Dalda 13: The first Indian female photojournalist - Homai Vyarvalla
Wondering what Dalda 13 is? It's the name under which most of Homai Vyarvalla’s photographs were published. Wondering who she was? She was the first woman who dared to step into the world of photo-journalism. And this is not a new-age infiltration. Homai was born in 1913, and her photographs date back to the pre-independence era, a time when India, the mother country was not emancipated enough, leave alone the women she held within her folds.
Homai was born in Gujrat, and she had always harboured an affinity towards the arts. To that end, she went to study at the J.J School of Art. She was born to a Parsi family and her father was a theatre actor. Homai, from the very beginning, showed signs of growing up to become a pioneering woman, who would break off from the shackles which held back her contemporaries. She was the only girl in her class who bothered to complete her matriculation exam before she went off to the art school.
Homai learned photography from Maneckshaw Vyarawala, who was her boyfriend, and who would later be her husband. She was a spirited woman from the very beginning, and instead of containing her new found passion as a hobby which she would pursue within her feminine boundaries, Homai stepped out into the limelight, and chose press photography. She was a devout follower of Mahatma Gandhi’s principles, and she would lead her life according to the example which was set by him. She was also lucky enough to be around at a time when monumental changes were happening in the nation. She documented the rise of India as an Independent country, she was the official press photographer for a number of iconic political events, and she documented the crossing over of the Dalai Lama into India, from the Nathula Pass. She loved to photograph the Nehru family, especially Jawaharlal Nehru.
The partition, the forming of the government, the emergency, and the political turbulence all around during this monumental, historic period in India’s history has been captured on film, by a woman, One almost gets tingles when one realizes that the emancipation of the nation was so intricately connected to the emancipation of the discreet woman who documented all the important historic developments with zeal, with determination and with a clarity which very few people showed through their work a press photographers. From the vote for the partition, to the dinner of the cabinet of ministers, to Jawaharlal Nehru with Edwina Mountbatten, everything iconic about the country, was captured and made immortal through the lenses of this resolute woman.
In a patriarchal country, in a country where women are still treated with a lot of condescension and a lot of callousness, it would be wise to look back at the legacy of Homai Vyarwalla, and remind ourselves of the fact that the memories of the mother, the very birth of the mother, was preserved, recognized, and honoured, by her daughter.