Start the Party Early
For the 12 years that I have lived in Chennai, socialising has been a nocturnal event. Invited to someone’s house for drinks and dinner on a Saturday evening in America? This means hiring the babysitter from 6:30 to 11:00pm, maybe midnight. But in Chennai, where apparently they fancy themselves more Barcelona than Boston, the very same occasion starts at 9:30pm at the earliest, with many strolling in an hour later. Then comes the Indian custom of not eating dinner until you’re sufficiently inebriated, with the serving of dinner signalling the end of the party, something the host doesn’t want to happen too early. Therefore the earliest you can hope to eat is midnight, so you can kiss that early morning workout goodbye.My husband and I are always the first to arrive at parties; we are early risers who finish our workouts by 9:00am and dinner by 8:00pm, so it’s hard for us to dramatically change our habits just because it’s the weekend. I know there are plenty more people like us out there, who love their routine but also want to kick back with friends on a Friday night, so why can’t we do it in such a way that we can have it all?

I have been haranguing my friends to party like the cast members from the Real Housewives reality series (any city). When those ladies meet up, it goes like this:

Arrive at the time mentioned in the text or invitation. No adding IST (Indian Standard Time)–the time is the time!

Air kiss, squeal over each others outfits, grab a drink and have a seat

Catch up over 2 drinks, then be seated for dinner

Conversation and drinking continue throughout dinner

The merrymaking can further continue with an aperitif or coffee after the meal!

In this way everyone has her fun, AND still gets her beauty sleep, something even the best Beverly Hills plastic surgeon can’t replicate. All of us know by now that getting 7-8 hours a night is essential to good health, and bragging that you’re running on little to no sleep is no longer a badge of busy-bee honour, but an indication of bad priorities. So why schedule socialising in such a way that exempts us from the rest we all need?

The pandemic curfew gave us a glimpse of how it can work. We got out of our houses quicker and wrapped the festivities earlier, and it felt like having my cake and eating it too. Oh partiers of Chennai, can I petition you to adopt this healthy change permanently?

Awesome Chennai spots for an early evening terrace drink:

Koox, Novotel Chamiers
Bay 6, ECR

Explore Incredible India
The magnificent aquarium at The Atlantis in Dubai. Arms laden with shopping bags in Singapore. Donning a leather jacket for cocktails at a European cafe. My social media feeds were once filled with these images, with Chennaites jet setting to all sorts of exotic locations during school holidays. But in the past year and a half I’ve “seen” more of India than ever before! From national parks and tiger reserves to heritage properties surrounded by lush estates, it’s been a refreshing reminder that there is plenty to explore without a passport. The downside to travelling in India is the actual travel part: getting to these destinations can involve nauseating car journeys or long train rides, or a flight in a tiny craft. But think of what hardy travellers our children will be after eating roadside food and using train toilets! These character-building journeys will toughen them up, and the destinations will remind all of us that there is much beauty to experience within our borders.

Other benefits are obvious. You can feel good to be supporting tourism in smaller Indian locations that aren’t frequented by foreigners. Travelling domestically is cheaper, so you can spend more on the accommodations or stay longer. You can also easily make it a multi-generational family affair by packing Paati into the car with a dubba of murukku and a thermos of tea. For my family, the greatest perk is being able to bring along my lovely young nannies. They are thrilled to fly on a plane, get a change of scenery, and order room service, and we are thrilled that we can actually enjoy our holiday instead of running after my two rambunctious boys the whole time.

Indian travel destinations to check out:
Taj Madikeri, Coorg
Aqua Outback, Tuticorin
Nagarhole National Park and Tiger Reserve, Karnataka

Dress for Yourself
For some like me, the drastic reduction in outings has us wanting to pile on every accessory each time we do go out, especially after all the online shopping many used as a coping mechanism. For others, there is no point to making much effort and the general malaise has them putting comfort first. Some have used the lockdown to throw themselves into diet and exercise, and want to wear crop tops all day every day. Others have tons of makeup sitting unused, so why not wear some highlighter for their evening walk before the darn thing expires–yes, makeup expires, check those dates darlings!

When I was a student in NYC, the freedom to dress however the hell I wanted every day was one I relished. My classmates were pint sized fashionistas Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, so I rummaged through thrift shops to emulate their boho-chic aesthetic that was splashed all over the tabloids. I wore a ‘50s housewives dress as a coat paired with cowboy boots to the canteen for lunch, my classmates wore stilettos for lectures, and we all buried ourselves in unflattering layers during the worst of winter. This was one city where no one bats an eye at anything, so you could allow your mood alone to dictate your style.

Whereas in conservative societies, including Chennai, there is very much a concern with being appropriately dressed for an occasion, and being over dressed is likely to get you more judgment. Where are YOU going? WHO are you trying to impress? At the same time, showing up in a trendy bike shorts/blazer/sneakers ensemble a la Hailey Bieber would get you quizzical looks at a dinner party, which is a bummer because considering how late these parties go, sneakers are far more preferable to wobbling on heels in the grass!

So I ask–what if we wore exactly what we were feeling like at that moment instead of what everyone else will be wearing? Perhaps you got some sick combat boots and can’t book an entire trip to Kodai just to wear them. Or maybe your tummy is unusually flat from a stomach bug and you have 48 hours to wear that bandage dress from 2012 before it doesn’t fit again! Whatever it is, I promise I will tell you that you look BEAUTIFUL! And you do the same for me when you see me in a baseball cap at the next 5 star hotel opening mmmkay?

Websites for trendy clothes & accessories:

Joker & Witch
The Clothing Factory

Invest in your Health
Sorry guys, but time for a boring one, albeit the most important by far. This horrid virus has devastated people with co morbidities. Staying clean and mean from the inside out is essential to protecting yourself. Chennai is a wonderfully social city and lots of overlapping friendships means an abundance of plans every weekend, which is why I had such a great time after moving here! But it soon became apparent that the choices I was making at these gatherings were leading to weight gain and aches and pains, despite regular exercise. Fortunately for me, my husband deciding to sign up with a nutritionist kicked off a new chapter in our lives in which our health comes first. If your mindset towards diet and exercise has always been that it’s something you do purely for staying slim, it’s time to look at it differently. Cutting carbs and running until you are dehydrated will not aid your health in any way, and any resultant weight loss probably won’t stick. But eating the right foods in the right quantities (that means carbs too!), lifting weights, and getting in 10,000 steps a day will not just result in a glow-up on the outside, but in your blood work as well. My husband saw significant improvements in these parameters, and is thrilled that he achieved this without any medication.

With so many Indians having a genetic predisposition to diabetes and cholesterol, it is more important than ever to understand nutrition and sift out the real information from dubious WhatsApp forwards. Please stop falling for buzzwords like “natural” and “metabolism-boosting”; there are plenty of natural things in life that can kill us, and tons of chemicals that are wonderful and life saving. And don’t equate being soaked in sweat with having achieved a great workout; consistency over intensity, always. If you can afford it, don’t think twice about consulting a certified nutritionist and hiring a personal trainer. Go straight to the professionals rather than assuming you can string together your own plan from the barrage of articles that bombard us every day. You will never regret investing in your body, health, and longevity.

Chennai Nutritionists
The Formula
Shiny Surendran

There you have it – the four changes that I hope will last even when these gloomy days are a distant memory. Do you agree with me or are some of these old habits too intrinsic to our culture?

– By Priyanka Acharya