Late Homaji Vyrawalla, the first lady photojournalist of India who was absolutely at ease in the then male-dominated bastion. She captured the birth and growth of a new nation. In 2011, Vyrawalla was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award. Mira profiles the first lens woman of India, exclusively for Different Truths.
India has produced countless women who have been the first in various fields. One amongst them who we could proudly talk about is Late Homaji Vyrawalla, the first lady photojournalist of India who was absolutely at ease in the then male-dominated bastion. Vyrawalla was born to a Parsi couple in 1913 from Navsari in Gujarat. Because of her father’s relocating to various places with his theater group, Vyrawalla also moved along with the family. Later on, she moved to Bombay to pursue her academics at St. Xavier’s College. She was also a student at the JJ School of Arts. India’s First Lens Lady was married to Manekckshaw Vyrawalla, who worked with Times of India as an accountant-cum-photographer, was a source of inspiration to Vyrawalla for taking up photography as a career.
Vyrawalla started her career at the onset of World War II in the year 1930 and her work was greatly appreciated. She was popular for her extensive photography skills displayed during the transition period in India from British Raj to an Independent country after the partition. She captured the birth and growth of a new nation. She arrested the moment through her lens when the first flag was hoisted at the Red Fort on the 15th of August 1947. Her lens captured the departure of the last Viceroy Lord Mountbatten from India. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Lal Bahadur Shashtri’s funeral was also part of her portfolio. She also photographed Mohd. Ali Jinnah and Indira Gandhi extensively. Vyrawalla has taken pictures of Dwight Eisenhower – the 34th President of the United State when he visited India.
In 2011, Vyrawalla was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award in India. It’s believed that she was a very popular personality in Delhi. Dressed in sari she would commute from one end of the town to the other end, on a bicycle. Vyrawalla believed that the answer to a good photograph was timing, composition, and angle. Her first stint was with The Illustrated Weekly of India magazine that published many of her black and white illustrations. Her work was recognised at the national level when she moved to Delhi in the year 1942 and joined the British Information Services.
In 1970, Vyarawalla’s husband passed away and with that, she lost interest in her work. She decided to give up photography contributing her retirement from work to the new generation’s appalling mannerism and culture of work. She then moved to Pillani in Rajasthan with her only son Farouk, who was teaching at BITS Pilani. In 1982, she moved to Vadodara with Farouk, who succumbed to cancer and passed away in 1989.
Thereafter, she lived alone in a small apartment in Varodara and spent most of her time gardening. She donated her collection of photographs to the Alkazi Foundation for Arts, Delhi. In the year 2010, the National Gallery of Modern Arts, Mumbai, had presented a retrospective of her work in collaboration with Alkazi Foundation for Arts.
Vyarawalla’s end was tragic though, as compared to her high spirited life and career. In January 2012, she fell from her bed and fractured a hip bone and was admitted to the hospital by her neighbours. It is believed that in the hospital she developed severe breathing complications as she had been suffering from interstitial lung disease. She didn’t recover and breathed her last during the early hours of the morning on the 15th of January 2012 at a grand old age of ninety-eight.
Photos from the Internet
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