One of India`s first professional women photographers Homai dies

Vadodara: Homai Vyarawalla, one of India`s first professional women photographers, died here Sunday, days after being hospitalised due to a fall from her bed, close friends said. She was 98.

Vyarawalla`s death is an end of an era in photography, said some of those who were lucky enough to have interacted with the grand old lady, who lived by herself in Gujarat`s Vadodara city.

"(I am) sad to know of the demise of Homai Vyarawalla, India`s first woman photo journalist. Received her blessings at Vadodara Sadbhavana fast recently," tweeted Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

"I have been inspired by the nature of her works. Such documentation does not happen today. There was a spontaneity about her work, which required courage in those days," 78-year-old Nemai Ghosh, movie maestro Satyajit Ray`s chronicler, photographer and friend said of Vyarawalla.

Vyarawalla, who had slipped near her bed Thursday, suffered from a fractured hip. "It took some time for the neighbours to find out that she had a fall. They then took her to the hospital Thursday," said Sabeena Gadihoke, an associate who called on Vyarawalla from time to time.

However, 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.

Gadihoke, who teaches video and television production at New Delhi`s Jamia Millia Islamia, is the author of `Camera Chronicles`, a biography of Homai Vyarawalla, which was released in early 2006. "It is a huge loss. It is the end of an era for me. She was an iconic photo-journalist, an icon for an entire generation of women. She was someone who archived India`s national history, not just political but also social and cultural from 1930 to 1970 - and it was a very rich archive," Gadihoke told reporters.

"It is because of personalities like Homai Vayarawalla that women have been inspired to take up professions like photo-journalism and journalism. Look at Barkha Dutt now. Before Vyarawalla, one could hardly imagine a woman reporting from and capturing situations in remote areas of the country," writer, curator and art critic Ina Puri said.

Vyarawalla who started by clicking photographs as a teenager, took a number of memorable photographs during her career and was well known for taking shots of India`s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru smoking a cigarette. Nehru was her favourite subject.

"I started clicking photographs at the age of 13 in Bombay with a box camera in 1926 and I shot my last photograph in 1970, 40 years ago. Since then, I have not touched the lens. But I am aware of the drifts in press photography down the decades," Vyarawalla had told reporters in an earlier interview.

The daughter of an actor in an Urdu-Parsi theatre company, Vyarawalla was born in Navsari in Gujarat in 1913. She studied at the then Bombay University and obtained an arts diploma from the Sir J.J. School of Arts.

She started working soon after in the late 1930s, before moving to Delhi in 1942 where she photographed the first flag hoisting of independent India in 1947. Her tryst with Independence as India`s lone lens-woman in the male-dominated media was on the night of August 14-15, 1947.

Along with being remembered as India`s first professional woman photographer, Vyarawalla will also be remembered as "The Grand Old Lady" who, at 98, did all her chores by herself and took a flight of stairs at least twice a day.

She did her own cooking, carpenting, plumbing, electric fitting and even small repairs to her car.

Vyarawalla is survived only by her ailing daughter-in-law, who stays in Jamshedpur in Jharkhand.

She had several accolades to her credit, including the Padma Vibhushan, India`s second highest civilian honour, conferred upon her in January last year.


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