The Portrait of a Lady By Kushwant Singh


The Portrait of a Lady is a real story about the grandmother of the writer. The name of the writer is Kushwant Singh. Singh remembers his grandmother as an eternally old woman. The writer tells us the story of his childhood that he spent with his grandmother. Over the years, he explains his relationship with his grandmother. He reflects on her everyday activities and how she matured as a character as time went by. He describes her appearance, which helps in creating an image in the reader’s mind. She had been an intensely religious person. It was hard for him to believe that the was also young once and that she was beautiful like most women. The stories of her childhood games were like fairy tales to him.


In ‘The Portrait of a Lady’, Khushwant Singh sketches a pen-picture of his grandmother. He talks about growing up in the village with her. He also talks about how their relationship changed after moving to the city. Finally, he mentions her burial, which is a moving scene.

Grandmother was a very old woman and she had wrinkled face. She was overweight, short and bent. She walked around the house with her rosary in her hand. She was always dressed in white. Her hair was white. Her lips were always moving in prayer. She would wake the author up and make him ready for school. She went to school with him. The school was attached to the temple. While the children learned the alphabet, she sat inside and read the holy texts.

They came back together after school. She gave the village dogs bread. After a while, they went to the city. The author was now at an English school. The grandmother was unable to assist him with his lessons. She wasn’t satisfied with what he learned there. She was told by the writer that he was taught music. The grandmother didn’t like it at all. She believed that music was meant for prostitutes. She was upset because there was no religious education at the school. There were no stray dogs there. She took the sparrows to feed.

After that, the author went to England to continue his education. She was not upset. She went to the station to bid him farewell. She kissed the author as they parted ways. When he returned after five years, she went to the station to receive him. She didn’t seem to have aged a day. She was already reciting her prayer. She did not pray throughout the evening. She carried a drum with her. She made a phone call to a group of women in her neighbourhood. She sang songs to commemorate her grandson’s return. She became sick the following morning. She prayed quietly in her bed. She passed away peacefully. And the sparrows were affected by her passing. They didn’t even chirp. They ignored the crumbs that were thrown at them.

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Model Explanations

(i) When I went …………… to feed the sparrows.

In these lines, the author describes how the grandmother would pass her time when he was given a separate room. The separate room broke the common link of friendship between the two. After this, the grandmother lived alone in her room as she had accepted her loneliness quietly. She would sit at her spinning wheel reciting prayers from morning till evening. In the afternoon she would relax for a while by feeding the sparrows.

The use of the word ‘snapped’ is remarkable as it conveys the author’s feelings that he did not want that common link of friendship to be broken.

(ii) The next morning ……… time talking to us.

After the grandmother had celebrated the home coming of her grandson, the next day she fell ill. She suffered from mild fever and the doctors suggested that she would be all right very soon. The grandmother, however, thought differently; she thought her end was near. She was very repentant of the fact that just a few hours before the end of her life she forgot to say her prayer. Therefore, she would waste no more of her time. The lines speak of the religious faith of the grandmother.

Questions and Answers

Q. Describe the changing relationship between the author and the grandmother.

Answer: The author’s mother was a deeply religious lady. We come to know this through the different ways of her behaviour. She visited the temple every morning and read scriptures. At home, she always mumbled an inaudible prayer and kept telling the beads of a rosary. She would repeat prayers in a sing-song manner while getting the writer ready for school. She hoped that he would learn it by heart. She did not like the English school as there was no teaching of God and scriptures. Even while spinning at her spinning wheel she would recite prayers. Perhaps it was only once that she forgot to say her prayers. It was on the evening before her death when she felt over-excited while celebrating the arrival of her grandson with songs and beatings of drum. She continued playing and telling beads of her rosary till her last breath.

During his boyhood, the author was completely dependent on his grandmother. She was a part of his life. The turning point in their friendship came when they went to the city. She could no longer accompany him to school as he went there by bus. They shared the same room but she could not help him in his studies. She would ask him what the teachers had taught. She did not believe in the things that were taught at the school. She was distressed that there was no teaching about God and scriptures. She felt offended that music was also being taught. She expressed her disapproval silently. After this, she rarely talked to him. When went up to university, he was given a room of his own. This snatched the common link of friendship between the two. However, their feelings for each other did not change. They still loved each other deeply. She went to see the author off at the railway station when he was going abroad for higher studies. She showed no emotion but kissed her forehead silently. The author valued this as perhaps the last sign of physical contact between them. When the author returned after five years, she received him at the station. She clasped him in her arms. In the evening she celebrated his home coming by singing songs and beating an old drum.

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Short Answer Questions

Answer the following questions :

1. Mention the three phases of the author’s relationship with his grandmother before he left the country to study abroad.

Ans. (i) Childhood: When the author went to the village school and the grandmother helped him to get ready and went to school with him.

(ii) Boyhood: When he went to the city school on a bus. Now the grandmother could no longer help him in his studies.

(iii) Early Youth: When he went to university and was given a separate room.

Q. Mention three reasons why the author’s grandmother was disturbed when he started going to the city school.

Ans. (i) She hated western science and learning.

(ii) She was pained to know that there was no teaching of God and the Scriptures.

(iii) She was allergic to music. According to her, it was not meant for gentlefolk.

Q. Mention three ways in which the author’s grandmother spent her days after he grew up.
Ans. (i) She lived in her room alone.

(ii) She sat at her spinning wheel reciting prayers.

(iii) In the afternoon, she would feed the sparrows for half an hour.

Q. The author’s grandmother was a religious person. What are the different ways in which we come to know this?

Ans. There was no chirruping. The author’s mother threw some crumbs of bread to them. They took no notice of them. As soon as the grandmother’s corpse was carried off, they flew away quietly.

Long Answer Questions

Q. Describe in brief the pen picture of the narrator’s grandmother highlighting her noble qualities.
Answer: Khushwant Singh portrays his grandmother as a symbol of love, devotion, and care. She was a deeply religious and conservative lady, but she was also a generous and noble woman. She was like everyone’s grandmother, loving her grandson and caring for him deeply. She was physically unattractive. She was old, overweight, and short, with a stoop, and she walked around the house with her hand supporting her waist, reciting prayers and telling her beads. She was very interested in her grandson’s life in the village, but when they moved to the area, the bond of friendship was broken. Nonetheless, she always painted an image of harmony and contentment.

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Her affection for the animals was reflected in the way she fed her dogs and sparrows. She didn’t like English school but never interfered with it. She welcomed any decision of her grandson concerning her life in a calm and composed manner. And in death, harmony and contentment were achieved.

Q. Describe the intimate relationship of the grandmother with the sparrows. How did the sparrows mourn her death?
Answer: Grandmother was a great lover of animals who cared deeply for them. She fed scraps of chapattis to the streets dogs in the village. She began feeding the sparrows while in the area. She’d split the bread into small crumbs on the verandah in the afternoons. She’d toss the crumbs to the hundreds of sparrows swarming around her. With their loud chirruping, they would perch themselves on her legs, shoulders, and even her head, feeling the breeze. For her, it was the most enjoyable half-hour of the day.

The sparrows paid a silent tribute to the grandmother when she died. Thousands of people crowded around her body. They didn’t chirp or embrace the bread crumbs that the mother offered. They flew away after her body was taken away for cremation, mourning her death in silence.

Q. Describe the friendship between Khushwant Singh and his grandmother.
Answer: When the author lived with his grandmother in the village as a child, she was heavily involved in his upbringing. She used to get up with him early in the morning to wake him up. She sang her prayers while bathing and dressing him, hoping the young boy would memorise them. She served him a stale chapatti with butter and sugar for breakfast. After that, they’d all go to the temple and to school together. The grandmother would read holy books while the author studied. They returned home together.

When his parents summoned them to the city, it marked a turning point in their relationship. Although they shared a bed, she was unable to assist him significantly. Music, science, and western education were all things she despised. Their friendship’s common thread was eventually severed.

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