Meet India’s First Woman Civilian BASE Jumper as well as First Woman Master Scuba Diver Trainer
Archana Sardana, a 40-year-old adventure enthusiast, is India’s first woman civilian Building Aerial Span Earth (BASE) jumper, often jumping from a bridge of over 3,600 metres (12,000 feet).
Raised in a country where women’s participation in sports remains uneven even today, Sardana did not grow up as an adventure sports enthusiast. A mother of two boys, she graduated with a diploma in interior design, and says she was never really interested in pursuing outdoor activities.
But just 20 days after her wedding, on a whim, her husband, a naval officer, and she braved a local marathon known for its steep peaks and competitive nature. That was the turning point. She decided right then that she had to have more, and thus, a legend was born.
She completed Adventure and Advanced Mountaineering courses from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling, and Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarakhand, and hasn’t stopped chasing the thrill since.
But the rigours of mountaineering were quite different from BASE jumping, an extreme sport. BASE jumping, which is an offshoot of skydiving, is essentially parachuting or wingsuit flying from a fixed structure. However, as BASE jumps generally take place from a lower altitude they are significantly more dangerous. In fact, according to some reports, it is the world’s most dangerous sport. Of course, before she decided to do her first jump, Sardana had performed around 200 skydives.
Be it plummeting from the sky or plunging into the deep seas, she has done it all now. Having undertaken multiple deep sea scuba dives in every corner of the globe, Sardana is the first woman master scuba diver trainer in India as well.
She unfurled the Indian flag at a depth of 30 metres in the ocean, off Andaman’s Neil Island, and set a new record in the process. A smart business woman, she runs her own venture, Archana Sardana Scuba Diving Academy, training young women to conquer their fears and feel the rush of adventure sport.
Over time, Sardana has sought ways to use her adventurous spirit to help others. An expert at jumping out of helicopters, she did her first jump in service of an organisation called ‘Blind Free India’. In this one-on-one, Sardana talks about overcoming her fears, surmounting challenges in pursuing BASE jumping and balancing her home and her new-found passion
Do You Know Who Is India’s First Female Photo Journalist?
Brave,independent and unconventional, Homai Vyarawalla is known to be India’s first female photo journalist. She captured some of the most memorable and incredible moments of Indian history – from the first flag hoisting ceremony at the Red Fort on 16th August 1947 to the cremation of world renowned dignitaries like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
Her most well-known photographs include the picture of the first flag hoisting ceremony at the Red Fort on 16th August 1947, the cremation of world renowned dignitaries like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and the epic picture of Lord Mountbatten when he was leaving India. The picture of Dalai Lama crossing over to the Indian Territory in 1959 happens to be another great inclusion in her archives.
She also photographed other moments of great historical significance such as the visit of Queen Elizabeth with Duke to India and of the meeting where the leaders voted for the June 3 Plan leading to the Partition of India. She was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2011 for her extraordinary contributions in her field.
Vyarawalla was born in 1913 in a small village named Navsari in Gujarat. Her father was an actor in an Urdu–Parsi theatre company. Homai received her initial education in a place not far away from Surat called Vyara. Her family later moved to Mumbai where she did her graduation and met Manekshaw, a classmate in college and her teacher in Photography, to whom she got married later.
Her first photograph was a click of women at a picnic party of the Women’s Club in Bombay which was published in the Bombay Chronicles magazine in 1930, for which Homai received Re 1 per photograph. Later, she moved to Delhi and joined the British High Commission where she began her career as a photojournalist and started recording pictures which have now become important treasures for the current and future generations of this nation.
Homai Vyarawalla considered Jawaharlal Nehru as her favorite subject. She often commented that he was the most photogenic person of all and some of her favorite photographs happened to be the ones that she had taken of him. One rare photograph of Jawaharlal Nehru warmly receiving Vijayalakshami Pandit at the Delhi airport is something she is really fond of. Hundreds of other photographs of Pandit Nehru have been taken by her at the peak of his political career. Most of these photographs are now being stored in government archives as symbols of historical significance. Professional photographers of her time and even of future generations look at her work as a source of inspiration.
A change of events took place in her life after the death of her husband in 1969. She soon quit photography forever and started living in Pilani with her son Farouq. During her quiet and peaceful stay in Pilani, no one there came to know that she had been one of the most famous photojournalists at the time of Indian independence.
Later on, she shifted to Baroda with her son. She breathed her last at the age of 98 in 2012. Homai received India’s First National Photo Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010 and was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2011.
Her photographs, prints, negatives and her beloved Rolleiflex, Speed Graphic and Mamiaflex camera are currently in possession of the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts and the National Gallery of Modern Arts, New Delhi. India in Focus: Camera Chronicles of Homai Vyarawalla – a biography written by Sabeena Gadihoke, is a tribute to this great legend and to her work.
The writer says that the book was a result of very extensive interviews with Homai, and contains some very touching excerpts from Homai’s life and her struggle. It has been a source of inspiration to a million budding photographers of the past and present generations. India in Focus is a must read for all photography enthusiasts and history lovers of the country.
Apart from the collection of her photographs, the book has vivid descriptions of every incident when those pictures were taken. As you flip through the pages of this book, you feel transported to that time and it leaves every single reader with a sense of nostalgia for the golden period of Indian History!
The Better India would like to pay a tribute to this legendary photographer. The ‘lady behind the camera’ has symbolized beauty with her perspective. Each picture clicked by her is not just a memoir for that moment but also tells the story behind the click. She had the ability to capture human emotions, even at some of the most historic moments of our nation, and keep them alive in our minds forever.