Homai Vayarawalla, grand old dame of Indian photo-journalism, passes away (Obituary)January 15th, 2012 - 8:31 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, Jan 15 (AINS) Till a year ago, Homai Vyarawalla, India’s first and oldest photojournalist, was still as spirited as she was in the 1920s when she captured glimpses of Bombay (now Mumbai) life with her box camera and chronicled the Independence struggle. The story of Vyarawalla’s life spans almost a century — older than that of independent India.
“I started clicking photographs at the age of 13 in Bombay with a box camera in 1926 and I shot my last photograph in 1970, 40 years ago. Since then, I have not touched the lens. But I am aware of the drifts in press photography down the decades,” Vyarawalla had told IANS in an interview.
Vayarawalla died at a private hospital in Vadodara Sunday morning at the age of 98. She was hospitalised three days ago after falling from her cot.
The daughter of an actor in an Urdu-Parsi theatre company, Homai Vyarawalla was born in Navsari in Gujarat in 1913. She grew up in Bombay and learnt photography from a friend.
Her tryst with Independence as India’s lone lens-woman in the male-dominated media was on the night of August 14-15.
“The women decided to organise a ‘havan’ at night to felicitate the leaders who were going into parliament for the transfer of power. I was not allowed to photograph the leaders by the man in charge of the press section because he thought he was a greater patriot. However, I was supplied with pictures by a friend who had gone in,” Vyarawalla recalled in the interview.
In the morning, Lord Mountbatten was sworn in as the governor general, she recalled. “The prime minister and the cabinet were sworn in at the Government House Aug 15 and the tricolour was unfurled at the Red Fort Aug 16 and I wanted to photograph the guard of honour,” Vyarawalla had said.
“I climbed on to the ramparts to shoot the sea of faces and the unfurling of the flag. I had a Rolleiflex camera, but cameras did not have zoom, wide-angle or telephoto lens those days. I was fortunate because I managed to capture Lady Mountbatten with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in my frame. Pandit-ji (Nehru) was addressing the people… and we shot many photographs,” Vyarawalla said
For eight years, Vyarawalla used a 35mm camera and then a Rolleiflex Speed Graphic with which she could take pictures on the darkest of the dark nights.
“I remember shooting Pandit-ji and Mountbatten talking under a tree at night. As I used the range finder mounted at the side, he thought a worm had crept up his coat and he tried to brush it off,” Vyarawalla said.
Her husband Maneckshaw Vyarawalla had died in 1970.
She also photographed the departure of Lord Mountbatten from India and the funerals of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri.
She was awarded the Padma Vibhushan last January.
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Tags: ains, box camera, drifts, government house, guard of honour, havan, homai, independence struggle, independent india, lord mountbatten, navsari, photo journalism, photojournalist, press photography, private hospital, rolleiflex camera, sea of faces, to the ramparts, tricolour, wide angle