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The Nano Lady Homai Vyarawala
by Shernaz Wadia
Recently the Nano has been in the news for various reasons. One of the latest stories it made headlines with is Nanomania: 96-yr-old woman sells Fiat to buy Tata Nano

Who is this 96-year-old lady and is it her only claim to fame?

She is Homai Vyarawala, who made history by being the first lady professional press photographer of India and freezing History in some rare photographs. Today she lives a retired but active life in Vadodra, doing her own chores and driving her own car but she was born in Navsari.

Her initial interest was painting and she did not have a clue about photography. Her boyfriend Maneckshaw Vyarawala, was instrumental in instilling in her a love for photography. He was a professional photographer and he taught her the basics. For 15 years before they got married, they used to take pictures together. They made picture stories, a rare thing back then and went all over India to do that.

Her first pictures to be published in the Bombay Chronicles were of a picnic and she was paid rupee one per picture! Later she got assignments from the Illustrated Weekly and the British Information Services. It was during World War II that she began to shoot seriously for the press. She used to shoot social parties and staged air raid drills for the British, but as she was allowed to freelance also, she had access to official functions. British and Indian leaders used to hold meetings to chalk out India’s tryst with destiny. Those were the days of the Quit India Movement and later the Partition.

Going everywhere on a bicycle, carrying with her all the paraphernalia required for photography in those days, Homai has chronicled the pre- and post-independence days, with some rare shots. One of her most memorable photographs is of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru (he was her favorite subject) hugging Vijayalaxmi Pandit.

In an interview given to Better Photography, she has said: On one occasion, I took three pictures of him (Mahatma Gandhi). It was so dark that I had to use a flash. He became very angry and shouted, “Jab tak mujhe andha nahi banayenge, tab tak nahi jayengi.”

It is ironic that she had to postpone going to Gandhiji’s prayer meeting the day he was assassinated and so had no pictures. For some reason, not a single photographer was present that day, so there are no pictures of that incident.

So this in short is the famous lady, who sold her 55 year old Fiat, imported from Italy, to buy a Nano. Has the Nano made her famous or will it have added glamour because of her?     

12-Jul-2009
 
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