Grand old dame of photo journalism no more

End of a journey

Grand old dame of photo journalism no more

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 said in an interview.
Vyarawalla 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 on December 9, 1913. She grew up in Bombay and learnt photography from a friend. She moved to Delhi in 1942 as an employee of the British Information Services.

She photographed key events like a meeting where leaders voted for the June 3 plan for India’s partition.  Her tryst with Independence as India’s lone lens-woman in the male dominated media was on the night of August 14-15.

For eight years, Vyarawalla used a 35mm camera and then a Rolleiflex Speed Graphic with which she could take pictures on 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 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.

Condoling the death of Vyarawalla, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi said he was “ sad to know of the demise of Homai Vyarawalla, India’s 1st woman photo journalist. Received her blessings at Vadodara Sadbhavana fast recently.”

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