Question and Answers of The Portrait Of A Lady


Q1: What does Khushwant Singh describe in ‘The Portrait Of A Lady?

Answer: In ‘ The Portrait Of A Lady ’, Khushwant Singh draws a pen picture of his beloved grandmother. He describes the relationship he enjoyed with her and the changes that occurred in their bond with time, as the years passed.

Q2: How could the grandmother be ‘beautiful’ without being pretty?

Answer: Grandmother was never a physically attractive woman but she reflected a divine beauty from within. She was a symbol of peace, serenity and contentment. Her novel virtues gave her spiritual beauty.

Q3: What was the turning point of their friendship?

Answer: The narrator’s parents sent for them and they shifted to the city. It was the turning point in their friendship. Grandmother could not accompany him to the English or help him in his studies. She saw less of him and the distance grew.

Q4: What opinion did the grandmother form of the English school in the city?

Answer: The grandmother did not like the English school in the city. She was sad that they did not teach anything about God and the scriptures. Nor was she interested in science. She hated music lessons given in the school.

Q5: How were the grandmother and the narrator good and intimate friends in the village?

Answer: Grandmother woke her grandson up every morning and got him ready for school. She gave him breakfast, got him his slate, ink-pot and accompanied him to school. He was entirely dependent on her.

Q6: Why did the grandmother hate music?

Answer: Grandmother considered that music was indecent and was meant for harlots and beggars. It was not meant for gentlefolk or school children from respectable families.

Q7: How did the sparrows mourn the death of their grandmother?

Answer: The sparrows gathered in thousands around grandmother’s dead body. They did not chirrup or touch the crumbs of bread thrown at them. They seemed to mourn her death in silence and flew away when her body was taken away for cremation.

Q8: How did the grandmother celebrate the homecoming of her grandson?

Answer: Grandmother was overjoyed at the homecoming of her grandson. She collected the women of the neighbourhood and was in the mood for celebration. She beat the drum and sang for hours about the homecoming of warriors. She even forgot to pray.

Q9: Why did the grandmother stop talking before her death?

Answer: The old lady was taken ill. She had a mild fever. The doctor told her that she would be alright soon. But the grandmother declared that her end was near. She forgot to pray the last evening. She was not going to waste any more time talking to them.

Long Answer Questions

Q1: Describe in brief the pen picture of the narrator’s grandmother highlighting her noble qualities.

Answer: Khushwant Singh presents his grandmother as a symbol of love, care and affection. She was a highly religious and conservative lady but, a woman of generosity and nobility. she was like everybody’s grandmother, loving her grandson immensely and caring for him with deep love and concern. She was not physically attractive. She was old, fat and short with a stoop and hobbled about the house with her hand supporting waist, reciting her prayers and telling her beads. In the village, she was actively involved in her grandson’s life but when they shifted to the city, the bond of friendship was broken. Yet, she presented she presented a picture of peace and contentment always.

Her love for animals was reflected in the way she fed the dogs and sparrows. She did not like the English school but, never interfered. She accepted every decision of her grandson regarding his life in a calm and composed manner. Even in death, she achieved peace and contentment.

Q2: Describe the intimate relationship of a grandmother with the sparrows. How did the sparrows mourn her death?

Answer: Grandmother had love and compassion for animals. In the village, she fed the street dogs with bits of chapattis. In the city, she took to feeding the sparrows. She would sit in the verandah in the afternoons and break the bread into small crumbs. She would throw these crumbs to the hundreds of sparrows that gathered around her. They would perch themselves on her legs, shoulders and even on her head and feel the air with their noisy chirruping. It was the happiest half-hour of the day for her.

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On the death of grandmother, the sparrows paid a silent tribute to her. Thousands gathered around her dead body. They did not chirrup or accept the bread crumbs given by their mother. They mourned her death in silence and flew away after her body was taken away for cremation.

Q3: Describe the friendship between Khushwant Singh and his grandmother.
Answer: Khushwant Singh’s grandmother was closely involved in bringing him up when the author lived with her in the village during his early life. She used to wake him up early in the morning. While bathing and dressing him, she sang her prayers, she hoped that the young boy would learn it by heart. She then gave him breakfast – a stale chapatti with butter and sugar. Then they would go together to the temple and school. While the author learnt his lesson, the grandmother would holy books. They returned home together.

A turning point came in their friendship when his parents called them to the city. Although they shared a room, she could not help him much. She hated music, science and western education. The common link of their friendship was gradually snapped.

Understanding the Text

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

Answer: The first phase of the author’s relationship with his grandmother is the author’s childhood when they lived together in the village. They enjoyed an intimate relationship and were good friends. His parents left him with her and they went to live in the city. They were constantly together. She used to wake him up in the morning and get him ready for school. Then she would fetch his wooden slate, a tiny earthen inkpot and a red pen. After breakfast, she accompanied him to the school. She carried several chapattis for the village dogs. She used to stay in the temple that was attached to school. After school hours they would walk back together. The second phase of their relationship began with their being called to the city. That was a turning point in their friendship. He used to go to an English school on a motor bus. The grandmother did not go to school with him. She remained confined to home. As the years rolled by they saw less of each other. She did not like the English school as there was no teaching about God and scriptures there. She hated western science and music. The third phase of this relationship started with the author’s going to university. There he was given a room of his own. The common link of their friendship was snapped. His grandmother accepted her seclusion with resignation.

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Q.2: Mention: Three reasons why the author’s grandmother was disturbed when he started going to the city school.

Answer: The narrator used to go to an English school in the city. He used to go on a motor bus. Here the author’s grandmother could not accompany him to the school as she used to do in the village. She remained confined to home. The grandmother felt quite disturbed. The three most disturbing reasons for her were –

1. The author’s telling her the English words and western science which she did not understand nor could she help him in his studies.

2. No teaching about God and scriptures in the school.

3. Music lessons given to the author in the school as she considered music is fit only for harlots and beggars and not meant for gentle folks.

Q.3: Mention: Three ways in which the author’s grandmother spent her days after he grew up.

Answer: The intimacy between the narrator and his grandmother started to fade away since they came to the city where the author joined an English school. When the narrator grew up, he went up to university and lived in a hostel. After that, the common link of friendship between the author and his grandmother was snapped. The grandmother accepted it as her fate and found out new ways of spending her time:

1. She now spent most of her time at the spinning-wheel from morning till evening. From sunrise to sunset she sat by the spinning-wheel and rarely talked to anyone.

2. While spinning, she continued reciting prayers and rarely talked to anyone.

3. The third way in which the old lady spent her time was by feeding the sparrows. She would sit in the verandah. She would break the bread into little bits and throw them towards hundreds of little birds gathered around her. They came and perched on her legs and shoulders. Feeding the sparrows used to be the happiest half-hour of the day for her.

Q.4: Mention: The odd ways in which the author’s grandmother behaved just before she died.

Answer: Before the grandmother died, a change came over her. Her behaviour became quite odd. She collected the women of the neighbourhood, took a broken drum and sang of home-coming of warriors the whole day. She did not pray that day which used to be her daily work. She was very much excited. Other family members had to persuade her to stop to avoid over straining. That was the first time that she did not pray. The next morning she got a mild fever. She herself declared that her end was near and continued praying without wasting any time by talking to others. She lay peacefully in bed praying and telling her beads. Her lips stopped moving. The rosary fell from her lifeless fingers. Her face turned pale. Everyone understood that she was no more.

Q.5: Mention: How the sparrows expressed their sorrow when the author’s grandmother died.

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Answer: Feeding the sparrows was the happiest hour of the day for grandmother. The sparrows and the old lady developed an intimate relationship in this manner. When the grandmother died thousands of sparrows expressed their sorrow by sitting scattered in the verandah in mourning while grandmother’s dead-body lay there. They did not chirrup. The author’s mother threw some pieces of bread but they did not eat them. When they carried grandmother’s corpse they flew away quietly. Thus, the sparrows mourned her death and paid their silent tribute to the grand old lady in a very unique manner.

Talking about the Text

Q.1: The author’s grandmother was a religious person. What are the different ways in which we come to know this?

Answer: The author’s grandmother was a highly religious lady. Her one hand was always busy in telling the beads of her rosary. Her lips constantly moved in an inaudible prayer. She used to get up early in the morning. She did her morning prayer in “a monotonous sing-song”. In the village, she accompanied the author to the school and instead of returning home, she used to sit in a temple reading scriptures which was attached to the school. It was because of her religious nature that she could not like the new English school in the city. She was unhappy because there was no teaching about God and scriptures at the city-school. Being a religious lady and a widow, she could be seen hobbling about the house in a spotless white dress. When she realized that her end was near, she stopped talking. She lay peacefully in bed praying and telling her beads till she took her last breathes.

Q.2: Describe the changing relationship between the author and his grandmother. Did their feeling for each other change?

Answer: The changing circumstances did have a bearing on the relationship between the author and his grandmother. The author and his grandmother lived as intimate friends in the village. A turning point came in their relationship when they came to the city to live with the author’s parents. The author joined an English school in the city. She remained confined to home as here she could not accompany him to the school. In the new English school, she could not help him with studies. She could not like the kind of education being given to the author at the English school. The grandmother became disturbed as there was no teaching about God and scriptures in the new school. She reconciled herself with spinning and taking to feed the sparrows. When the narrator grew up, he went up to university and then went abroad. The common link of friendship between the author and his grandmother was snapped. His grandmother accepted her seclusion with resignation.

No, their feelings for each other did not change though distances grew between them.

Q.3: Would you agree that the author’s grandmother was a person strong in character? If yes, give instances that show this.

Answer: Yes, it is a fact that the grandmother was a very strong personality. She was a very religious and conservative lady who hated modern views and ways. She had very strong personal likings and dislikes. Being a religious lady and a widow, she could be seen hobbling about the house in a spotless white dress. She used to get up early in the morning. She said her prayers in a monotonous sing-song. One of her hands was always telling the beads of her rosary. According to the author, she was a symbol of white serenity. She had peace and contentment. She had certain rigid ideas about life. She liked the village school because it was attached to the temple. She sat in the temple reading the scriptures. She hated the English school in the city for various reasons. She was unhappy that there was no teaching about God and the scriptures there. She was quite disturbed. They gave music lessons at the school. She considered it fit only for harlots and beggars and not meant for “gentle folks”. When the author returned from abroad after five years, he found her in the same condition. Before she died, she herself declared that her end was near. There were some unique changes in her behaviour. She lay peacefully in bed praying and telling her beads. It is quite difficult to show complete agreement with her outdated views. But she was a strong and determined character. She led her own kind of life and never compromised with her principals. She loved the narrator deeply but never tried to be sentimental or emotional.

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