In this story, Khushwant Singh draws a pen picture of his grandmother. He describes how he had spent his childhood with her in the village. He also describes the change that came in the relationship in the city. Ultimately, he describes the moving scene of her death.

Khushwant Singh draws here an interesting portrait of his grandmother. He presents her as a tender, loving and deeply religious old lady. Singh says that his grandmother was an old woman. She was so old that her face was wrinkled that at the present it was difficult to believe she would ever had been young and pretty. Her hair was white as snow. She had a little stoop in her back. She could be seeing reciting her rosary all the time. The author says that “she was like the winter landscape in the mountains and expanse of pure white serenity breathing peace and contentment.”

A picture of author’s grandfather was hung on the wall. He appeared too old and it was that he ever had a wife. He appeared to have only lots and lots of grandchildren. Singh was the only child at that time. His parents had gone to live in the city leaving him behind the village under the care of his grandmother. She would get him ready for school. And would also feed him with Chappathi. The School as attached with a temple. All the children sat in the verandah reciting alphabets while his grandmother is engaged reading holy scriptures. Finally in the evening, the author and the grandmother would walk back home feeding the dogs.

After a friendly relationship with his grandmother, he had to adopt a new life in the city. This itself was a turning point for the grandmother and the grandson. Both of them were sent for to settle down in the city with his parents. The author went to an English school but the grandmother never liked the way he was taught. Though Singh and his grandmother shared the same room, she was unable to help him. Apart from this, she was also disappointed that he was learning music that she considered not for gentlefolks. In due course, Singh went up to a University and because of that, he was given a separate room. This indeed made the common link of their relationship snapped down completely. The grandmother agreed the fact and she used to spin the wheel from sunrise to sunset to compensate that. Only during the afternoon she would relax by feeding the sparrows with little pieces of bread. They were her best friends and the sparrows also liked her company.

Later, Singh went up abroad for higher studies which were for 5 long years. He had a doubt in his mind that whether his grandmother may survive or not until he came back. His also taught that it might e the last physical contact between them when she came in the railway station to see him off. After 5 years he came back, incredibly he was welcomed by his grandmother who was not grown  a single day older. Singh notices that even at this time when everyone is joyful about his return, grandmother’s happiest moments was with her sparrows.

Later in the evening there was a change in her attitude. She celebrated the return of her grandson y collecting some women of neighbourhood and beating drum for several hours. But in the morning, grandmother’s health deteriorates and she reveals that she was nearing her end. So she decides that she is not going to waste a single moment by talking so she prayed. Quite suddenly, the rosary falls from her hand and she exhaled her last breath and it was clear that she was no more. After making the preparations for the funeral, the family members went to fetch her body for the last journey. The golden blaze of light of the setting sun glittered her room. And to pay the last homage to the grandmother, thousands of sparrows gathered in and around her room. The sparrows never did cheered nor did they do anything normal. They don’t even bother to notice the read pieces thrown at them. Along with her funeral, the sparrows flew away.




Short Answer Type Questions

QUESTION.1: What does Khushwant Singh describe in ‘The Portrait Of A Lady’ ?

Ans:     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.

QUESTION.2: How could the grandmother be ‘beautiful’ without being pretty ?

Ans:     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 a spiritual beauty.

QUESTION.3: What was the turning point of their friendship ?

Ans.:    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.

QUESTION.4: What opinion did the grandmother form of the English school in the city ?

Ans.:    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.

QUESTION.5: How were the grandmother and the narrator good and intimate friends in the village ?

Ans.:    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.

QUESTION.6: Why did the grandmother hate music ?

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

QUESTION.7: How did the sparrows mourn the death of grandmother ?

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

QUESTION.8: How did the grandmother celebrate the homecoming of her grandson ?

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


QUESTION.9: Why did the grandmother stop talking before her death ?

Ans.:    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 anymore time talking to them.

Long Answer Questions

QUESTION.1: Describe in brief the pen picture of the narrator’s grandmother highlighting her noble qualities.

Ans.:    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 with a calm and composed manner. Even in death, she achieved peace and contentment.

QUESTION.2: Describe the intimate relationship of grandmother with the sparrows. How did the sparrows mourn her death ?

Ans.:    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.