NOT ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS had the privilege of having their subjects stare back at them but Homai Vyarawalla did. The sight of a woman photographer was a rare one. As the sole woman in a crowd of male photographers, she stood out. However, this exclusive status did not make work any easier. Her day began at 4.30 in the morning and continued late into the night when she returned home to process her photographs.
Vyarawalla’s work life was full of adventure. She traveled atop an Army truck in Sikkim, took photographs from a crane high above the Bhakra Dam, trekked through the jungles of Manipur and drove through the Kumbh Mela in a fire engine while ringing the bell! While taking a photograph, she fell from a height and crashed at the feet of a startled Mohammad Ali Jinnah. On another occasion, while shooting Earl Warren, the Chief Justice of the USA, she fell into the waterbeds surrounding the Taj Mahal. Once when she was being jostled in a crowd of eager photographers, B.R. Ambedkar stopped to ask what she was doing in “that rough crowd”. But Vyarawalla was also a patient photographer. When the “rough crowd” finished their work and left, she stayed back and took that rare picture.
By Sabeena Gadihoke