Homai Vyarawalla, the first female photojournalist of India, was a trendsetter who survived in a male-dominated profession.
She was a woman who lived by her own rules and lived a life others could only have dreamt of in that era. Her interest in photography was first kindled when she met her husband. He was an accountant in The Times of India but his passion was photography.
Homai used his Rolleiflex and started photography. Soon she started using Speedgraphic. These were the two cameras used by photographers all over the world. Homai’s clicks are way cooler than the ones we click from our DSLRs.
Homai was known for her passion and enthusiasm for her work. Moving around Delhi in a saree on her bicycle with a sling bag and her camera, she captured some of the most iconic photographs of Indian history. Her lens has captured almost all the legends of Indian history: Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Jinnah, Dalai Lama and many others. She couldn’t have imagined that her years of hard work would someday become the chronicles of Indian history!
Here’s a look at some of her finest work:
First flag hoisting ceremony at the Red Fort. Delhi, 1947.
Jawaharlal Nehru with Edwina Mountbatten and Lord Mountbatten, 1947.
Indira Gandhi meeting with Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of 35th US President, John F Kennedy.
Jawaharlal Nehru was Homai Vyarawalla’s favorite subject. She considered him to be the most photogenic personality. Her collection has numerous photographs of Nehru.
Pandit Nehru hugging his sister Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, the then Ambassador to the Soviet Union.
Homai once said that this was her favorite click.
Nehru with children during his birthday celebrations.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah at his last press conference before leaving for Pakistan, August 1947.
Jawaharlal Nehru smoking a cigarette.
The Dalai Lama enters India through a high mountain pass. He is followed by the Panchen Lama. Sikkim, 1956.
Pandit Nehru’s photographs with children shows how much he loved them.
Other photographers used to leave at the end of the ceremonies, but Homai would stay to capture such rare moments.
The Dalai Lama, Nehru and Zhou Enlai during Zhou’s visit to India. December, 1956.
AICC meeting held on June 2, 1947. Hands raised in favor of partition. This photograph captured the approval of the motion to partition the country.
Mahatma Gandhi’s body at Birla House for darshan, 1948.
A fox hunt in Delhi led by Col. Sahni, 1940.
The first Republic Day parade on January 26, 1950.
A rare photograph of Pandit Nehru dancing with folk dancers.
Gandhi with Abdul Ghafar Khan and his personal physician, Sushila Nayar, arriving at the meeting where partition was decided.
Nehru’s Cabinet at a lunch hosted by Sardar Patel after C. Rajagopalachari became Governor General, 1948.
As a sign of peace at a public function, Nehru releasing a dove in national stadium in Delhi, 1950.
A fashion show organized by the wives of diplomats which was attended by Queen Elizabeth. Central Cottage Industries in Delhi, 1961.
Lord Mountbatten taking the salute at Rashtrapati Bhavan, when leaving office as Governor General. June, 1948.
Ceremonial ride of Dr. Rajendra Prasad after becoming the first President of India.
Homai was Indira Gandhi’s favorite photographer.
When a foreign journalist looking at the line of photographers clicking Indira Gandhi asked, “You don’t have women photographers here?” the PM smiled, “We do. We have Homai Vyarawalla.”
Pandit Nehru with Edwina Mountbatten at the Red Fort. August, 1947.
Homai Vyarawalla died on January 15, 2012 at the age of 98.
Homai used to live alone after her son died of cancer. In an interview she once said:
I have one or two friends in this neighbourhood and I know a few persons in the Parsi community here. My life is very isolated, but I like it this way. I am quite used to doing my work myself and I am not dependent on any one and do not want to be a burden on anybody. Jeena hai to shaan se jiyo is my mantra. I have no family left, except my cousin’s son in Mumbai. We meet sometimes, whenever I go to Mumbai for some work.
Homai’s life is proof that you can do anything you set your mind to. A toast to the sheer grit she showed all the days of her life!