In the year 2000, Navtej Johar, a Bharatnatyam dancer, choreographer and Yoga exponent, opened Studio Abhyas with the objective of teaching dance, Yoga and Vedic chanting. The Studio was also meant to fulfill another objective: Act as a permanent rehearsal space. In 2004, Abhyas was turned into a Trust committed to Yoga, dance-theatre and urban design.
Teaching Yoga in a structured and sustained manner over an extended period resulted in a gradual deepening of Navtej's own practice and his understanding and commitment to Yoga. It also resulted in strengthening of the bond he shared with his alma mater, the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai and his teacher Sri T.K.V. Desikachar.
Prior to setting up the Studio, Navtej had been teaching Yoga for several years but most of it was on ad hoc basis. So when he established the Studio, his guru was very happy with the decision and it was with his blessings that Navtej named it Abhyas. Over the years, Sri Desikachar has visited the Studio on several occasions to conduct workshops and offer talks on the practice and philosophy of Yoga.
Since the inception of Abhyas, Navtej's understanding of Yoga has widened to include the social and the civic. The Yoga Sutras advocate that both our sanity and serenity are integrally tied to the quality of our 'seeing' and engagement with the world and its objects. It is with this basic philosophy that the Abhyas Trust ventured to include the Urban Design Program.
In 1992, when Navtej returned to India after a gap of nine years, he was dismayed to observe that Indian cities were chaotic and haphazard and totally overlooked the concerns and safety of the pedestrian. There was an utter lack of attention to the detail, most of which was discourteous to the human body. The second despairing realization (after seeing that the little nieces and nephews that he had left behind were now young adults) was that a whole new generation had grown up with the same attitude, blinkered and blind, insensitive, with no sense of responsibility towards public spaces and facilities.
The year 1997 was marked by the ‘Uphaar tragedy’. During the matinee show on day one of the release of a Hindi movie, a fire started by a faulty transformer in the basement of Uphaar, a movie theatre in Green Park, New Delhi, snuffed out the lives of 59 people who had gone there to watch the film. This man-made tragedy, barely a kilometer from his residence, proved to be a turning point for Navtej and he made a silent resolve to do something about it in his own way. Thus, when the Abhyas Trust was formed, Navtej was determined to include urban design as part of its activities and to target children in particular to bring about a change in mindset, to make them conscious of their surrounding, instill an eye-for-detail and make them proactive vis-à-vis their immediate environment.
Concern for the urban environment further extends to care and nurturing of stray animals that are very much a part of our surroundings. People often overlook their plight, not because they are unfeeling or callous, but because most don't know what to do and whom to turn to when they see an injured animal badly in need of help, or for that matter when they see an open drain or a dangerous turn.
The Abhyas Trust was thus set up with the hope to simultaneously work on two planes, the inner and the outer, both of which need to be addressed to lead a happy, healthy and harmonious life.