The city where you can buy a smile on credit!

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The city where you can buy a smile on credit!

BANGALORE - Binodini Mohapatra, 28, an engineer with a large multinational, gleefully recounted how she got a new smile on E.M.I., or equated monthly installments, as they are known here.

By Saritha Rai

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Published: Thu 19 Jul 2012, 11:06 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 11:13 AM

Ms Mohapatra said she walked into her dentist’s office some months ago when she heard that he offered invisible braces on a fixed monthly payment plan.

To the self-confessed shopaholic who empties out her bank account at the end of every month, the offer was irresistible. “It was so flexible and convenient,and I could still have money left over to shop,” she said.

Months later, Ms. Mohapatra’s crooked teeth are nearly perfectly aligned and she flashes her smile often. She feels less awkward around people, she said. At work, she is at ease making presentations and interacting with co-workers. At home, she has green-lighted her parents’ search for a suitable husband. “My smile should help find me a good bridegroom,” she said.

In an era of youthful economic sanguinity, buying a better appearance — through cosmetic skin and dental treatments, slimming packages, plastic surgery, breast implants and personal grooming services — on E.M.I. is the latest rage in Bangalore and other metropolises.

This is a radical departure for a Bangalore or even India of two decades ago.

Many older Indians see the trend as young India’s rush headlong toward a financial precipice. In a country of savers, middle — and upper middle-class Indians of the preceding generations paid up front for everything except life’s biggest purchase, a home. Then, about a decade ago, buying a car, a washing machine or a refrigerator on credit became common.

These days, India’s in-a-hurry generation is pushing the boundaries of what can be purchased on credit. “Even if they cannot afford it, there is tremendous social pressure to look attractive,” explained Ms Mohapatra’s dentist, Dr Siddharth Dinesh, who caters mainly to young workers. “They want cosmetic dentistry to enhance their looks so they can get married or come across better at the next job interview.”

The cost of a cosmetic dental treatment or laser eye surgery is many multiples of a young worker’s monthly salary. But as marketers have discovered, E.M.I.’s puts these treatments within their easy reach. For those who want invisible braces, for ewxample, 5,000 rupees ($90) a month does not burn as big a hole in the pocket like a one-time payment of 100,000 rupees.

Dr. Siddharth said his payment plans are zero-interest, but young people are more concerned about the size of the monthly payment and tenure anyway and care less about any interest charged. Since he started offering the E.M.I. payment option two years ago, Dr. Siddharth’s customer base has soared eightfold.

“Paying by installments has become a norm as young Indians want to get ahead,” said Dr. Sunitha Agarwal of Bangalore, whose chain of eye clinics offers a range of medical and cosmetic eye treatments. She finds that her young customers trading their glasses for laser correction surgeries use the deferred payment options.

Jagadish Acharya, 24, is one of those ambitious young Indians. The gap between his two front teeth had long bothered Mr. Acharya, a trainee engineer with a 15,000 rupees ($260) monthly stipend. His traditionalist father, a police official, was upset about his son’s plan to get dental braces. “He was even more stunned when I told him I was going to get braces on E.M.I.’s,” Mr. Acharya said.

Like many traditional middle-class families, Mr Acharya’s prudent father had balked at the thought of taking a loan. “Many years ago, he reluctantly got home a television set on credit,” Mr Acharya recalled. For many of his father’s age group, deferring a payment is a step closer to financial catastrophe.

Mr. Acharya said his generation is different. Many of his friends are impulsive shoppers who buy cellphones, clothing and accessories on credit.

He describes himself as a cautious spender — for example, he rides to work on a motorbike borrowed from his father.

But Mr Acharya’s beliefs are clearly wavering. “When I buy my first car, I will get a loan and pay E.M.I.’s,” he said.

(Saritha Rai sometimes feels she is the only person living in Bangalore who was actually raised here. There’s never a dull moment in her mercurial metropolis.

© The New York Times 2012. Distributed by NYTS.

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