Former civil servant Uday Sahay tells about his coffee table book on the Raj Bhavan of Arunachal Pradesh

When Uday Sahay met Gen. J.J. Singh, the then governor of Arunachal Pradesh, to discuss the latter’s brief for a coffee table book on the Raj Bhavan of Arunachal Pradesh, he immediately got to know the high standards the book had to live up to. He was presented with a Team Arunachal lapel badge, which he learnt is given as an acknowledgement to those who have done some outstanding work in the state.

Although he felt burdened by this gesture of motivation, and the time frame of four months the book had to be finished in, Sahay, a communication adviser to several organisations and editor of “Making News: Handbook of the Media in Contemporary India” published by Oxford University Press, feels he has justified the faith placed in him. Titled “Raj Bhavan of The Rising Arunachal Pradesh” (SAUV Publications), the coffee table book looks at the gubernatorial residence (since 1983) as it stands today, its history and its relationship with the world that lies beyond it.

This is not the first book of its kind. Similar books have been produced on the Raj Bhavan of other States. But Sahay was keen to avoid swimming with the current as far as possible. “…The mindset is a little elitist. The king would like to see things from his perspective, trying to see palace from people’s perspective is not very common, and therefore we brought in a lot of his staff. In a typical coffee table book about palace or Raj Bhavan you will find commoners missing.”

It wasn’t easy to bring this perspective to the book. Sahay informs that the cover page, which has a photo of an Arunachali boy, clicked “on an open day where Arunachali people come to Raj Bhavan, take a round and go back”, rather than the building, was a source of some disagreement in the build-up to the book’s publication. Ultimately, however, the general's wife Anupama Singh, who is also an artist, convinced the naysayers about the merits of the cover photo (symbolic, according to Sahay, of “the rising Arunachal Pradesh”).

Although photos of the building and building complex are the ones readers will most frequently encounter, these are complemented by portraits of the people who work behind the scenes for Raj Bhavan – the cooks, the guards, the accountants. Additionally, Sahay and his team have dug into the archives and pulled out photos of former governors as well as visits by Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, L.K. Advani among others. Also to be found in the book, in the form of text, is a brief history of the State, its people and the Governor’s role there.

Sahay, who has previously served as ACP in Preet Vihar and Patel Nagar sub-division in Delhi, and DDG (Admn, Corporate Communications and Vigilance) in Prasar Bharati, came to photography during a trip to Kailash Mansarovar in 1998. He revisited it almost a decade later to produce “Delhi: India in One City”, an illustrated volume highlighting the glories of the city he belongs to. Arunachal was unfamiliar territory, and Sahay acknowledges that he did not go there out of a great passion for the State. “It was a project that came to us through bidding…but once we got it, we took a plunge…we started interacting with those who have worked in Arunachal – class of officers, photographers, authors. And from interacting with them came a lot of insight very quick and very fast. And we quickly decided what all to focus on,” he says.