India's first woman photo journalist a Parsi.
|Homai was born in Navsari, a Mafussil town in Gujarat. Her father was an actor from the Urdu-Parsi theatre. The family was poor and her parents packed her off to Bombay for further school and college studies. Homai took an Honours degree from Bombay University and a Diploma in Art from J J School of Art. As a very young woman, she fell in love with another photographer called Maneckshaw and married him. She lived happily ever thereafter. Maneckshaw had a tremendous influence on Homai as a photographer. In an interview which Homai gave to Preeti Verma Lal, she recalled, 'I remember my first shot as a photographer, in 1938. A group of women from the Women's Club in Bombay had gone for a picnic party and I photographed them. My first published pictures were in the Bombay Chronicle � a whole range of pictures, for which I was paid one rupee in cash for each.' In the early days Homai would take photographs and her husband Maneckshaw would spend hours in the dark room at home to get the right colours. In the field of photography and photo-journalism Homai and Maneckshaw complemented and supplemented each other. |
Later, Homai started freelancing for the Illustrated Weekly of India. And its editor Stanley Jepson used to give her weekly assignments. In the early days for a fragile woman like Homai taking photographs in field situations was not easy. Her large-format Speed Graphic camera had a composite wood, steel and aluminium chassis, which used to weigh more than six pounds. Taking each photograph with this heavy weight equipment was indeed a heroic act of weight lifting. In 1942, Homai and Maneckshaw moved to Delhi to work for the British High Commission, then known as Far Eastern Bureau of British Information Services. From that moment Homai Vyarawalla became a permanent fixture at all major ceremonies � either government or private sector � and during the next 25 years she turned out her best work as a press photographer and photo-journalist.
Homai Vyarawala India's
first woman photo journalist.
When Homai Vyarawalla dressed in an elegant Indian sari and armed with a Rolliflex camera, was hopping from place to place in the centres and corridors of power from 1945 to the late 1960's, she had the unique opportunity, normally given to very few press photographers, of catching on the camera great historical events and personalities ranging from Lord Mountbatten to Marshall Tito, from Queen Elizabeth to Jacqueline Kennedy, from Khrushchev to Kosygin, from Eisenhower to Nixon, apart from Atlee, Nasser, Chou En Lai and a host of others who have shaped the direction and contours of 20th century history. She took many delightful photographs of Nehru, Indira Gandhi and the other members of her family. Thus she herself became a part of history in the making, capturing World War II, India's Freedom Struggle leading up to independence and subsequently the hectic days of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
Homai Vyarawalla lost her husband in 1969 and soon thereafter she moved to Vadodhara where she has been living alone ever since in total anonymity. She is over 93 years old today. It is exciting to read about her childhood in Bombay, her brilliant career as India's first woman photo-journalist and her subsequent retirement to Vadodhara. In a recent article on Homai Vyarawalla, R C Rajamani has observed, 'My chat with her brought out her character as a thorough professional who kept a distance from her subjects and refused to be over-awed into hero-worshipping. This perhaps distinguishes her from the average photo-journalist, who, given her fame and experience, would have been too willing to drop names and claim proximity with the great and mighty.'
Homai has been living alone and in total anonymity in Baroda during the last three decades. She was persuaded by the Parzor Foundation, dedicated to the preservation of Parsi-Zoroastrian culture and heritage, to share her memories and photographs with the world in the form of a book. Parzor chose Sabeena Gadhioke of Jamia Millia University as the researcher and writer. Sabeena Gadhioke has done full justice to the creative life and times of Homai Vyarawalla.
Many do not know that Nehru was a chain-smoker. We get a very interesting glimpse of Nehru in a relaxed and informal mood with a burning cigarette on his lips, in Homai's photograph. This photograph shows Nehru lighting a cigarette on the lips of Ms.Simon, wife of the then British High Commissioner to India. The photograph was taken inside the BOAC Boeing on its inaugural flight to London from New Delhi.
It is difficult to find words with which to pay tribute to the indescribable genius of Homai Vyarawalla. Always moving in joy and child-like simplicity, she produced her great photographs in an effortless and exquisite manner, which always reflected and radiated the ecstatic quality of her soul. Her work will continue to speak and proclaim for centuries.
This information is contributed by Mr. Rusi Mistry - Mumbai - T.V. / Big Screen Actor