Raising Wodehouse

The incredible story of India’s modern butlers
August 29, 2016
Silversea Butler Induction Training
September 10, 2016
Show all

Not a Rolls or Harley, the latest Indian super-rich must-have is Reginald Jeeves.

A’very large’ residence in New Delhi is seeking a livein Junior Butler. He’ll work five days a week, meeting and greeting guests, driving, packing and unpacking suitcases, overseeing the household, buying gifts and managing events. For this, he can use the pool car, fly free once a year. The wages: £35,000 (Rs 34,83, 220). The interview for the position will be conducted next month in, where else, London.

This ad finds pride of place on the The British Butler Institute’s (BBI) recruitment page, and is evidence, say hospitality insiders, that affluent Indians are willing to pay king’s ransom for their very own English butler, and, perhaps, an upside-down view of the Raj.

Importing feudalism

“This is a bit steep, Jeeves.” “Approaching the perpendicular, sir.”

Plucked from English humourist P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster series, the exchange between the blundering aristocratic bachelor, Bertie Wooster and his witty valet, Reginald Jeeves, might seem fitting. But, with 9,460 Ultra High Net Worth Individuals in the country with fortunes of over $50 million each (Source: 2013 Credit Suisse Wealth Report), the demand for this symbol of English noblesse will, likely, increase.

“We have a lot of Indian clients – movie stars, industrialists, wealthy families,” confirms Gary Williams, principal at The British Butler Institute, headquartered in London and with a New Delhi outpost. What was once a dying tradition (with the number of butlers in Britain whittling down to just 100 in the 1980s) is now booming business in Russia, China, even India. And with time, the butler’s role has changed, too. In the 17th century, he was “an officer in charge of the king’s wine bottles”. The term was derived from the Anglo-Norman ‘buteler’. His modern role was born in the 20th century, with Wodehouse playing a key role in popularising the position. He was now expected to be as comfortable wielding a tablet as scooping out an oyster. Valet, chef, housekeeper, event manager, wines and spirits expert – an all-in-one.

Indian families, says Williams, prefer employing “a mix of Indians and Caucasians, and the salary can often go up to six figures, depending on location.”

Rajnikanth Subramanian, who founded the Royal Indian Butlers Academy in Lucknow, confirms that a butler with a private residence abroad will earn $2,50,000 (Rs 14,780,444) a year. Compare that with $70,000 in India. “When Indian clients hire foreigners, they pay competitive international rates,” he adds.

You are an alumnus of?

Graduates from sought-after schools, like the International Butler Academy (IBA), Netherlands, and School for Butlers (SFB), Brussels, are usually placed in private residences, cruise ships, resorts or even in large businesses. Although women are fewer, and the English tradition didn’t account for female butlers (ladies could only be housekeepers), women are warming up to the white-gloved, tail-coat industry.

“Almost 25 per cent of our students are female,” says Robert Wennekes, who served as the Head Butler for the US Embassy in Germany before setting up IBA in 1999. While Buckingham Palace began recruiting female butlers in 2004, Subramanian says, “In the Middle East, they actually prefer lady butlers because, culturally, they don’t like male employees around women of the family.”

But there is a hierarchy, and not everyone may even apply for the most coveted contracts. William’s New Delhi client, for instance, expressly requested that applicants hold a degree from Ivor Spencer or The British Butler Institute. An Indian accreditation, even complete with the “Atithi Devo Bhavah” pitch, carries far less weight.

Despite his two decades of experience in the industry, during which he has waited on Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, the Duke of Edinburgh and Nelson Mandela, Subramanian’s academy lays particular emphasis on its affiliation with The Guild of Professional English Butlers and Robert Watson, the English founder of the Guild.

The foreign affiliation carries weight, presumably, because the very concept of a butler is still very European. The academy refines the skills of candidates with existing hotel management degrees, charging Rs 65,000 for two weeks of training followed by a written exam, and placements.

At Wennekes’ school, where anyone above 18 with just a working knowledge of English may enrol, the training is compounded with exotic field trips. So, for 3,750 Euros (just under Rs 12 lakh; the fees includes meals, a traditional tailcoat uniform, gray vest, white gloves and a butler’s tie), trainees are transformed into professional butlers over eight weeks in a castle in the south of Netherlands. They participate in a cigar master class in Germany and travel to the Veuve Clicquot Champagne house to learn the airs of champagne service.

The BBI, on the other hand, offers a non-residential course which extends over four weeks and costs £4,890 (Rs 4.86 lakh). Interestingly, modules also cover butler history, hygiene, mind techniques to boost memory, pre-empting what the master may desire, and how to deal with prying or greedy guests.

Different strokes

Sometimes, training could extend to include a foundation in cultural diversity. “We are taught how to bow before the Japanese, not to make eye-contact with Middleeastern women, and that Indians like to be addressed as ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’, never by name. But some things they just can’t prepare you for,” says Mehul Anandpara, who has trained in Australia, and under Steven Ferry, chairman of the International Institute of Modern Butlers. It’s not unusual to get propositioned, he says hesitantly. “We’d often get guests asking for massages.”

He will say no more. “You hear nothing, you see nothing, you only serve” is clearly advice that has worked for more than just Cec James, the protagonist of Lee Daniel’s The Butler, inspired by the life of African-American Eugene Allen, who served a record eight US presidents.

Article source: http://www.mumbaimirror.com/others/sunday-read/Raising-wodehouse/articleshow/36222927.cms

Raj
Raj

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *