The interesting common link between the books being sold on the pavement near my house or the amazing Sunday morning book bazaar of Daryaganj in Delhi, or bookstalls of Wheeler all over railway platforms of towns all over India, or the post up market bookstores of urban India, is the presence of one book. It’s not one of those so-called common man novels adopted by Bollywood, nor international best sellers like The Secret or The Monk who Sold his Ferrari, but Surprisingly it’s Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
What a paradox to see Mein Kampf placed next to a book of Rumi’s Sufi poetry on the pavement. Being an avid bibliophile, books draw me towards them like a moth towards a lamp. I was in Delhi for a radio interview in the first week of January and in spite of the chilly, biting cold winter morning of Delhi I could not resist to go to Daryaganj, the Mecca of bookworms. I was on a buying spree and scouting countless roadside stalls on the Daryaganj Street for books. Among the many dog-eared and dusty priceless books that I came across on the Daryaganj Book market, the book that I could not help noticing was Mein Kampf. It’s truly ubiquitous in today’s India.
A week later I had the fortune of visiting Kolkata, the “City of Joy,” and I was amazed to find Mein Kampf selling among the many bookstalls on the railway platforms of the Indian heartland. What astounded me the most was when I got down to have some tea at Nagpur Railway station and I saw a Hindi translation of Mein Kampf on top of many Classical Hindi books of Munshi Premchand, the legendary author of 19th century India. When I asked the elderly bookseller about the book, he simply answered, “Bikta hai,” which means, “it sells.” Before I could ask him any more questions I had to rush back, as my train had started.
It’s Intriguing and disconcerting to see the rise in popularity of this book and surge in its sales in India. What makes this book, which according to some critics is trash, so popular among the Indian masses in 21st century Indian democracy? I remember as a schoolboy during the early 1990’s learning about Adolf Hitler, the World Wars, and the Holocaust in history textbooks. I vividly recall that in those days Mein Kampf wasn’t available in any of the bookstores. I have not read Mein Kampf, but what is it today that draws millions of Indians to buy this book? Is it deep curiosity and intrigue to know more about Hitler or early 20th century history? About fascism and genocide?
I am all for freedom of expression, yet Its alarming to see that in country of a billion people and a growing young population that a book like Mein Kampf, which is certainly no Harry Potter, is selling millions of copies, and the readers are not just adolescents but readers of all ages. This is certainly cause for alarm in a multicultural democracy like India.
There are many questions that need answering. What draws so many people towards this book, and why is it selling millions of copies? Do Indians realize the cause of immense destruction, death and havoc brought upon humankind by Hitler’s fascist ideology? The slaughter of millions of Jews, Gypsies and others was by the author of this book, yet does the Indian public realize that? Or is it just Hitler’s persona that interests many? Or does this generation find fascism as an attractive ideology? It’s a matter of concern, the basis of which should be examined by present day sociologists and thinkers.
But as long as I see copies of Mein Kampf selling well in the plush book stores in malls, on pavements and railway platforms, like the one where my train stopped, and countless other railway stations that my train did not visit, the question will keep lingering in my mind about what makes Mein Kampf such a best seller in my country? The trend is worrying.