There was an unusual launching party for a coffee-table book, the other day: erstwhile princes and rulers turned out in force on the terrace of a luxury hotel to grace the occasion. The book celebrated the patronage of the world's famous luxury brands by Indian maharajas. The next day, their faces - the women in diamonds and chiffon saris and the men in bandhgalas (jackets with high collars) - were splashed over the newspapers, demonstrating their abiding power to mesmerise people. These ex-royals may have been stripped of their princely titles and privy purse by socialist prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1971, but India's maharajas are still a powerful social force. Their presence at a party or function guarantees instant cachet. They continue to support elite sports such as polo, which would otherwise have vanished long ago. And they set the standards when it comes to gracious living. Many of them try to behave like normal mortals living as equals in a democracy. Others pretend to believe this but, in their heart of hearts, resent the loss of their titles. Others - mercifully a minority - are snobs, obsessed by their blue blood: they ooze hauteur. These types stride around the social scene in Delhi as though blessed by the gods. 'They still think they're royals. If you're not deferential, they snub you. They don't realise the old feudal times have gone,' said Shekhar Malhotra, a publisher who has had some dealings with the snobbish specimen of royalty. The book Made for Maharajas portrays the extraordinarily lavish goods ordered by the maharajas over the centuries - everything ranging from clothes, jewels, crockery and linen to entire palaces. As it happens, the current generation of royals - present at the launch party - are equally enthusiastic consumers of luxury goods. All the big luxury brands - Louis Vuitton, Patek Philippe, Omega, Chanel, Mont Blanc - have opened outlets in the five-star hotels in Delhi and Mumbai. A representative of the British luxury company Asprey & Garrard, who was in India recently, recalled that his company had served Indian royalty in the early part of the 20th century - even opening a store in Calcutta in 1911. That is why many luxury brands regard their re-entry into the Indian market, after a gap of half a century, as a 'homecoming' of sorts. The only thing different this time round is that the maharajas have company in their appetite for luxury. Prospering in India's economic boom, well-paid professionals such as investment bankers and software engineers are treating themselves to the same brands as the young ex-royals. So, today there is a sort of equality in retail therapy - if not in social standing.