Shivi Verma interviews Aditya Ahluwalia, the founder of Life Positive and unravels the inner world of a corporate leader who bases his decisions and actions on spiritual fundamentals
The readers of Life Positive know Aditya Ahluwalia, the chairman and founder of Life Positive, as a tall, silent, and graceful presence at the Life Positive expos.
Ever since I joined LP some six years ago, I too have been mystified by his calm, serene, and composed demeanour. I used to wonder, how it was possible for someone to run a big company and yet be as even-tempered as a sage. Though I knew that being the founder of LP he would be having a spiritual foundation, I also know that it is not easy to walk this path and embrace all its teachings. At a time when minor triggers can throw the sincerest seeker off-balance, managing a corporate firm and still being able to coolly withstand the stressors that come with it is by no means a mean feat.
After becoming the editor of Life Positive and working closely with him, I realised that he also has a warm and fun side to him, but this doesn’t in any way take away from his spiritual accomplishments. I requested him to grant the readers of Life Positive an interview to let them have a glimpse of his inner world and what went into the making of a personality like his.
Please tell us something about your early life, upbringing, and education.
My mother was a Sikh born and brought up in Kolkata, West Bengal. She moved out of Kolkata for the first time after her marriage with my father, who too was an Ahluwalia Sikh. Since it was my mother’s maika, many of my summer vacations were spent in Kolkata, because of which I have a unique affection for the city. I don’t really know much about my paternal grandparents because my grandmother had died at an early age and my grandfather had become a saint. He lived near Nahan, not far from Ambala, and I probably met him about three–four times in my life. Once, we were passing by Nahan, and my father suggested that we go and meet him. When we went to visit him, the only reception that we got from him was a message, “It’s okay that you have come, but try not to visit me in the future.” He was a doctor who practised medicine like they do in a charitable organisation and did not want any attachment or contact with his immediate family members.
My maternal grandfather too had died much before I was born, but I knew my maternal grandmother very well. She was the one responsible for laying my religious foundation. She used to spend time with me in the evening, telling me stories from the Sikh tradition, discussing the sacred Sikh texts, and taking me to the gurudwara.
My father changed many jobs as a young boy. He sold watches in Kerala at a time when Sikhs were unheard of in that region. He was also a racehorse jockey at the Kolkata race course. At the time of my birth, he ran an electronic shop in Rourkela. But he was basically a writer and a journalist most of his life. He published a publication called Jathedar from Jalandhar, which was basically a mouthpiece of the Akali Dal at that time. My entire family moved from Jalandhar to New Delhi when I was about nine years old.
I completed my schooling from Mother’s International School, New Delhi, and my economics honours from Hansraj College, Delhi University. After this I received my diploma in computer science from NIIT. This is the extent of my education.
How did you start Life Positive magazine?
After I completed my education, I worked for two companies in a period of five years before starting my own business in the telecom sector in 1989. Whenever I went abroad in connection with my business, I used to see many publications in the genre of spirituality and wellness. There was a bookstore called Bodhi Tree—I believe it still exists—which stocked books and magazines from the spiritual genre, with entire magazines dedicated to different disciplines of spirituality like yoga, tantra, or reiki, almost 25 years ago. I was surprised to note that nothing like this existed in India, the birthplace of spirituality.
Serendipitously, in 1995, I met Parveen Chopra who was working for India Today. He had just finished a cover story on the resurgence of the New Age in India and, together, we decided to start a publication based on the same values. So in 1995, we came up with the idea and in 1996, we launched the magazine.
What is your spiritual foundation, considering that you are the founder of a publication like Life Positive?
My naani was hugely responsible for laying my spiritual foundation. She did not have any sons. She would move from one daughter to another during a year and spend a lot of time with us. My mother was one of her favourite daughters. But when I was in my mid-teens, I was faced with a tragedy for which I did not get answers from my religion. At that time, I turned an atheist. I stopped believing in God and used to think, ‘How could God do this to me? How could this event happen in my life?’ But after some time, since my foundation in religion was quite strong, I became an agnostic and conjectured, ‘Ok, maybe God exists, but without proof, I am not going to believe in Him.’
So how did things change?
At that time, fortunately, I studied in Mother’s International school, which had a nice library filled with spiritual books. During that time, I went through all the scriptures like the Bible, the Koran, the Gita, and read books by philosophers like Bernard Shaw, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Sri Aurobindo, and Swami Vivekananda. At that time, Sri Aurobindo appealed the most to me. The answers I was seeking started coming to me. And that’s when I decided to move from religion to spirituality. Of course, I understand that religion is very important to many people, and it has its due place in society, but I realised that it was not meant for me. I needed to move away from religion; therefore, I moved to spirituality.
Do you consider yourself a practising Sikh anymore or not?
I have not been a practising Sikh since the age of 15 or 16. But I resonate with the teachings of all the religions. When I say this, I don’t mean to say that I believe in everything which is written or preached. But I believe that the basic tenet of Sikhism or, for that matter, any religion is part of the spiritual message by the Divine. So I am not denying the messages that have been propagated. But for me, to be religious means to exclude others from myself, which is not the path for me.
How has LP affected your personal life, thoughts, career and decisions?
Through LP, I came in contact with many positive, highly-evolved souls—people with strong spiritual energy, who influenced me in ways big and small. Being a Sikh by birth, I was a strict non-vegetarian. It wasn’t possible for me to go out and not have non-veg food. But now, I have turned vegetarian.
Did it happen with some effort or was it a natural organic process?
There was no effort. I just decided to quit eating meat and that’s that. One day I was meditating and began questioning my habit of eating meat. After that meditation, I decided never to eat flesh. As a matter of fact, I was supposed to go for my nephew’s birthday on the same day. I thought that my sister must have cooked non-veg for me, thinking how much I love it, and if I refused to eat, she would be very disappointed. But as soon as I entered her house, I saw that a big havan was being performed. I was greatly relieved to see that only vegetarian prasad was being served to the guests. For me, it was a sign from the Universe that my decision was the right one.
Which spiritual practice do you follow in your daily life?
I think, for a person who desires to evolve, the practice is every minute, every second, every moment. You cannot practice for an hour or half an hour a day and think that you are done. I don’t think that’s the luxury we have. I was having a discussion with a pretty big industrialist friend of mine and he mentioned to me that he prays for half an hour a day and that nothing is changing within him. He doesn’t feel any different from what he was before.
I said, “You are in business, so if you did business for only half an hour a day, do you think that something major will happen in a year? It does not happen that way. You do business 24x7. You think about it all the time. Even when you are doing your spiritual practice, half the time your mind is going towards your business. Every moment, you think of your business, and that’s the reason your business is growing. So how can you expect your spirituality to grow if you pray only for half an hour a day? It has to be a practice that has to be lived every moment and every minute of your life.
Which aspect of your personality is stronger, the businessman or the seeker?
I think it’s the seeker in me who is stronger.
Does it ever come in the way of your decision making as a businessman? It is considered that one has to be quite shrewd to succeed in business.
Well, I think what you are referring to is how one has to step on others sometimes to succeed in business—by hurting others or causing them pain, right? I believe if one has to hurt others to succeed in business, then even from a moralistic point
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