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|
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.
|A collage of books and magazines published by Life Positive over the years|
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|
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.
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.”
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.
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|
In 2000, Mr DR Kaarthikeyan, then head of the CBI, joined the Life Positivegroup as an advisor. Drawn to the magazine’s unique contents, he supported us wholeheartedly and soon became President of Life Positive and Chairman of the Life Positive Foundation.
In 2001, in celebrating our fifth anniversary, we changed the old fashioned logo and emerged with a new more contemporary one.
In 2003 we came out with our second publication, Life Positive Plus, which chose to focus exclusively on one subject. It was edited by Anupama Bhattacharya, and after she moved to Australia with her husband, the young and talented Swati Chopra took over. The journal memorably covered some of the key spiritual topics such as meditation, death, Gandhi, gurus, Buddhism, Science and Spirituality and Tantra. Eventually, though, Life Positive Plus fell prey to the rising cost of publishing and closed down. Even today, many readers laud its excellent contents.
In June 2004 came our next venture, Life Positive Hindi. This too was edited by Parveen Chopra.
In that same month, we also celebrated our 100th issue landmark with a special issue called 100 Paths to God, where we explored all possible spiritual paths, including the journeys Life Positive readers shared with us.
2004 was also the year of a tremendous change in Life Positive. After eight years at the helm, Parveen Chopra stepped down as editor, and our chairman, Aditya Ahluwalia, asked me to take over. Unwilling to shift to Delhi, I brought the editorial department to Mumbai and began my tenure as editor. I remember going to Delhi for a couple of weeks to help Parveen bring out his last edition – the December 2004 issue. The on-the-job training was invaluable, since the computer revolution had come into being in the meantime, and production work was now exclusively by computer. Gone were the days of cut and paste, rubber solution and long sheets of typeset matter. Today’s artist worked online and pages were ‘flown’, not pasted.
In 2006, in order to celebrate our 10th anniversary, we emerged with the first Life Positive Expo in Delhi. It was a great delight to meet Life Positive readers and hear extensively from them on how much the magazine and our individual articles had impacted them. The Expo gave us our first opportunity to meet our readers and for me this is still one of its best offshoots.
I have come to the conclusion that the Life Positive reader is a class apart. He or she is a committed seeker, one who takes the subject matter seriously and genuinely uses it to improve himself. Over the years, we have found that articles on healing therapies draw the best response, testifying perhaps to the level of need for wellness in modern society or the speed with which people are exploring alternatives to allopathy. Interviews with gurus and spiritual savants have also drawn great interest and our cover stories usually receive much adulation.
The Life Positive Expo also brought us in touch with facilitators, those hallowed beings whose expertise and evolution help transform thousands of participants. Many of the facilitators went on to becoming personal friends. I would name GL Sampoorna, Ketan Shah, Sunil Parekh, BK Chandrashekhar, Sunyogi Umashankar, Jasmine Bharathan, Chitra Jha and so many others among them.
In 2012-13, the magazine fairly rapidly began to explore new ventures. We began to take the Expo places, to Rishikesh, Lonavla, and Mumbai. In subsequent years we took it to Kolkata and Coimbatore. Some of these locations worked, some did not. Today, we have identified Delhi, Mumbai, and Coimbatore as the zones for the Expo. We also revived our on and off book publishing division with a vengeance. Called the Life Positive Books division, we have already emerged with 28 books on body-mind-spirit subjects.
In 2014, we added Life Positive Jr, a magazine to help children develop a spiritual outlook in life.
For 20 years we at Life Positive have stayed true to our mandate, to spread awareness of a holistic way of life and to help pave the way for the New Age, an age whose foundational philosophy will be based on oneness. This in turn will give birth to a new era of brotherhood of man, of peace, love, health, happiness and harmony. We have in these last 20 years seen society make rapid strides in this area. There has been an explosion in spirituality in the media. Soon after the advent of Life Positive, The Times of India came out with their spiritual column, The Speaking Tree. Other newspapers gingerly began to explore the subject. Spiritual and personal growth titles became the most popular category of books in a depressed market, the popularity of gurus skyrocketed, even movies and TV serials began to introduce spiritual concepts, yoga and meditation became mainstream subjects. Every day, we receive fresh evidence that ground reality is reflecting this change in outlook.
We are grateful to God for giving us this magnificent mission, which has made the lives of each member of Life Positivemeaningful, and helped each of us to grow manifold. We are grateful to you, dear reader, for journeying along with us and for giving us the opportunity to serve you.
We pledge to continue to serve you, if God wills, for another 20, nay, 200 years!
Caption1: Founder-editor Parveen Chopra and Suma Varughese with the late Pupul Jayakar at the Mumbai launch of LIfe Positive
Caption2: Life Positive has featured a galaxy of gurus
Caption3: A collage of books and magazines published by Life Positive over the years
Caption4: The Life Positive expos are an eclectic blend of workshops, and New Age goods and services
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