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To steer Nano, 96 is not old

She captured through her lens India’s tryst with destiny. Now, Homai Vyarawalla wants to be in the driver’s seat when the country makes automobile history.

homaivyarawala India’s first woman photo-journalist, the 96-year-old Vyarawalla wants to drive a Nano, having reluctantly sold off her Fiat of 54 years as she found it difficult to maintain.

“I do my own work and I don’t keep servants, I get things for myself from the market. If I have a car, it is easier to keep things in it. It is difficult to lift bags at this age,” said Vyarawalla, a pioneering photographer who lives by herself in anonymity in Vadodara’s Nizampura area.

Until January, Vyarawalla drove her black Fiat, a cute little car she had imported from Italy in 1955. She was forced to send the car to a relative in Mumbai last month as it was tough to get someone to repair it in Vadodara.

“It was becoming difficult to maintain the car, though it was very user-friendly. I really did not want to sell it but I had no choice,” said the lady.

The Fiat is now with a vintage car collector in Mumbai, who still runs it.

Only one lakh customers will be allotted the Nano, the cheapest car in the world, in its first phase of launch. Vyarawalla knows that, but said the small car looks good in photographs, her passion and first love that keeps her going.

Born in 1913 at Navsari, a small town in south Gujarat known for its Parsi population, Vyarawalla studied painting at Mumbai’s JJ School of Arts in the mid-twenties. Around that time, she met her future husband, Maneckshaw, a photographer who introduced Vyarawalla to what was then a new and fledgling art. The two got married in 1941.

Vyarawalla saw through the lens — a Rolliflex camera which became her trademark — the tumultuous years leading up to India’s Independence and recorded in black and white the growth of a nation.

She covered the war years, the build-up to Independence, the meetings of Lord Louis Mountbatten with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, whom she termed “extremely photogenic”.

Post-Independence, she caught on camera personalities ranging from Marshall Josip Broz Tito to Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Alexey Kosygin, Queen Elizabeth II to Jacqueline Kennedy and US Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower to Richard Nixon.

Vyarawalla stopped clicking in the early seventies, soon after her husband’s death.

Despite her age, Vyarawalla said she would have no problem driving the Nano. “I am more comfortable driving a car than walking.”

But the lady added she would not want any out-of-turn allotment from Ratan Tata. She would not use her Parsi connection either, but if her name is picked by the computer, “I will buy it for sure”.

Original article in the Telegraph