In 10 days from now, we will witness India’s first national photo awards as part of commemorating 50 golden years of the photo division, a media unit of the ministry of information and broadcasting.
Among the four recipients of the lifetime achievement award’ is India’s first woman photojournalist Homai Vyarawalla aka Dalda 13, a nickname that came from her year of birth, the age at which she met her husband and the number plate of her vehicle in Delhi DLD 13.
Vyarawalla was born in Navsari on December 9, 1913. Her father was a Parsi stage artist with a travelling theatre company. At a very young age, her siblings and she were packed off to Mumbai for higher education.
There have been many moments in this eminent and photogenic photographer’s life, which would tell a story of their own had she been photographed then, one wonders
* Like how it felt to be the only girl in her class and one who went on to pass matriculation.
* Like what was the scene like when she first met Maneckshaw her husband to be at a railway station?
* Like what did she paint during her course at the Sir J J School of Arts?
* Like what was the experience like while learning photography and processing the pictures in the dark room?
* Like how did she look when she took her first pictures independently those of the women’s club of Sir J J School of Arts at a picnic party to the Amarnath temple?
* Like what was the look on her face, when she looked at those pictures published full page in the Bombay Chronicles?
* Like how it felt to be the only woman in her field and being paid Re 1 (a big thing) in those days?
* Like how she felt sharing the Rolliflex camera with her husband, as they together covered the Mumbai of the 30s, hospitals, festivals, beggars, cottage industries, et al?
* Like how she looked with her practical sari and becoming hair-do, while shooting pictures as a freelancer for The Illustrated Weekly of India, when the war came on?
* Like how she was perceived in Lutyen’s Delhi of the 1940s and 50s as she bicycled around the town which was then safe for women even at 1 am?
* Like how she sounded when she instructed all her colleague gentlemen to behave and have no hanky-panky or unnecessary smiling that could be misconstrued.’?
* Like what was the look on her face when she taught fellow photographers to be propah’, dressed in closed collar shirts and trousers and shoes because theirs was then a respectable profession?
* Like how did she react, when they nicknamed her Mummy’ out of love and respect?
* Like how she and Maneckshaw looked while sharing their plate of food (lifelong) and other responsibilities in life as a 50-50 partnership?
* Like the eager expression on her face as she awaited her mother-in-law’s signal from the terrace across her place of work, when it was time to feed her infant?
* Like how it felt to spend a night at the Kurukshetra mela,a petite Parsi armed with a large format speed graphic camera that had a composite wood ,steel and aluminum chassis and weighed more than 6 pounds.
* Like how she moved around with joy and child-like simplicity in the innermost core of political circles?
* Like what was she looking for when she always waited even after events for an out of the ordinary shot, at times perched on a table or stack of crates?
* Like how she could behave like a thorough professional and not get carried away in spite of clicking the top politicians and India’s most important historical moments.
* Like how she gave up clicking after being disillusioned at the sights that changed with the times from respectable’ to wily’ after a career that spanned from the 1930s to the 1970s?
* Like how she performed her new roles as those of being a carpenter, gardener, tailor, plumber, cobbler, barber, gourmet cook in order to lead the independent lifestyle she had always led?
Yes, there have been many moments in the life of Homai Vyarawalla, which would have made fabulous, precious photographs. One such moment will be on the August 19.
Though she hates being in front of the camera, this woman will be bringing as much dignity to the front of lens focus, as she brought from behind it.