Back in 1932, just a few days after Diwali, celebrated painter the late SL Haldankar’s daughter Gita, who was 15-year-old then, found herself bewitched by her mother’s new saree. On a whim, she picked it up and draped it. Given that Gita was extremely close to her father, she immediately ran to show him her new avatar. The moment he saw her, Haldankar said, “You are looking very beautiful. Let me make a sketch of you.” For the next three days, wearing the light lavender colour saree and holding a lamp in the hand, Gita posed for half-an-hour every day for her father, as he made the sketch. The sketch later metamorphosed into a world-famous painting titled The Glow of Hope, which also came to become popular as the Lady With the Lamp.
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On February 2, this young girl of Lady With The Lamp turns 100. Uplekar is one of the seven children of Haldankar, though none of her siblings are alive today. Despite her age, Gita Uplekar, her surname post marriage, vividly remembers details about the famous painting. Though she can barely see and is hard of hearing, she speaks clearly. Probe her about the painting and the centenarian, answers excitedly, “The sari that I am wearing in the painting was bought by my father for my mother for Diwali. The painting was made in watercolours — a medium my father excelled in. Later, my father displayed the painting in a Mumbai exhibition. Many art enthusiasts were keen on buying it, but he politely refused, saying that it was his daughter’s painting. However, when the King of Mysuru showed an inclination to buy the painting, my father couldn’t refuse. It was sold for Rs 300.”
And that’s how the painting became a prized-possession of Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery at the Mysuru Palace. Pointing out that she was too young to realise the ‘importance’ of the painting then, Gita said, “It was much later that I came to realise how gifted and celebrated my father was. I discovered the painting for which I posed was one of his most famous works.” Unlike most people her age, Uplekar was able to do all her chores independently till a few years ago. However, three years ago, due to a sudden fall at her home in Kolhapur, she sustained serious injuries that left her bedridden. At present, she stays with her son Rajprakash and his family in the University Area at Shahu Naka in Kolhapur.
Uplekar’s 71-year-old daughter Parineeta Shah, who is also based in Kolhapur, said, “All the seven children of my grandfather were born with creative talents. While my mother and two of her brothers were classical singers, others were into painting, like their father. Even now, my mother sings bhajans, evening ragas or old songs every evening.” Shah said to mark Uplekar’s birthday, the family has organised a get together on February 2.