Ajit Tapaswi: Co-owner, The Yoga House, a yoga studio and organic café
BIO: Tapaswi worked as a model in Italy, but has now found happiness in creating the best environment for people to learn “authentic” yoga. He also ensures that the studio and café he runs in Bandra with his partner Maud Chuffart adheres as closely to a holistic existence as possible, using no plastic and serving pure vegetarian sattvik food. The Yoga House is also a pet-friendly place.
I started learning yoga when I was seven years old. My name is Tapaswi – one who meditates – so I don’t think I had too much choice in the matter! But on a serious note, my family had always been inclined towards yoga and a more spiritual life – I always ate sattvik food growing up, and have always been a strict vegetarian. I didn’t learn Patanjali yoga from any teacher or school – I just practiced it on my own.
I started my modelling career in 2002 at the age of 22, first in India and then in Italy, walking the ramp and working with choreographers like Lubna Adams, Marc Robinson and Alison Kanuga, among others. I looked quite different then – with long hair and unconventional looks – so I was much sought after by foreign brands.
I eventually went to Italy, and did a few shows with Roberto Cavalli. I was on the verge of signing a modelling contract there when I met Maud (Chuffart, Tapaswi’s partner at The Yoga House) through some mutual friends. She too was very serious about yoga, and had in fact moved from France to India to pursue it. I began helping her set up The Yoga House while waiting for my contract to be formalised. But eventually, she asked me to stay on and run The Yoga House with her, and that’s when I decided to abandon modelling. Anyway, I was always aware that a model has a very short shelf life, not more than six to seven years.
Yoga in Real Life
I started as a professional yoga teacher once The Yoga House opened its doors on April 27, 2011. The idea we had was to open a yoga studio that would have the perfect environment to promote the serious practice of yoga and also operate an organic café that would serve healthy food. We wanted a place where people could, besides practising yoga, also hang out and feel at home. The experience starts with asking guests to leave their shoes and egos at the door.
Once we found this space in Bandra (in Chimbai, near the sea), we worked on the space ourselves, without the services of a designer or architect. We broke down the walls to bring in more light, designed furniture from recycled wood, found carpenters – it was a labour of love and we enjoyed every minute of it.
We also wanted to extend the yogic principle to life, and so, in order to create a holistic experience, we sourced all the products used at The Yoga House by going to the villages and interacting directly with the craftspeople ourselves. We use kansa (bell metal, an alloy of tin and copper) mugs and plates to serve food in, don’t allow any plastic, and serve only pure vegetarian food – including fresh juices, salads and quinoa – and use jaggery instead of sugar. We grow thyme, tulsi and wheatgrass – we’re on our third round of planting – and also run a small boutique that sells yoga mats, clothing, jewellery, skincare products, jaggery and natural honey.
We weren’t 100 per cent sure what we were doing, since neither of us had done anything like this before. For a year, we didn’t earn any salaries or make a profit, we just managed the place. For the first seven months, things were a bit slow. We were very strict about not marketing it, because we didn’t see this as a business. So our clientele expanded slowly, through word of mouth. We now conduct five to six classes a day, and host around 60 to 70 people every day at the café.
Even though we opened a branch of The Yoga House in Indiranagar, Bangalore eight months ago, where we also offer residential yoga programmes, I still don’t consider this a business. Even as a model, I enjoyed taking care of people – I would always be hosting cricket matches and inviting colleagues who were from out of town at home for chai, and now, I feel I am doing the same thing. We have an equal mix of Indian and expat clients, and a lot of them have become friends. I feel very content and fulfilled, and love what I do. I really don’t think of it as work, though at times, I do feel physically tired. For the future, I guess, we will do what we can to keep our guests happy, that is the plan.
Shooting at The Yoga House
A Sunday afternoon is perhaps the best time and day on which to experience The Yoga House at its best. A cool sea breeze filters through the white curtains of the open-air area, people poke away at their laptops or smartphones in complete silence, or converse in muffled tones, and there’s just a lovely feeling of peace in the air. I can see why Maud Chuffart, one of the owners, said they knew their hunt for a space had come to an end when they found this bungalow in Chimbai, because “it has such good energy”.
If no yoga classes are in session, the organic café is a nice place to wind down. I down a wheatgrass shot, and then a multivitamin juice, before our photographer arrives and the shoot gets underway. As we position Ajit Tapaswi and Maud against various backdrops, we find ourselves avoiding stepping on a spaniel that’s here with his owner (The Yoga House is a truly pet-friendly space) and dodging designer Kallol Dutta, who’s just leaving. A couple of frames later, we’re all done, as is a group from Ahmedabad, who compliment the staff on the food, reserving judgment only on the burger they were served. As I leave, Maud asks me to come back soon. I have a feeling I will.
If you want to do the same…
Go for it: You won’t regret switching careers if you are really unhappy at your job right now. Once you make the move, you will find the happiness flowing, and it will make a big difference to your life.
Be true to yourself: The first thing your heart says is probably the right thing. Practice yoga – it will help you know your own thoughts better.
Don’t be fake: If you move into a new venture and do it with authenticity, people will respond to that genuineness and support you fully.
(As told to Mignonne Dsouza)
From HT Brunch, April 21
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