• Liliana Navelgas

An Interview With Saachi Gupta, Founder of Push Up Daisies Magazine

by Liliana Navelgas, Staff Contributor

I had the pleasure of engaging Saachi Gupta, the founder and co-editor of Push Up Daisies Magazine, in conversation. With a self-proclaimed “crippling fear of death”, it might, at first glance, appear to be somewhat ironic that she presides over a magazine that deals extensively in that topic. But the brilliance of the magazine is that it is self-perpetuating in that regard. Saachi and the rest of the magazine’s collaborators prize the platform as a vessel to contain all the feelings surrounding death and mortality, making space for a multitude of interpretations. It was this level of complexity that piqued my interest in finding out more about the publication, and interviewing Saachi was likewise a great pleasure.

To set the stage, we spoke first in general terms about what the inspiration for the

magazine was. She reflected on personal experiences of grief from losing people close to her, as well as the common sentiment of existential fear that often surrounds death, all the while emphasizing the goal to bring these topics to light. She noted that grief is inherently subjective, which lends the topic of death perfectly to a space which holds the voices of multiple collaborators, such as a magazine. The era of Generation Z has seen and aided unprecedented proliferation in the multiplicity of voices that circulate around important topics; Saachi and I agreed that it is vital to consider, then, the relevance of death to our generation.

Her answer? Death is inevitable. Although this may seem apparent, Saachi noted that young people may have an occluded perspective of death due to the pressures of life: the generation of success is considered vital to establish a legacy, which paradoxically fears a specter of death but distorts its truth. It’s a better option, she suggests, to consider thinking of a legacy in more intimate terms. If family (whether by blood or by selection) and friends hold you in remembrance, that is legacy enough. On the other hand, the success of Push Up Daisies Magazine makes a mark on an even larger scale.

The magazine itself began in January, according to Saachi, and she was initially uncertain about how it would be received. That wasn’t a critical factor, though, as she also clarified that its initial purpose was for the team’s personal and collective fulfillment. The aforementioned success came unexpectedly; Saachi witnessed as interest proliferated not just in the magazine’s readership, but in the discussion which it cultivated. She says that people began to share their personal stories to a greater extent, and Push Up Daisies found a home within the larger zine community.

Hearing this fantastic tale of growth, I couldn’t help but wonder what Saachi envisioned even further ahead. I inquired about what she and her team had in store in terms of increasing their presence, and she was eager to tell me about a potential YouTube channel and podcast, as well as a glimmering image of a physical magazine further down the line. She did note, however, that it was too early for any concrete visualization at this stage. Well, in any case, I’m looking forward to it!

There was, of course, an elephant in the room. With the onset of COVID19, so too have pandemic narratives dramatically increased in both volume and prominence. Even the well-trodden ground of late medieval/early modern scholarship has found new resonance with comparisons between the Black Death of the 14th century and today’s pandemic. Naturally, then, I had to ask about what this meant for the magazine in both its current state and long-term vision. It turns out that Saachi had a personal stake regarding the pandemic: she had lost her grandfather to COVID19. It galvanized her further, she said, in her purpose to normalize death and all its faces. For her, the subject of discussion isn’t the plague; it’s the renaissance.

That’s not to say, necessarily, that Saachi’s goal is to look upon death in a positive light. Such a bias, she stressed, would run contrary to her goal of highlighting different perspectives. The tone that is taken when speaking about death is left up to the contributor, which is one of the things I most admire about this magazine. In terms of patterns, though, she did note that she saw many people romanticizing death. On the other hand, there’s also a brewing discussion surrounding the more nihilistic perspective on death and the visceral emotions that can and often accompany it. Saachi put an important emphasis on the description of the visceral, as it’s what keeps her sensitive from her perspective as editor. Without it, she says, running the magazine can lead to emotional detachment.

My curiosity lingered on the magazine’s name; “Push up Daisies” for a magazine about death? Now I’m really intrigued. It wasn’t the first name that she considered, Saachi said. Her friends liked “The Pine Overcoat” (Truly iconic. I’d buy that scented candle AND read that magazine), but Push up Daisies clung. She explained the significance of the phrase: it references a process by which the plot of land someone is buried beneath begins to generate new, blossoming life. It’s a brilliant encapsulation of death’s cyclical nature. In all its finality, it can’t help but precede constantly new life.

Speaking of life, I began to direct my questions more personally. I asked Saachi about her journey into storytelling and why it became so significant for her. Then our similarities started popping up like mad. Like me, she started writing very young and initially considered it a way of escapism. For her, this escapism manifested in the genre of her early works: she was a romantic writer. Eventually, though, her writing became grittier and more centered around real emotions (is this her clandestinely telling me she had an edgy phase? Like I said, the similarities). She also got into journalism and writing about music, exploring avenues she didn’t initially envision. It was a total 180, but from talking to her, it was obvious that she enjoyed every circuitous, lively moment.

At this point, my stubborn nerdiness was starting to get the better of me, so of course I solicited a book recommendation. Saachi more than satisfied: Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss. She told me about how she came across it last year during her first forays into reading non-fiction, and how it immediately struck her fancy. That was partly because of Brian Weiss’ background: a psychologist by trade, he was very rigid and scientific in approach until he had one client who didn’t find success with conventional models of therapy. Using recorded sessions with the consent of said client, Weiss managed to chronicle the journey he took with this person exploring past lives. A concept that has become increasingly prominent in contemporary discourse regarding death, reincarnation in Many Lives, Many Masters is ultimately about an act of reconciliation. Definitely on my to-read list.

This nicely pivoted into my next question, which was how the magazine handled concepts of the afterlife and other supernatural dimensions of death. Cognizant of the sensitive nature of that discussion, Saachi chose consistency with her approach on the whole magazine. That is, the goal is radical openness and destigmatization. She expressed desire to see more magazine content expanding on the supernatural, of course with the appropriate respect and attention to detail. She referred back to her idea of a podcast, saying that it might be worthwhile to have this discussion in that format. In any case, it’s a lot of dialogue with many people involved.

Wanting to find out more about some of those people, I asked Saachi what the staff culture was like in the magazine’s team. She acknowledged that it was, necessarily, heavy and sensitive as befitting the subject matter. Honesty is the best policy, and vulnerability is something that should be honored and appreciated. The only thing there isn’t room for in the magazine is restriction. The flow should be uninhibited and raw, creating space for perspectives as searing as those of hypocrisy and anger, to give a few examples.

Accepting everything that people carry within them is part of appreciating them, and Saachi highlighted the importance of appreciating people in talking about death. While often difficult, she says it’s good to carry optimism even when facing loss, armed with the knowledge that everything is more or less temporary. Recovery is in sight no matter the pain that currently assails, and what the path ultimately leads to is not a dead end but the insistent force of love. Love even when death is inescapable, love more because death is inescapable. That is Saachi’s philosophy.

But what if death were inescapable? I asked Saachi if she wanted to be immortal, and she responded with a comparison of this quarantine’s seemingly endless nature to the prospective reality of truly eternal life. The fear of death and awareness of the finite drives people to do better, Saachi says, because eternity doesn’t promise reward for human effort. It’s all being and no doing, while real life occurs in the meeting of the two. With a finite life, one can reconcile with the past, relish the present, and dream for the future.

So what was Saachi’s dream for the future, especially surrounding the global conversation about death? She eagerly spoke about how she looked forward to a gap being bridged between differing regional beliefs and customs. Saachi relayed an example of this in Hinduism, in which reverence and peace are demonstrated through rituals such as the funeral pyre and the traditional mourning garments, which are white instead of the Western black. Death is universal and is therefore reduced in truth by a prominence of one perspective over another. Push up Daisies Magazine, in essence, is one star in an illuminating constellation, constantly striving to the fulfillment of this universality of death. Thanks to the critical efforts of Saachi and her team, Push up Daisies Magazine illuminates indeed, and it is oh, so dazzling.

In honor of our own magazine, I obviously had to ask Saachi the most important and urgent question of all: what is her favorite fruit? The initial response I got? Something to the effect of “I spent the majority of my life hating fruits.” Oh, and I thought this interview was going so well. But, yes, to her credit, Saachi did redeem herself with a fantastic answer in the end. She loves golden mangoes, which reminds her of mango season in India. As someone who spent her first six years of life in the Philippines, I have to wholeheartedly agree.

My sincerest gratitude goes out to the team of Push up Daisies Magazine, and especially to Saachi Gupta for taking the time to speak with me. She bursts with liveliness, and so does the magazine.

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