pril 2016 Suma Varughese traces the trajectory of Life Positive’s journey through the last 20 years Founder-editor Parveen Chopra and Suma Varughese with the late Pupul Jayakar at the Mumbai launch of LIfe Positive It all began with two men and a dream. Parveen Chopra, founder editor of Life Positive, was then on the editing desk of India Today, and a Transcendental Meditation (TM) practitioner. While doing an article for India Today on the rise of modern personal growth techniques, he participated in a Landmark Forum workshop. Challenged to emerge with an ambitious project, he got in touch with his dream to bring out a magazine that would chronicle the contours of the nascent New Age movement in India. Aditya Ahluwalia was an up and coming businessman with a latent interest in journalism, and an active interest in spirituality, having schooled at Mother’s International, New Delhi, which is an offshoot of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Delhi. In the fag end of 1995, the two came together, and conceived of Life Positive. Along the way, an enthusiastic and very talented team of writers joined up. Ritu Khanna helmed the editorial input in the crucial first year with excellent articles imaginatively structured and creatively designed. The others included Kajal Basu, a formidable intellectual, Dipankar Das, fresh out of JNU, and myself, having miraculously found in Life Positive a safety net after I took a flying leap out of my job as editor of Society magazine. The dynamic V. Venkat also joined at that time in the marketing department and was until he left in 2015 (though he continues as director), the only person other than myself, to have been a member of the original team. Although cocooned in Mumbai, while the Delhi team laboured away, I still remember the excitement of those initial days. We were blazing a trail, and had few prototypes to go by, though copies of American magazines like Yoga Journal and New Age Journal did give us inspiration. The launch A collage of books and magazines published by Life Positive over the years Finally, the magazine was launched in April 1996, with a sober dark blue cover heralding the New Age movement in India. It was priced at Rs 25 and had 56 pages, only 22 of which were in colour. The design was adventurous, using a variety of fonts and with elegant leitmotifs. Life Positivewas launched in the capital at the Delhi Flying Club and in Mumbai at the Breach Candy Club. Quite a few journalists showed up, intrigued at the idea that something as outré as spirituality could actually generate a voice. At that time, spirituality had no media presence, whatsoever. Yes, The Hindu did have a small column on spirituality, and Bhavan’s Journal did promote traditional Indian values, but there was nothing for the modern, urban, Westernised person trying to get in touch with his deeper self. Life Positive unerringly placed its finger on this emerging trend. Already two or three years of liberalisation, globalisation and the satellite revolution had brought about radical changes; the Indian psyche, submerged by a glut of Western goodies, was struggling to make sense of it all. Meanwhile, the competition, the greed, the exorbitant allopathic healthcare system, the dereliction of the environment, were collectively waking up thinking people and forcing them to ask if this indeed was the way forward. Life Positive has featured a galaxy of gurus It is no surprise that Life Positivetouched a chord with readers instantly. The first year, the magazine leapt forward unerringly, each issue only building on its reputation as a quality journal bringing to light fascinating but hitherto obscure philosophies, techniques, tools and the people who practised them. The first issue itself had an article on meditation, and presciently pinpointed Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Rishi Prabhakar and Swami Sukhabodhananda as three gurus to watch out for. That was the time when the Reiki revolution and the Pranic Healing movement were taking off and the very next issue had a cover story on the two phenomena. Incidentally, the explosion of interest in reiki in the next two to three years pretty much financed Life Positive through copious ads in the magazine. The June issue created a minor stir with its detailed piece on healing cancer through alternative modalities, a radical concept for those times. In the first year, there were articles on NLP, hugging, how to find a soul mate, on different prediction methods, dowsing, alternative healing therapies for dogs, yoga mudras, Bach Flower Remedies and other concepts/techniques. Each of these was written with a fresh excitement for it was as new to us as it was to the reader. Wayshower Life Positive truly was a pioneer in spiritual journalism. A year later, Parveen Chopra wrote in his editorial in the first anniversary issue: “What has gratified us is our success in achieving an unprecedented symbiosis of quality and purpose. The ardent reader response reflects this success. A few acknowledge that the magazine is transforming their lives….our role might already be changing from chronicler to catalyst.” A collage of books and magazines published by Life Positive over the years One has to admit that the years that followed did not build on the promise of that first dazzling year, for reasons one is unable to divine, though an inability to market it adequately may have been one of the key factors. Yet the magazine did build up a steady and loyal readership. The reader loyalty was, and still is, quite extraordinary. People would walk into our office, in order to meet the editorial members. They wrote in droves, appreciating the articles in the issue, a point that never failed to astonish me for I had freshly come from Society magazine whose readership was vast, and yet we hardly got enough letters to fill up the Letters page. Many offered to support us financially; almost everyone recommended the magazine to their friends and family. It became evident that Life Positive was far more than a magazine; it was a community, a family, even perhaps a movement. It spoke to those who had moved on to the spiritual or personal growth path, as a consequence of which they were set apart from their habitual friends and family circles. Suddenly, they thought differently, wanted different things in their lives and wanted to deal with people differently. The world around seemed alien and it was to such people that Life Positive proved to be particularly valuable. It endorsed their new and emerging viewpoints and introduced them to their tribe – people who thought like them, acted like them and lived like them. And the content continued to deliver fresh insights, to offer paradigm shifts in health care, education, architecture, food, economics and politics (for this was the age of paradigm shifts as the world awoke from the mass hypnosis dealt by Descartes and Co and realised that the world was not fragmented and separate, but in fact, was made up of one whole). The cover stories from the beginning were treated with great respect and called for unflagging efforts from the writer. We read scores of books, interviewed as many people and strove to make each cover story as indepth and detailed as possible. I still believe that our cover stories constitute a collector’s item in themselves, though I did realise in the course of editing and putting together the Best of Life Positive section that some of them needed to be updated with regard to the people interviewed, as many of them had moved on, even passed away. But for deep and indepth research and analysis, each cover story stands alone. Even today, the cover story is the cornerstone of each issue, and our writers, including myself, labour mightily to produce it. Outstanding content I am firmly convinced that many of the subjects we touched upon have the potential to become books in themselves. Over the years through our cover stories we have explored some of the leading trends in the New Age world including Vastu shastra, ayurveda, environment, holistic education, past-life regression, natural child birth, and profiled some of the huge ashrams and spiritual movements in the country including Brahma Kumaris, Swaminarayans, Bihar School of Yoga, Yogoda Satsanga Society (founded by Paramahansa Yogananda), the Art of Living, Mata Amritanandamayi and so on. We also profiled religions, including Sikhism, Jainism, and Indian Christianity. We pursued all spiritual paths from all over the world, including Sufism, Shamanism, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and so on. We particularly delved into concepts and states of mind: acceptance, surrender, balance, simplicity, present moment focus, innocence, and so on. These apart, Life Positive has been lucky enough to obtain interviews with the great and the good of the spiritual world. We have interviewed the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra (three or four times), yoga icons BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois, Vietnamese Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, and the diminutive Fukuoka, founder of natural farming and author of the revolutionary One Straw Revolution. We also obtained an audience with Pt Ravi Shankar, Yogi Ramsuratkumar, Ruskin Bond, Sogyal Rimpoche, Mata Nirmala Devi, Amma, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Rishi Prabhakar, Swami Sukhabodhananda, Dr Brian Weiss, Richard Bach, David Frawley, Robert Svoboda, Sr Shivani, and scores of others. And, of course, there have been umpteen articles throwing light on all aspects of the spiritual world: an article on Gyangunj or Shambala, cartoon postcards highlighting advaitic philosophy, laughter therapy, intentional communities, indigo children, the Divine Feminine, the power of introversion, the underdog’s advantage. Change and movement The Life Positive expos are an eclectic blend of workshops, and New Age goods and services
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