Mrs. Vyarawalla became India’s and Southeast Asia’s first female photojournalist in British-ruled India. Through photography, she captured India’s struggle for an independent nation in the 1940s. She photographed the funeral preparations of Mohanda K. Gandhi, visits from worldwide dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth and Jackie Kennedy, the arrival of exiled Dalai Lama XIV, and many moments of the life of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister.
She earned the nickname Dalda 13, which referred to the year in which she was born, 1913, and the license plate of her first car, DLD 13. Her nickname symbolized a certain navigation in the world of photography and journalism. Both spaces that were heavily dominated by men. She was born into a family that appreciated the arts. Her father was a theater director for a traveling theater group. Vyarawalla began by studying art at Bombay University and the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art. She started photographing as a teenager. Her boyfriend and later husband, Maneckshaw Vyarawalla, was also a professional photographer. In the 1930s at the onset of World War II, Vyarawalla’s photographs were published by The Illustrated Weekly of India under her husband’s name. It was not until 1942 when she joined the British Information Services that her name and work began to be recognized in the world of photojournalism.
Her near 40-year career came to a halt shortly after her husband passed away in 1970. It was at this time that Mrs. Vyarawalla spoke of her disdain for the recent changes in culture among photographers. She said that there had once been a certain camaraderie. But now photographers were in competition with each other to make a “a few quick bucks.” Although she was inactive in her last 40-plus years of life, she was awarded the National Photo Award Lifetime Achievement, as well as the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honor in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, at the age of 98, Homai Vyarawalla passed away. Having created work to preserve multiple generations of the transformation from occupied to independent India, Vyarawalla stated humbly, “All I want today is for people, especially the young, to see what it was like to live in those days. It was a different kind of world altogether.”