explanation for it is that his father may have heard the German leader’s name when he worked as a vegetable vendor in Kerala. “Kerala was a politically charged state in the Sixties and Seventies, and there was always a discussion about politics. I don’t think my father knew who Hitler was, but his name stuck in my father’s mind and he probably liked it enough to give me the same name,” says Hitler.
To Hitler, his name has always been normal. It did stand out in the family, because all of his siblings have been named after Tamil gods and goddesses, such as Murugan and Selvi, but it never had a negative connotation in his hometown Kanyakumari. “Not many of my classmates were aware of who Adolf Hitler was, and those that were never teased me,” he adds.
It is only when he came to Mumbai that he found people who were surprised when they learnt about his name. Many, like this reporter, were curious to know why he has been named so. “But they are never hostile; none of them get angry or behave rudely,” he explains. Even at home, there is no shame when it comes to his name. “My wife initially felt awkward, but even she calls me Hitler at home now. She doesn’t use a nickname,” he says. I get the feeling that Hitler is not touchy about the topic at all, because it is something he has discussed with his children too. “Both of my sons are fine with my name, and they don’t think I should change it. They don’t get teased by classmates or friends,” he explains.
History has impacted Hitler’s life in a way that most people would not imagine. I expected to hear stories about negative experiences, but Hitler says that they have been so few and so far apart that they have not really affected him. He tells me about two situations where his name regularly raises eyebrows and doubt in equal measure. If he bumps into a friend at a restaurant or any other public place, people are sure to turn around and stare when the friend lovingly calls out to him by his first name.
Trips to government offices are also an odd affair, with officials looking at him with disbelief when he tells them his name. “They refuse to believe me, so now I carry my school certificate along as proof,” he says with a sigh.
When I ask him what he thinks of his namesake, he begins shaking his head and says “What he did was not right.” The bookseller prefers not to dwell on what has happened in the past. He has more or less dissociated himself from the image that surrounds the Nazi leader, and has even sold books about Hitler and his political regime. In his opinion, what has allowed him to live without stigma is the sad truth that so many wars have been fought after World War II. “Hitler isn’t the world’s biggest criminal anymore; people have other villains to deal with now,” he says, with a sad smile.
What history has done for him is made him memorable. “There are several secondhand bookshops in Matunga and all over Mumbai too. But what makes people remember me is my name, and more importantly the service I provide!” he says with a chuckle. The past has also given him a secure future; he finds that the antiques and old books business is an extremely profitable one. He hunts for raddiwalas and people who wish to sell books in bulk, and strikes a good deal with them so that he can expand his collection of rare books. “I want to stop selling bestsellers and pulp fiction so that I can focus on acquiring and selling rare books that will not be re-published. You’ll be amazed to know how many people treasure such books,” he says. He has also begun selling old coins and newspapers dating back to a hundred years ago.
History is also his passion; he runs his shop with so much love because he himself has an interest in antiquity and the stories that each piece of art or writing brings with it. He maintains a mental catalogue of his finds and the customers who would be interested in them. The result is that he has formed strong friendships with these customers, who thank him for taking the trouble to find what that they have been looking for.
Hitler has considered changing his name, but has never gotten down to doing it out of laziness, as he puts it. “But there will come a day when I go to the Notary and finally change it!” he asserts. Whether he changes it or not, this bookseller will always share an interesting and unending relationship with the past.
This article was originally published on Bayside Journal.