picture of Jawaharlal Nehru, smoking and helping Ms Simon— wife of then
British High Commissioner to India— light up a cigarette, showcases a
different side of India’s first prime minister. This photograph was
taken by India’s first and for a long-time, only woman photojournalist,
Homai Vyarawala, who passed away in Vadodara on January 15.
Through her pictures, she captured the social and political life of a
nation in transition. From Nehru to Mountbatten to the Dalai Lama
entering India, her photographs became iconic symbols — they evoked a
story of pre and post-independent India. Vyarawala photographed key
events that would have a decisive impact on Indian history, including a
meeting where leaders voted for India’s partition.
also captured the first flag-hoisting ceremony at the Red Fort on August
16 1947, the departure of Lord Mountbatten from India and the funerals
of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri. Her work
that spanned four decades, included both the euphoria of the
Independence as well as the disillusionment with undelivered promises in
the new nation.
Vyarawalla was born on December 13, 1913 in a
middle-class Parsi family in Navsari, Gujarat as Homai Hathiram. Her
father was an actor with a Parsi-Urdu theatre. She grew up in Mumbai
and learnt photography first from her boy friend Maneckshaw Vyarawalla
and then at the J J School of Art.
first published pictures were in the ‘Bombay Chronicle’, which paid her
one rupee for every photograph. In 1942, she, along with her husband
moved to Delhi, where she photographed events leading to Independence as
an employee of the British Information Services.
At the onset of the
World War II,
she started working on assignments of the Bombay based
The Illustrated Weekly of India
magazine which over the years till 1970, published her black and white
images. Many of her
photographs were also published as photo-stories in Time, Life, The
Black Star and numerous other international publications.
work and life of Vyarawalla has been brilliantly documented by Sabeena
Gadihoke in her book “India in Focus — Camera Chronicles of Homai
The photo-biography is based on many interviews with the
photographer spread over two years .
subject was Jawaharlal Nehru, who, she commented, had “the perfect
figure for a photographer. A personality who posed for pictures, as if
unconsciously”. Black and white was her preferred medium, as she found
colour to be excessive.
In her photography,
Homai used the methods increasingly popular with photojournalists — the
low-angle shot, flash during daylight and backlighting to enhance
images, so as to give her subjects depth and a good stature for her
Most of her photographs were published under the pseudonym “Dalda 13″.
The reasons behind her choice of this rather amusing name were that her
birth year was 1913, she got married at the age of 13 and her first
car’s number plate read “DLD 13″.
In 1970, shortly after
her husband's death, Homai Vyarawalla decided to give up photography
lamenting over the "bad behaviour" of the new generation of
Despite not having
taken a single photograph in the last 40 years, Homai Vyarawalla
remained iconic and her collections were put on display by the National
Gallery of Modern Art in March last year. The life which this Padma
Vibhushan awardee led is an inspiration to many new aspirants.