Yes, today Indian journalism boasts of women walking step by step with men, or if we may, a little ahead of them. They are striding with their heads held high, giving competition to anyone who says they are the “weaker sex”. However, this was not always the case.
And today we share the honour of celebrating one of the many women who made it easier for us, future generations, to be where we are today.
The lady I am referring to is Homai Vyarawalla, India’s first female photojournalist. More commonly known by her pseudonym, “Dalda 13”, she was born on December 9, 1913, and would have been celebrating her 104th birthday today.
From the 1940s to the 1960s when photojournalism was essentially a male-dominated stronghold, it was Homai Vyarawalla who carved a niche for herself. Draped in a saree carrying a camera in hand, she has to her name some of the most iconic photographs of the times.
According to The Hindu, she learned photography from Maneckshaw Vyarawalla, whom she later married in 1941. To her credit, she has historic photographs of many prominent leaders including The Dalai Lama, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi. She said,
“There are 15 people taking a photograph at the same time; each has his own style. But there’s only one who gets the right moment and the right angle.”
She has contributed to recording Indian history in a massive way. From photographing the moment when the first national Flag was hoisted at the Red Fort and the departure of Lord Mountbatten from the country to the funeral of Mahatma Gandhi, her lens has captured it all.
She has even photographed Queen Elizabeth’s and Eisenhower’s visits to India.
Vyarawalla, according to another report by The Hindu, was described as an “adventurous woman”. Her friend Sabeen Gadihoke narrated many incidents from her illustrious life.
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“Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was a chain smoker, though there are few photographs of him smoking, since he was a public figure and always wanted to portray a particular image. I got this rare picture, when both of us were aboard India’s first B.O.A.C. jet plane on a forty-five minute flight to Nanda Devi, when he gallantly lit up a cigarette for Mrs. Simon, the wife of the Deputy High Commissioner of Britain.” The plane crashed on its second flight. Homai Vyarawalla Archive/ The Alkazi Collection of Photography #homaivyarawalla #photoukindia #alkazifoundation #archival #blackandwhite #india #portrait #photography #nehru #nandadevi #smoker #smoking #cigarette #private #privatesphere #publicsphere #flight
She was once stranded in Sikkim and she hitchhiked a ride on the back of an army truck. This is after capturing The Dalai Lama crossing over to the Indian border. She once tumbled down while trying to capture Jinnah which brought the proceedings of his last press conference (the day before he left for Pakistan), to a halt. The fall made the leader smile!
The forerunning photographer was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award in 2011. She was also felicitated with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the I&B Ministry in 2010.
Even Google commemorated her birth anniversary with a Doodle.
Homai Vyarawalla took her last breath at the age of 98 on January 15, 2012.
We salute Vyarawalla for her contribution in documenting Indian history. And we also praise her for her exemplary zeal and courage that paved the way for women to not shy away from achieving their dreams. She’s yet another role model who broke gender stereotypes, teaching us that no profession is “only for men.”