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Finishing schools for
Delhi's Miss Malhotras

The Miss and Mama Malhotras, fed on a diet of soap operas and gossip, are all heading to finishing schools. Pronouncing hors d'ouvres rightly will improve Miss Malhotra's chance of finding a rich groom, while Mama Malhotras want to shed their crassness and tune themselves into the MTV generation..

M iss Malhotra has dreams rolled out on a red carpet - she has a swank car, a litter of friends who frequent the discotheque and wear Calvin Klein and Joe Bloggs, has loads to splurge and can conveniently cold shoulder books. Books are not her way of life. Picture perfect?

Not really. What is life without a little hiccup? Miss Malhotra's parents have a problem. Their daughter is nearing 20 and still hasn't received any proposal to chatter about. Miss Malhotra too has a problem - she knows not which hand to hold the fork, nor can she distinguish between hors d'ouvres or a maitre d', or can figure out what poached poissons or caviars are. She needs to learn them because her parents are hunting for a prized groom from Britain. And pronouncing hors d'ouvres rightly will improve her chances of finding one. So they think.

So what does Miss Malhotra do? She cannot fly off to Switzerland where finishing schools abound, she joins the local one at Rs 5 an hour. And New Delhi is suddenly waking up to this money making op. A number of such schools have sprung up in the capital calling themselves different names - finishing schools, grooming schools, personality development institutes, to just 'Let's Talk' kind of names. And takers they have several.

Not just Miss Malhotra, most mama Malhotras also flock these institutes too. Fat, ageing, stinking rich, fed on a diet of soap operas and gossip, these Mamas are being shunned by their husbands and children for their crassness. "I know I am a misfit in the MTV generation, I also cannot mingle with guests when my husband throws business parties. I want to be respected and acknowledged by my loved ones, that is why I joined the school," says Mrs Meenkshi Malhotra.

But she would hate it if the world knew that she was visiting an etiquette doctor. Since it is infra-dig to visit them, most etiquette schools operate from home or little pigeonholes in office areas. But the most common practice is house calls by these etiquette doctors. The visits vary from twice a week to four times a week and can cost anywhere between Rs 50 and Rs 500 an hour.

The syllabi - what else can it called? - includes basic English, conducting one self in a gathering or a dinner table, appearance (not to wear satins and velvets in the scorching sun), make-up (please don't let it flood your face), even the amount of jewellery one needs to display. Given the exhibitionistic proclivities of the nouveau rich in the Capital, that bit about 'not dripping with jewellery' is the most strenuous bit. I-have-I-must-show is the most difficult to shed attitude.

So there are mock sessions - throwing a party, being invited to one, kitty parties with wives of husband's business associates, going to a restaurant, even to an English movie. They are guided through the nitty-gritty of each occasion and the final certificate of proficiency in etiquette is only awarded when Miss and Mama Malhotra can handle all this alone and with Úlan.

"English is the biggest stumbling block," said Himani Jayaswal, who runs Neev. So all efforts are skewed towards making then say 'guarantee' instead of 'giranty', 'television' instead of 'telebhision', 'volume' instead of 'vollom'. It might make one laugh, but that is how Mama Malhotras speak.

But are Mama Malhotras the only ones to go to such grooming schools? No, such schools have become a craze even among private and public sector companies. They go for programmes that build up panache and savior faire which are perceived to vastly improve client relations and business itself. So, the man who till yesterday introduced himself as 'Myself Jaspreet Singh, glad to see you Sir," would walk out of the grooming school, stretch his hands out and say "Hi, I am Jaspy, how are you?" And Jaspy might clinch a deal that Jaspreet Singh missed out.

No wonder companies are ready to cough out as much as Rs 50,000 for grooming 20 executives. Jaspy was taught electronic manners - of minding his p's and q's in things like fax, email and even getting down to details like when to switch off the cellphone. He knows which mousse to use and what brand to flaunt. And he has arrived.

Very different from Mama Malhotra breed and the Jaspreet Singh variety are wives of bureaucrats, specially those in the Indian Foreign Service. A grooming school specializes in lessons on bartending, cuisine, laying the table, music, appearance and all that it takes to be a perfect hostess.

A couple of thousands down the etiquette school coffers and Mama Malhotra would learn not to slurp the soup, Jaspreet Singh would not burp while on a business trip to Europe, Mrs Diplomat would not serve martini to a mustachioed graying dean and Miss Malhotras knight might take her to his abode in Southall.

Miss Malhotra pronounced hors d'ouvres perfectly and now pots around in pastels on the streets of London. Picture perfect? This time yes, thanks to the grooming schools.

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