Om Centrum was an Indian cultural centre in the heart of Zizkov.
It features a restaurant, yoga and dancing classes, a library and internet services, a regular programme of performances of music and dance, a gift shop stocked with Asian products, a tea and spice shop and a centre for diagnosis and treatment using Ayurvedic medicine. It is a veritable mini India in Central Europe.
I had been living in Konevova for weeks and never knew this place existed. I had been eating Czech pub food, missing spice in my diet, when in the middle of winter I came here. It was so peaceful – and the food! When foreigners come here, they are amazed to find this place in the middle of Prague.
I spoke to Govind Sahai Rajpoot, director of the centre, about the history and philosophy behind the centre.
THINKEXPATS: My country, England, has a long tradition of association with India. The Czech Republic does not, so why did you come to Prague?
GOVIND: In 1985 I finished my masters degree in Geology. I wanted to correlate the granites of the world. So I prepared a database and I found the closest type of geochemistry to the granites of the Himalayas was the granites of Europe, including that of Karlovy Vary. I was selected by a Czech geological survey [to study this] and I worked for them.
THINKEXPATS: When did you first come here?
GOVIND: First in `89, just a few days before the revolution.
THINKEXPATS: What was that like for you? Coming from India to this upheaval?
GOVIND: The first 2 weeks were a very great shock to me. I said, “No, I must go home! ” It was horrible. Everybody lives in isolation. So when I was here, I was all alone – my native food habits, living habits were totally different from what I found here in Europe. I was a very communal type of person. A social person. I was used to being among friends all the time. This was mechanical life. Man is a part of nature, not part of a machine – an organic thing. But slowly I found people.
THINKEXPATS: Do you miss India?
GOVIND: No. I have friends here the same as in India.
THINKEXPATS: Friends are more important than culture?
GOVIND: Friends ARE your culture. It is your society.
THINKEXPATS: Do you see yourself as a missionary for Indian culture here?
GOVIND: I’m a missionary of myself, like everybody. It looks like you are saying, I am a missionary here of Indian culture. It’s a result of people getting benefit from that but I have never thought of it. This may bring a person an egoistic feeling, that he is doing something, missionary work.
But this is like a hot potato – you can put it anywhere, it will be hot, it will emit heat. If you put it on the table, on the paper, on the plate, it gives off heat. So all of us have a definite type of radiation, of knowledge, of art, of whatever. You can’t prevent it, and you cannot control it, and you cannot promote it, it will come automatically from you, that’s your radiation.
So likewise everybody has a definite radiation, actually sanskar, which is emitted all the time. The people who come here want the radiation, they respect the radiations, that’s why the Om Centrum appeared.
THINKEXPATS: And your first attempt to contribute to Indian culture here was to teach a yoga class?
GOVIND: No, a cookery class. When I was in the Czech geological survey I met some people who had been advised not to eat meat, red meat, but they didn’t know how to survive without meat. I said, “Don’t worry, you know the elephant, how big it is? He survives on grass! And the small tiger, which can’t eat even tomatoes, how small he is! ” So don’t be afraid that only eating vegetables will make you not healthy.
THINKEXPATS: Was it difficult when you came here, Czech food being what it is, and it still being difficult to buy spices, herbs.
GOVIND: When I first came here, I was not satisfied. I couldn’t get spices anywhere. The general spice of the Indian kitchen, turmeric is the base of food, like salt in Europe. Turmeric is the base, because it is important for the regulation of blood, it regulates the skin, in fact. It was not here.
Slowly I started getting things, after the revolution, they started importing from the West. But the food itself – I was not satisfied with it because I know how food should taste but in the Czech kitchen or European kitchen it is only boiled organic items. There is no taste on the tongue except from fat or salt. They never use spices.
THINKEXPATS: Could you explain what you mean by ‘sanskars’?
GOVIND: My family background, we call it sanskars, it means “teachings of the human” – from parents, from society. I have these sanskars from my parents, my community, my friends, relatives. Sanskar is the term in sanskrit which means human behaviour.
But the word “behaviour” does not include all qualities of the sanskar. It is how to sit, how to talk; you learn from your parents how to hold yourself, how to address somebody, this style of living, culture. In a class of ten guys, everybody has different family sanskars. This is a special term.
THINKEXPATS: What are your plans?
GOVIND: By next January we are planning to open an ashram in India for people who are coming to Om Centrum regularly, or those who are interested in ashrams or therapeutic centres. When the ashram is established, my wife and I will be frequently visiting India.
When we started doing this kind of job, to propagate the positive things about India, a place where we can transmit this knowledge, we decided to open such a place. We put the seeds of this small tree in Prague 4, and slowly it started growing and today you see this centre.
THINKEXPATS: How did your sanskars help you during the difficult time when you first moved here?
GOVIND: Actually, it wasn’t my sanskars which held me here, which created an environment around me… you can see today, this is an Indian centre and you don’t see any Indians here. All the people who are sitting and working and joining me are the local people. And I got into their hearts.
We call it a small family here. In this family there are 12 people. We live together, day and night. We work together day and night. We eat together all the time. We have hardly any discrimination that somebody is employed, somebody is the chief, and somebody is the director – nothing like this.
And this is the only sanskar that I could mould myself, in such a way that they would like. If you like me, it’s not you who selected me. It’s me who prepared and offered myself in such a way that you like me. So, it’s not YOU who can like something, it’s the quality which pulls you. It was my sanskars which molded me in such a way that I could survive in the Czech geological survey.
There were all different types of people. Because I know they smoke, then I started smoking with them. One guy is a drinker; his place is work or the pub. I wanted to have his company, so I went to the pub with him. Now he comes here to take tea. But that was the day when I prepared myself, so that he would like me. One guy collected insects. I never in my life killed any insect. But for him, I started killing insects, because I wanted to have his friendship.
Now today he has thrown away all the insects from his collection. It was not my aim to make him do this… I showed him only that it’s not necessary to live just for oneself. We can live for others, but this is only up to you – you can select. But if somebody wants to make a healthy environment then it’s better to have a very… we say in Hindi, “Offering politeness you don’t pay anything. But you buy the whole.”
This is the whole magic of politeness, and man should not forget that the things that we see or that we are proud of, that we exist even, that’s not real. Pride in having a lot of money? That’s not real. Pride in having a beautiful car? That’s not real. The whole of physical reality, that’s not real. So relationships, intimacy, sentiments – you can’t buy them, you can’t touch them, you can’t cut them, you can’t divide them.
They are with you even if you keep your eyes closed – you see them. If you cannot hear, you still hear them. and who did that? You did that. And that is real. Immortal, everywhere, present 24 hours a day. So nourish that. This is my sanskar. So if I lose money, if I lose my body if I lose anything that’s physical, that’s not a loss.
That’s a game only, just like changing your clothes. It’s not important. What’s important is the feeling. To feel satisfied. You are relaxing very nicely, you’ve got a lot of things, but you are not satisfied… you can still lose your life. So what’s the meaning of getting things? Nothing. We say in Ayurveda, the matter of human existence is a matter of gyanendriya and karmendriya.
Gyanendriya is the senses, karmendriya, the motor organs of the body. The harmony between gyanendriya and karmendriya, that’s life. It means the senses and body – that’s a man. If there is no harmony between the sense and body, there is no life – human life is not there. Then it is just meat, meat which you can eat from any animal.
THINKEXPATS: Is the Om Centrum is run as a co-operative?
GOVIND: As a friendly society, you can say.
THINKEXPATS: You are not the boss?
GOVIND: So they call me! I don’t feel that, but it’s what they call me! I can’t bear to say I am the boss. If I could bear it, then I could have the feeling that it belongs to me. I am better experienced than these guys working here, so I can sometimes very strongly tell them, “don’t do it in such a way, otherwise it will be destroyed. I know because I have destroyed it! ”
That’s my knowledge. I am sure about certain things, and with that experience, I guide them. And I never have a feeling of owning something. Because I am not sure that I can own my body itself! This world is 24 hours mine. But even this body is not mine. The body belongs to earth – I will leave it here.
THINKEXPATS: Is this model usual in India?
GOVIND: No. It used to be. When I was a kid, India was different. When I see kids in India, they are different kids, in a different environment. What they are talking about when I listen to them – I think the next generation of kids will be entirely different. India is a developing country, but it is developing so fast, changing so fast that plenty of smaller, minute, fantastic things will vanish.
THINKEXPATS: Even in the villages in the countryside?
GOVIND: Development is spreading from the city. It was in the city when I was a kid. At that time it started spreading to the villages. Now it’s in the villages. And slowly it’s going everywhere. It’s a matter of a few years – 5, 10, 15 years. India will be totally different. I think this knowledge of Ayurveda, yoga, meditation – all these techniques, the essence of the Indian style of thinking is coming to the West. It’s coming all around the world. In different countries.
There it is being deposited, safe. We had a great surprise when we invited an Ayurvedic specialist to our summer camp. He is used to giving lectures in India about Ayurveda. When he came here, our students, our people, our friends who know Ayurveda – when they started asking him, he said “these questions I asked in the final year of Ayurveda. What do these people know?”
It’s much more than what people know about Ayurveda in the first or second year in university in India”. This fascinated me. I was surprised to hear this, but this is true. In India, if you ask some Indian what does vatta pitta mean, hardly one percent of Indians can answer your question, those who learn this from tradition. Now the tradition is vanished.
So the only people who can tell you about vatta pitta are those who study Ayurveda. But here, even customers, those who are getting the traditions of Om Centrum, they know what it is. And if you start asking people who are using Ayurvedic herbs, 90% will be able to tell you about vatta pitta. In India 1% of people who are taking Ayurvedic herbs will tell you what vatta pitta is. 99% will not know it, though they are using Ayurvedic medications every day.
OMCENTRUM has concluded for an indefinite period, but you can also buy some of the selections through the online store www.omcentrum.cz. Some work is continuing as OMCENTRA: Ayurvedic College, festival, massages, Ajur trade, etc. Massage, counseling and order goods by phone: Some work is continuing as OMCENTRA: Ayurvedic College, festival, massages, Ajur trade, etc. Massage, counseling and order goods by phone: Sára Prokopová +420 776 74 87 75 Operational Manager Marcela Rajpootová +420 608 56 52 69. The company also operates a data import, processing and installation of natural stones like marble, granite, sandstone, limestone, dolomite, shale, etc for your house and garden.