On what would have been her 104th birthday, Google pays tribute to yet another trailblazer – Homai Vyarawalla, India’s first female photojournalist – with a doodle. Other women who have made it to the Google Doodle list this year include Begum Akhtar, Cornelia Sorabji, and Anasuya Sarabhai.
Codenamed Dalda 13 in the photo archives, she also went by that pseudonym. Her pseudonym comes from the year of her birth – 1913 – and the Dalda from her car’s number plate DLD 13.
The Padma Vibhushan awardee was born in a Parsi family in Gujarat, and much of her childhood was spent travelling with her father’s travelling theatre company. She later moved to Bombay, now Mumbai, and studied at Bombay University and Sir J J School of Art. A friend taught her photography, and she started exploring life in Bombay through her camera lens early on, starting to work as a photographer professionally in her late teens.
Her career took off after her marriage to Manekshaw Vyarawalla, who worked as an accountant and a photographer for Times of India. Her photos were initially published under his name, or her pseudonym.
Her work soon started gaining national attention, and in 1942 she had moved to Delhi with her family to work at the British Information Services. Here she photographed world leaders such as Ho Chi Minh, and American Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, and the first ladies, Mamie Eisenhower and Jacqueline Kennedy.
She also photographed Queen Elizabeth II’s State visit, and the Dalai Lama who had just escaped Tibet.
Some of her best work, however, came during Independence. Her key works include photographs of Mahatma Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru, the latter being her favourite subject. Some of her notable pictures that resonated with the masses were of Nehru addressing jubilant crowds in Delhi, Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy departing from India, and Gandhi being prepared for the funeral.
Soon after her husband’s death, in 1970, she gave up photography disappointed with the change the profession had undergone. In 1982, she moved to Vadodara with her son Farooq who she lost to cancer in 1989.
Later on, she handed her collection of photographs to the Delhi-based Alkazi Foundation for the Arts. In 2011, she was awarded the second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan.
She died in Vadodara on January 15, at the age of 98 due to a lung disease.
In 1998, Sabeena Gadihoke from Jamia Milia Islamia University made a documentary on Homai and two other photographers titled ‘Three Women and a Camera’. Sabeen also wrote Homai’s biography – Camera Chronicles of Homai Vyarawalla – which was published in 20o6. The biography celebrates her work and her contribution to photojournalism especially as a lone woman in a field that continues to be male-dominated even today.
Homai’s Google Doodle today is a reminder of her contribution, her will to succeed despite the odds, and an inspiration who shows nothing is impossible.
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