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Forgotten frames

Homai Vyarawalla’s photographs best describe the social and political life of India in transition. She clicked key events, which had a decisive impact on Indian history, including the first flag hoisting ceremony at Red Fort. HT reports.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2012 10:51 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times

Homai Vyarawala 98, country’s first photojournalist who captured India’s landmark events including freedom struggle for BBC, died on Sunday at Vadodara. She was admitted to a private hospital after she fell from her bed three days ago. Vyarawala was honoured with prestigious Padma Vibhushan last year.

According to doctors attending on her, it was not the fracture that took her down but the severe breathing problems which she had developed. She was also suffering from lung congestion, which caused her difficulty in breathing.

Vyarawalla is survived by her ailing daughter-in-law, who is based in Jamshedpur in Jharkhand. "She has been informed and is on her way to Vadodara. She too is not keeping well," a family friend said.

In 1970 she settled in Vadodara shortly after her husband's death. She had decided to give up photography and had not taken a single photograph in last four decades.

Born in 1913 and grew up in Mumbai after shifting from her native Navsari in Gujarat, she studied art at a leading Sir J J School of Arts. She had chosen photography because she found it attractive and "something new, something interesting and artistic enough."

Vyarawalla's camera captured beauty and idiosyncrasies of Bombay that was still serene in 1930s and then she shifted to Delhi in 1942 where she covered events like India’s first flag hoisting function at Red Fort in 1947, a meeting wherein country’s partition was decided and death of father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.

She had also covered departure of Last Governor General of India Lord Mountbatten and funeral of Jawaharlal Nehru, who was his favourite subject.

At Vadoadara, she led a simple life in anonymity. Homai Vyarawalla had always refused to sell any of her photographs despite handsome offers for some of the pictures she had shot of key events and also everyday life. “Throught he photography, she offered a rare glimpse in India’s social, political and cultural history of crucial period,” a family friend of her said while paying tribute to her.

Like a true Gandian, she has handed over her entire life's work -- priceless photographs taken between 1937 and 1970 -- to the New Delhi-based Alkazi Foundation for the Arts.

This foundation in collaboration with National Gallery of Modern Art organized an exhibition of her photographs.

In 2010, when she wanted to buy Tata’s Nano car which had over three month’s waiting, Ratan Tata himself had intervened to ensure early delivery of the car to Vyarawala, who was still driving her Fiat in the streets of Vadodara.

Union information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni has condoled the death of India's first woman photo journalist, Homai Vyarwala, who died on Sunday.

In her condolence message, Soni said, '"Ms Vyarwala created new benchmarks in the domain of photography. Her portrayal of visual images during the national movement had a deep impact on the minds of the people of this country. She photographed india's march to freedom with visual brilliance."

First Published: Jan 15, 2012 17:18 IST