Homai Vyarawalla

9 Dec 1913
15 Jan 2012
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Homai Vyarawalla (9 December 1913 – 15 January 2012), commonly known by her pseudonym “Dalda 13”, was India’s first woman photojournalist. First active in the late 1930s, she retired in the early 1970s. In 2011, she was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award of the Republic of India.

Born on 9 December 1913 to a Parsi family in Navsari, Gujarat, Vyarawalla, studied at the Bombay University and the Sir J. J. School of Art.

A Gandhian at heart, Vyarawalla imbibed the Mahatma’s teachings in her everyday life. She followed a simple, spartan lifestyle, and lived in near-anonymity for years.

She started her career in 1930s and thereafter received notice at the national level when she moved to Mumbai in 1942 with her family, before moving to Delhi, where in the next thirty years she photographed many political and national leaders, including Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Indira Gandhi and the Nehru-Gandhi family while working as a press photographer. At the onset of the World War II, she started working on assignments of the Bombay-based The Illustrated Weekly of India magazine which over the years till 1970, published many of her black and white images, which later became iconic.After the death of her husband she moved to Vadodara in 1973.

In 2010, the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai (NGMA) in collaboration with the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts presented a retrospective of her work.

Homai Vyarawalla took a number of memorable photographs during her career. Her favourite subject was Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.

Most of her photographs were published under the pseudonym “Dalda 13″. The reasons behind her choice of this rather amusing name were that her birth year was 1913, she met her husband at the age of 13 and her first car’s number plate read “DLD 13″.

In 1970, shortly after her husband’s death, Homai Vyarawalla decided to give up photography lamenting over the “bad behaviour” of the new generation of photographers. She did not take a single photograph in the last 40-plus years of her life. When asked why she quit photography while at the peak of her profession, she said

“It was not worth it any more. We had rules for photographers; we even followed a dress code. We treated each other with respect, like colleagues. But then, things changed for the worst. They the new generation of photographers] were only interested in making a few quick bucks; I didn’t want to be part of the crowd anymore.”

Homai Vyarawalla moved to Pilani, Rajasthan, with her only son, Farooq who taught at BITS Pilani . Her son died of cancer in 1989. After her son’s death, she stayed alone in a small apartment in Baroda, Gujarat, and spent her time gardening .In January 2012, Ms Vyarwalla fell from her bed and fractured a hip bone. Her neighbours had helped her reach a hospital where she developed breathing complications. She had been suffering from interstitial lung disease which resulted in her death at 10.30am on 15 January 2012.

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