On India’s Republic Day, A Tribute to Homai Vyarawalla

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Jawaharlal Nehru caught by the camera at Palam airport while waiting for his sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, the Indian Ambassador in Moscow, 1954 gelatin silver print Alkazi Collection of Photography

Jawaharlal Nehru caught by the camera at Palam airport while waiting for his sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, the Indian Ambassador in Moscow, 1954 gelatin silver print Alkazi Collection of Photography

Homai Vyarawalla: Capturing the Essence of a Nation

A picture tells a story more eloquently than words.  On India’s celebration of Republic Day, we pay tribute to the wonderful Homai Vyarawalla, India’s first woman photojournalist (1913-2012) who captured the nation’s ups and downs in a series of remarkable photographs.

We were fortunate that the Rubin Museum of Art hosted a retrospective of her work last year. Visitors got a glimpse of the India that was, and also saw the work of a woman who captured history as it was being made. Her images include those on the historic meeting of Gandhi and the Congress Committee on the 1947 plan for partition, of a changing India as well as of many dignitaries who visited India including Queen Elizabeth, Ho Chi Minh, Zhou En-lai and Jacqueline Kennedy.

Homai Vyarawalla, Indian (1913 – 2012) The ashes of Mahatma Gandhi being carried in a procession, Allahabad; February 1948 Gelatin Silver Print Alkazi Collection of Photography

Homai Vyarawalla, Indian (1913 – 2012) The ashes of Mahatma Gandhi being carried in a procession, Allahabad; February 1948 Gelatin Silver Print Alkazi Collection of Photography

The exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art was curated by Beth Citron and presented in collaboration with the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts in New Delhi.Vyarawalla lived an extraordinary life and visitors to the Rubin Museum caught glimpses of it in a biographical film.

Sabeena Gadihoke, close friend and biographer, shares some intriguing insights  in an article in the Hindu: “Homai was an adventurous woman. Stranded in Sikkim, she hitched a ride back on an army truck after taking images of a young Dalai Lama crossing the border in 1959. Once she came tumbling down while trying to shoot Mohammad Ali Jinnah, bringing to a halt the proceedings of his last press conference the day before he left for Pakistan in 1947. Homai’s fall brought a smile on Jinnah’s face.”

You can read the article in its entirety here

Homai Vyawalwalla, Indian (1913 – 2012) The Dalai Lama in ceremonial dress enters India through a high mountain pass. He is followed by the Panchen Lama, Sikkim, India; 1956 Gelatin Silver Print Alkazi Collection of Photography

Homai Vyawalwalla, Indian (1913 – 2012) The Dalai Lama in ceremonial dress enters India through a high mountain pass. He is followed by the Panchen Lama, Sikkim, India; 1956 Gelatin Silver Print Alkazi Collection of Photography

Dr. Helen Keller, who was calling on President Dr. Rajendra Prasad at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, being greeted by, Prime Minister Nehru who had come to see her Homai Vyarawalla India; 1955 Alkazi Collection of Photography

Dr. Helen Keller, who was calling on President Dr. Rajendra Prasad at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, being greeted by, Prime Minister Nehru who had come to see her Homai Vyarawalla India; 1955 Alkazi Collection of Photography

Homai Vyarawalla, Indian (1913 – 2012) Queen Elizabeth II at a fashion show organized by the wives of diplomats at the Central Cottage Industries in Delhi; 1961 Gelatin Silver Print Alkazi Collection of Photography

Homai Vyarawalla, Indian (1913 – 2012) Queen Elizabeth II at a fashion show organized by the wives of diplomats at the Central Cottage Industries in Delhi; 1961 Gelatin Silver Print Alkazi Collection of Photography

Homai Vyarawalla, Indian (1913 – 2012) Jacqueline Kennedy feeding Urvashi, the baby elephant at Teen Murti House, 1962 gelatin silver print Alkazi Collection of Photography

Homai Vyarawalla, Indian (1913 – 2012) Jacqueline Kennedy feeding Urvashi, the baby elephant at Teen Murti House, 1962 gelatin silver print Alkazi Collection of Photography

Homai Vyarawalla, Indian (1913 – 2012) Queen Elizabeth II examining a gigantic garland presented to her in Madras; 1961 Gelatin Silver Print Alkazi Collection of Photography

Homai Vyarawalla, Indian (1913 – 2012) Queen Elizabeth II examining a gigantic garland presented to her in Madras; 1961 Gelatin Silver Print Alkazi Collection of Photography

Homai Vyarawalla, Indian (1913 – 2012) Ho Chi Minh, President of North Vietnam being escorted by Pandit Nehru and Dr. Rajendra Prasad; 1958 Gelatin Silver Print Alkazi Collection of Photography

Homai Vyarawalla, Indian (1913 – 2012) Ho Chi Minh, President of North Vietnam being escorted by Pandit Nehru and Dr. Rajendra Prasad; 1958 Gelatin Silver Print Alkazi Collection of Photography

Homai Vyawawalla, Indian (1913 – 2012) Nehru releasing a dove, sign of peace at a public function at the National Stadium in New Delhi; mid 1950's Gelatin Silver Print Alkazi Collection of Photography

Homai Vyawawalla, Indian (1913 – 2012) Nehru releasing a dove, sign of peace at a public function at the National Stadium in New Delhi; mid 1950’s Gelatin Silver Print Alkazi Collection of Photography


 

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Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications. Twitter@lavinamelwani & @lassiwithlavina Sign up for the free newsletter to get your dose of Lassi!

2 Comments

  1. Homai Vyarawalla’s collection of India around independence era is a precious one.
    The picture of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is some what intriguing. This photograph is taken in the place where it is forbidden, so people may somehow think of using VIP status to flout the law! In fact, photo is taken by Homai who probably never realized while clicking the shot. So we got a picture which tells many stories!!

  2. Lavina Melwani on

    Hi Kirit, I was intrigued by Pandit Jawaharlal’s image at the airport too! I think Homai Vyarawalla was having fun with that picture, it’s kind of tongue in cheek.
    Homai certainly lived in a time when history was being created and met everyone from the young Dalai Lama to Jinnah to Helen Keller. Must have been quite a life!