Class 11- “The Portrait of a Lady” Full Analysis

The Portrait of a Lady,Khushwant Singh,grandson

Chapter 1, Khushwant Singh’s “The Portrait of a Lady” Summary, MCQs, Character Sketches, Theme, Important Excerpts, Question Answers and Extra Questions.

Chapter 1- The Portrait of a Lady by Khushwant Singh:

Next: Chapter 2 We’re Not Afraid to Die…, Poem “A Photograph” by Shirley Toulson


  1. Mantelpiece: A shelf above a fireplace.
  2. Stooped: Bent forward or downward.
  3. Rosary: A string of beads used in counting prayers, particularly in the Catholic tradition.
  4. Monotonous: Lacking variety, often to the point of boredom.
  5. Harlots: Prostitutes or promiscuous women.
  6. Seclusion: The state of being private and away from the presence or view of others.
  7. Bedlam: A state of uproar and confusion.
  8. Sagging: Hanging down or bending, often due to lack of support or tension.
  9. Dilapidated: In a state of disrepair or ruin.
  10. Pallor: Paleness of the skin, often due to illness.
  11. Cremated: To dispose of a dead body by burning it to ashes.
  12. Shroud: A cloth used to wrap a corpse before burial or cremation.
  13. Chirruping: The sound made by small birds, like a series of short, high-pitched sounds.
  14. Crude: Simple or rudimentary.
  15. Serenity: Being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.
  16. Uproar: A state of commotion, noise, and confusion.

The meaning of the following expression is inferred based on the chapter. 

  1. The thought was almost revolting: This implies that the idea or suggestion being discussed was so unpleasant or distasteful that it caused a feeling of disgust or aversion.
  2. An expanse of pure white serenity: This suggests a vast area of tranquil and peaceful whiteness, emphasising a sense of calm and tranquillity.
  3. A turning point: Indicates a significant moment or event that marks a change in a situation or relationship, usually implying a shift in direction or outcome.
  4. Accepted her seclusion with resignation: This implies that the grandmother embraced her state of being alone or secluded with a sense of acceptance, understanding that it was inevitable and not fighting against it.
  5. A veritable bedlam of chirrupings: This suggests a chaotic and noisy scene filled with the sounds of chirping birds, emphasising the disorderly and lively nature of the situation.
  6. Frivolous rebukes: Implies playful or lighthearted scoldings or criticisms that lack seriousness or importance, perhaps given in a teasing or joking manner.
  7. The sagging skins of the dilapidated drum: Describe its worn-out and deteriorating surface, emphasising its poor condition and lack of proper maintenance over time.

Summary “The Portrait of a Lady” by Khushwant Singh :

In “The Portrait of a Lady” by Khushwant Singh, the narrator reflects on his relationship with his grandmother, described as perpetually old yet always beautiful. Initially close, their bond weakens as the narrator pursues education and modernity, while his grandmother remains devout and traditional. Despite their growing distance, her unwavering faith and kindness toward sparrows symbolise her serene character. Upon the narrator’s return from abroad, she falls ill and dies peacefully, maintaining her devotion until the end. In a poignant scene, once cherished by the grandmother, sparrows pay their respects as she lies in state, emphasising her connection to nature. The narrative highlights the timeless beauty of faith and tradition amidst changing times.


The theme of “The Portrait of a Lady” by Khushwant Singh encompasses several elements, including:

  • Generational Divide: The story explores the generational gap and the changing values and lifestyles accompanying it. The protagonist’s journey from rural life with his grandmother to urban education and Western influences highlights the clash between traditional beliefs and modernity.
  • Family and Relationships: The relationship between the protagonist and his grandmother is central to the story. It illustrates the depth of familial bonds and the impact of separation and change on those relationships over time.
  • Tradition vs Modernity: The grandmother’s traditional beliefs and practices contrasted with the protagonist’s exposure to Western education and culture. The story examines the tension between tradition and modernity in society and individual lives.
  • Acceptance of Mortality: The grandmother’s acceptance of her impending death and her dedication to prayer and spiritual practices in her final moments reflect themes of mortality, spirituality, and the passage of time.
  • Isolation and Seclusion: The grandmother’s gradual withdrawal from the world as she ages symbolises themes of isolation and seclusion. Her attachment to prayer, feeding sparrows, and eventual death in solitude highlights the theme of solitude as an integral part of the human experience.

Character Sketch: 

1. The Grandmother:

The grandmother in “The Portrait of a Lady” by Khushwant Singh is a central and compelling character whose portrayal embodies traditional values, spirituality, and the resilience of the human spirit. Here’s a character sketch of the grandmother:


  • Traditional and Spiritual: The grandmother is deeply rooted in traditional beliefs and practices. She adheres to religious rituals, such as prayer and reciting scriptures, and finds solace and purpose in her faith.
  • Kind-hearted and Compassionate: Despite facing challenges and changes, the grandmother displays kindness and compassion, especially in her interactions with her grandson and the sparrows she feeds.
  • Resilient and Accepting: Throughout the story, the grandmother demonstrates resilience and accepts life’s inevitable changes with grace and dignity. Despite feeling disconnected from her grandson’s changing worldview, she maintains her commitment to her beliefs and routines.
  • Stoic and Emotionally Reserved: The grandmother’s demeanour is often patient, and she tends to keep her emotions in check, preferring to express herself through prayer and quiet contemplation rather than overt displays of sentimentality.
  • Wise and Observant: Despite her outward appearance of simplicity, the grandmother possesses quiet wisdom and keen observational skills. She imparts valuable life lessons through her actions and interactions, offering insights into the human condition and the passage of time.

Physical Description:

  • Elderly and Stooped: The grandmother is described as an elderly woman with a slightly bent posture, indicative of her advanced age and life experiences.
  • Wrinkled and Serene: Her face bears the marks of time, with wrinkles etched across her features, yet there is a serene and peaceful aura about her that reflects her inner spirituality and contentment.

Role in the Story:

  • Symbol of Tradition and Family: The grandmother symbolises tradition and familial connection. Her presence anchors the protagonist to his roots and provides a sense of continuity amidst the changes and challenges of modern life.
  • Catalyst for Reflection and Growth: Through her interactions with the protagonist, the grandmother prompts moments of reflection and introspection, challenging him to reconsider his priorities and values.
  • Emblem of Spiritual Resilience: In the face of illness and mortality, the grandmother exemplifies spiritual resilience and acceptance, embracing the final chapter of her life with unwavering faith and devotion.

The grandmother in “The Portrait of a Lady” emerges as a timeless figure whose quiet strength, wisdom, and compassion leave a lasting impression on those around her, including the reader.

2. The Grandson (Narrator):

The grandson, who also serves as the narrator in “The Portrait of a Lady” by Khushwant Singh, undergoes significant personal and emotional growth throughout the story. Here’s a character sketch of the grandson:


  • Curious and Inquisitive: The grandson is naturally curious about the world around him, especially as he navigates the contrasting values of traditional Indian culture and modern Western influences.
  • Ambitious and Determined: As the grandson pursues his education and experiences life beyond his rural upbringing, he demonstrates ambition and determination to explore new opportunities and broaden his horizons.
  • Conflicted and Reflective: Throughout the story, the grandson struggles with internal conflicts arising from the clash between his grandmother’s traditional beliefs and the modern, Westernized education he receives. He reflects on his identity, values, and sense of belonging in a changing world.
  • Compassionate and Empathetic: Despite his evolving worldview, the grandson maintains a sense of compassion and empathy towards his grandmother, recognising the depth of their bond and the importance of familial connections.
  • Resilient and Adaptive: As the grandson navigates the complexities of family dynamics and societal expectations, he demonstrates resilience in adapting to new environments and confronting challenges with courage and determination.

Physical Description:

The story does not provide specific physical descriptions of the grandson, focusing more on his internal thoughts and emotional journey.

Role in the Story:

  • Protagonist and Narrator: The grandson serves as the protagonist and narrator of the story, offering readers insight into his experiences, perceptions, and evolving relationships with his grandmother and family members.
  • Catalyst for Change: Through his experiences and interactions, the grandson catalyses moments of reflection and transformation within himself and among those around him. His journey reflects broader themes of generational divide, cultural identity, and the pursuit of personal fulfilment.
  • Symbol of Transition: As the grandson straddles the worlds of tradition and modernity, he symbolises the transitional nature of Indian society and the tensions between past and present, rural and urban lifestyles.
  • Vehicle for Reflection: Through the grandson’s narrative voice, readers are invited to reflect on family, tradition, spirituality, and the passage of time, prompting introspection and contemplation of their values and beliefs.

The grandson in “The Portrait of a Lady” emerges as a complex and multifaceted character whose journey of self-discovery and cultural exploration resonates with themes of identity, belonging, and the search for meaning in a changing world.

Important Lines/Excerpts “The Portrait of a Lady” Khushwant Singh

  1. “She did not look the sort of person who would have a wife or children. He looked as if he could only have lots and lots of grandchildren.” This line reflects the narrator’s perception of their grandmother’s appearance, which contradicts the idea of her being a wife and mother. It highlights the grandmother’s elderly appearance and contrasts with the youthful imagery of marriage and parenthood.
  1. “No, we were certain she had always been as we had known her. Old, so terribly old that she could not have grown older, and had stayed at the same age for twenty years.” The narrator emphasises the static nature of their grandmother’s appearance and personality. Despite the passage of time, she seems to remain unchanged, reinforcing the idea of her timeless presence in the narrator’s life.
  1. “Yes, she was beautiful. She was like the winter landscape in the mountains, an expanse of pure white serenity breathing peace and contentment.” Despite her elderly appearance, the narrator finds beauty in their grandmother’s demeanour and character. The comparison to a serene winter landscape evokes a sense of calm and tranquillity associated with her presence.
  1. “My grandmother and I were good friends.” This line highlights the close bond between the narrator and their grandmother. It suggests a relationship built on mutual understanding, affection, and companionship rather than solely on familial ties.
  1. “When my parents were comfortably settled in the city, they sent for us. That was a turning point in our friendship.” The narrator reflects on how their relationship with their grandmother changed when they moved to the city with their parents. The shift from rural to urban life marks a significant turning point in their bond, indicating the impact of changing circumstances on their relationship.
  1. “She could not help me with my lessons. She did not believe in the things they taught at the English school and was distressed that there was no teaching about God and the scriptures.” This line highlights the cultural and educational divide between the narrator’s grandmother and the English school system. It highlights the grandmother’s traditional beliefs and her concern that the education provided at the English school lacks spiritual and religious instruction. It also speaks to the challenges individuals who adhere to conventional values face in a changing, modern world.
  1. “Only in the afternoon she relaxed for a while to feed the sparrows.” This line portrays a moment of respite and relaxation for the grandmother amidst her daily routines. It emphasises her compassion and care for even the smallest creatures, suggesting a nurturing and gentle nature. Feeding sparrows also symbolises her connection to nature and appreciation for simple pleasures.
  1. “Silently she kissed my forehead, and when I left I cherished the moist imprint as perhaps the last sign of physical contact between us.” This poignant line captures a tender moment of affection between the narrator and their grandmother. The kiss on the forehead symbolises love, protection, and blessing. The narrator’s awareness of the fleeting nature of physical contact highlights the inevitability of change and separation in their relationship.
  1. “Even on the first day of my arrival, her happiest moments were with her sparrows whom she fed longer and with frivolous rebukes.” This line highlights the grandmother’s unwavering devotion to her daily rituals, particularly her interactions with the sparrows. Despite the narrator’s return, the grandmother finds joy and fulfilment in her familiar routines, suggesting resilience and constancy in the face of change.
  1. “That was the first time since I had known her that she did not pray.” This line marks a significant departure from the grandmother’s usual behaviour. Her decision not to pray reflects a departure from her deeply ingrained spiritual practices, signalling a shift in her mindset or emotional state. It serves as a subtle indication of the grandmother’s internal turmoil or transformation as she approaches the end of her life.
  1. “She lay peacefully in bed praying and telling her beads.” This line captures the grandmother’s final moments, highlighting her devotion to prayer even as she faces the end of her life. It reflects her faith and spiritual resilience, providing a poignant image of her serenity and acceptance in the face of mortality.
  1. “A peaceful pallor spread on her face and we knew that she was dead.” This line marks the moment of the grandmother’s passing. The peaceful pallor on her face symbolises a tranquil departure, suggesting that death has brought an end to her earthly struggles and suffering. It also evokes a sense of closure and finality for the narrator and their family.
  1. “All over the verandah and in her room right up to where she lay dead and stiff wrapped in the red shroud, thousands of sparrows sat scattered on the floor.” This vivid imagery depicts the aftermath of the grandmother’s death, with sparrows gathering around her room and verandah. The presence of the sparrows symbolises the grandmother’s connection to nature and the cycle of life and death. It also suggests a reverence and homage from the natural world towards her passing.
  1. “Next morning the sweeper swept the bread crumbs into the dustbin.” This line reflects the mundane routine of daily life resuming after the grandmother’s death. Sweeping away the breadcrumbs left for the sparrows signifies the practicalities of death and the inevitability of moving forward. It highlights the contrast between the transient nature of life and the persistence of daily tasks and responsibilities.
  1. “When I decided to go abroad for further studies, I was sure my grandmother would be upset.” This line reflects the narrator’s anticipation of their grandmother’s reaction to their decision to pursue studies abroad. It reveals the emotional bond between the narrator and their grandmother, suggesting concern and consideration for her feelings amidst significant life changes. It also highlights the importance of family dynamics and the impact of personal choices on familial relationships.
  1. “She lay peacefully in bed praying and telling her beads.” In the above line, we see the grandmother’s last moments as she calmly prays, getting herself ready for the transition from life to death. The picture of her lying in bed, reciting her prayers and telling her beads, shows she is at peace with the inevitable end. Her devotion and spiritual connection remain with her until the very end.
  1. “We lifted her off the bed and, as is customary, laid her on the ground and covered her with a red shroud.” This passage explains how a family prepares for a funeral after the passing of a loved one, specifically the grandmother. A red shroud is also significant, representing respect and honour towards the deceased. Red is considered an auspicious colour in dharmic cultures and is often associated with ritual and reverence for the departed soul.

Question Answers “The Portrait of a Lady”:

Understanding The Text: 


Q1: The three phases of the author’s relationship with his grandmother before he left the country to study abroad. 

A1: The three phases of the author’s relationship with his grandmother before he left the country to study abroad:

  • Childhood companionship and shared routines, including going to school together and spending time in each other’s company.
  • Transitioning to urban life with the author’s parents results in a gradual distancing as the author attends an English school, and their interactions become less frequent.
  • Reunion upon the author’s return from abroad is marked by a sense of familiarity and a recognition of the changes that have occurred during his absence.

Q2: Three reasons why the author’s grandmother was disturbed when he started going to the city school.

A2: Three reasons why the author’s grandmother was disturbed when he started going to the city school:

  • The English school curriculum lacked teaching about God and the scriptures, which was important to the grandmother.
  • The grandmother couldn’t assist with the author’s lessons, as she did not believe in the subjects taught at the English school.
  • The introduction of music lessons, which the grandmother associated with hedonism and considered inappropriate for respectable individuals.

Q3: Three ways in which the author’s grandmother spent her days after he grew up. 

A3: Three ways in which the author’s grandmother spent her days after he grew up:

  • Engaging in prayer and reciting scriptures occupied much of her time.
  • Feeding sparrows in the courtyard, demonstrating her care and connection to nature.
  • Spending hours at her spinning wheel symbolises her commitment to traditional activities and routines.

Q4: The odd way in which the author’s grandmother behaved just before she died. 

A4: The odd way in which the author’s grandmother behaved just before she died:

Just before she died, the author’s grandmother stopped praying, which was unusual behaviour for her. This departure from her usual routine indicated a significant change in her mindset or acceptance of her impending death.

Q5: The way in which the sparrows expressed their sorrow when the author’s grandmother died.

A5: How the sparrows expressed their sorrow when the author’s grandmother died:

The sparrows gathered around the grandmother’s room and remained scattered throughout, creating a solemn atmosphere. Their quiet presence and lack of chirping indicated a sense of mourning and respect for the grandmother, highlighting her close bond with nature.

Talking About The Text: 

Talk to your partner about the following. 

Q1: The author’s grandmother was a religious person. What are the different ways in which we come to know this? 

A1: A sample outline for a discussion:

  • The grandmother’s devotion to prayer is evident throughout the story. She is depicted praying and telling her beads, even on her deathbed.
  • She expresses distress when the author starts attending an English school that lacks teaching about God and scriptures.
  • Her disapproval of the author’s music lessons due to her association of music with lewdness and immorality also reflects her religious beliefs.
  • The grandmother’s commitment to traditional rituals, such as feeding sparrows and spending time at her spinning wheel, suggests a deep-rooted spirituality and connection to her faith.

Q2: Describe the changing relationship between the author and his grandmother. Did their feelings for each other change? 

A2: A sample outline for a discussion:

  • The relationship between the author and his grandmother evolves, particularly after he moves to the city with his parents.
  • Initially, they share a close bond marked by companionship and shared routines, but this bond weakens as the author ages and their lives diverge.
  • While their feelings for each other may remain affectionate, the distance created by the author’s urban lifestyle and education abroad alters the nature of their relationship.

Q3: Would you agree that the author’s grandmother was a person strong in character? If yes, give instances that show this. 

A3: A sample outline for a discussion:

  • Yes, the author’s grandmother exhibits strength of character throughout the story.
  • Despite cultural and educational differences, she remains steadfast in her religious beliefs and practices.
  • Her ability to adapt to changing circumstances, such as the author’s departure from studies abroad, reflects resilience and inner strength.
  • The grandmother’s acceptance of her impending death with serenity and peace also demonstrates her strength of character and faith.

Q4: Have you known someone like the author’s grandmother? Do you feel the same sense of loss with regard to someone whom you have loved and lost?

A4: A sample outline for a subjective discussion:

  • Students/readers may relate to the author’s grandmother if they have known individuals who exemplify similar faith, resilience, and love qualities.
  • The sense of loss experienced upon losing a loved one varies for each individual and may depend on the depth of the relationship and the impact of the person’s presence in their life.
  • Readers who have experienced the loss of a beloved grandparent or loved one may empathise with the author’s feelings of grief and nostalgia depicted in the story.
The Portrait of a Lady,Khushwant Singh,grandson

Working With Words:

I. Notice the following uses of the word ‘tell’ in the text. 

Answers: Match the meanings to the uses listed above.

1. Her fingers were busy telling the beads of her rosary. – 2. count while reciting

2. I would tell her English words and little things of Western science and learning. – 1. make something known to someone in spoken or written words

3. At her age one could never tell. – 3. be sure

4. She told us that her end was near. – 4. give information to somebody.

II. Notice the different senses of the word ‘take’. 

1. to take to something: to begin to do something as a habit. 

2. to take ill: to suddenly become ill. 

Locate these phrases in the text and notice the way they are used. 

1. “In the evening we went to her room with a crude stretcher to take her to be cremated.” In this sentence, “take” implies physically transporting or carrying the grandmother’s body to the place where she will be cremated. It denotes moving or transferring her from one location to another for cremation, indicating physical handling or transportation.

2. “The next morning she was taken ill.” Here, “taken” suggests a sudden onset or occurrence of illness. It indicates that the grandmother became ill or fell ill unexpectedly without any apparent cause or warning. In this context, “taken” conveys the idea of being afflicted or experiencing a sickness.

III. The word ‘hobble’ means to walk with difficulty because the legs and feet are in bad condition. 

Tick the words in the box below that also refer to a manner of walking. 

A: Shuffle, Waddle, Trudge, Slog,

Important Questions “The Portrait of a Lady”:

Short Answer Type Questions:

Q1: What is the central theme conveyed through the narrative of “The Portrait of a Lady” by Khushwant Singh?

A1: “The Portrait of a Lady” delves deeply into the intricacies of human relationships, the passage of time, and the clash between tradition and modernity in Indian society. Through the lens of the narrator’s bond with his grandmother, the story explores themes of love, devotion, cultural change, and acceptance of mortality. It portrays the universal experience of grappling with the complexities of familial ties and the inevitable march of time.

Q2: How does the narrator depict his grandmother’s physical appearance and personality?

A2: The narrator vividly describes his grandmother as a timeless figure, shrouded in the aura of old age yet radiating inner beauty and serenity. Despite her physical fragility and wrinkled countenance, she possesses an undeniable grace and wisdom that transcends her outward appearance. Her devotion to prayer, nurturing demeanour, and unwavering devotion to tradition paint a picture of a woman deeply rooted in her cultural heritage.

Q3: How does the grandmother’s routine change when the narrator’s family moves to the city?

A3: The grandmother’s routine undergoes a significant transformation as she adapts to the urban environment. No longer surrounded by village dogs, she redirects her nurturing instincts towards feeding sparrows, symbolising her resilience and capacity to find solace amid change. Her adjustment reflects the fluid nature of life and the ability to find meaning and purpose in new surroundings.

Q4: How does the narrator’s pursuit of Western education affect his relationship with his grandmother?

A4: The narrator’s pursuit of Western education symbolises the broader clash between tradition and modernity in Indian society. As he embraces new ideas and ways of thinking, a rift gradually emerges between him and his grandmother, who steadfastly clings to her traditional beliefs. Their once-close relationship becomes strained as they struggle to reconcile their differing worldviews, highlighting the challenges of generational and cultural divides.

Q5: What significant event marks a departure in the grandmother’s behaviour?

A5: The grandmother’s departure from her usual routine, marked by her refusal to pray and her uncharacteristic drumming and singing, serves as a poignant moment of transition in the narrative. It foreshadows her impending death and signals her acceptance of her mortality, symbolising a shift in her spiritual journey and her readiness to embrace the unknown.

Q6: How does the narrator perceive his grandmother’s passing?

A6: For the narrator, his grandmother’s passing represents the culmination of a life well-lived, characterised by devotion, resilience, and unwavering faith. Her peaceful departure underscores the cyclical nature of existence and the inevitable mortality, prompting the narrator to reflect on the transient nature of human life and the enduring legacy of love and tradition.

Q7: What symbolic significance do the sparrows hold in the story?

A7: The sparrows serve as a poignant symbol of the grandmother’s connection to the natural world and her compassionate spirit. Their presence at her death and departure signifies the enduring bond between humanity and the natural world, transcending the boundaries of language and culture. They represent the continuity of life and the interconnectedness of all living beings, imparting a sense of hope and renewal in the face of loss.

Q8: How does the story reflect broader themes of tradition versus modernity?

A9: “The Portrait of a Lady” captures the societal tensions between tradition and modernity in Indian culture. The story explores the complexities of navigating cultural change and preserving heritage in an increasingly globalised world through the evolving relationship between the narrator and his grandmother. It highlights the inherent conflicts and compromises that arise as individuals and communities grapple with the forces of progress and tradition, underscoring the importance of preserving cultural identity while embracing future opportunities.

Q9: How does the grandmother’s steadfast adherence to prayer and tradition contradict the narrator’s pursuit of Western education?

A9: The grandmother’s unwavering commitment to worship and tradition contrasts the narrator’s embrace of Western education and modernity. While the grandmother finds solace and meaning in her spiritual practices, the narrator seeks knowledge and enlightenment through academic pursuits and exposure to new ideas. Their divergent paths reflect the broader tension between tradition and progress, highlighting the complex interplay between cultural heritage and the forces of change.

Q10: What role does the setting play in shaping the narrative of “The Portrait of a Lady”?

A10: The rural setting serves as a backdrop against which the timeless themes of family, tradition, and cultural identity unfold. The village landscape’s simplicity and closeness to nature highlight the grandmother’s deep connection to her surroundings and her rootedness in tradition. As the narrative shifts to the urban environment, the clash between tradition and modernity becomes more pronounced, reflecting the broader societal changes sweeping across India during the period.

Q11: How does the grandmother’s relationship with the narrator evolve throughout the story?

A11: The grandmother and the narrator initially share a close, intimate bond characterised by mutual affection and companionship. However, as the narrator grows older and embraces Western education, their relationship becomes strained, marked by differences in values and beliefs. Despite this, the grandmother’s love and devotion remain unwavering, a constant reminder of the enduring bonds of family and tradition.

Q12: What significance does the grandmother’s passing hold for the narrator?

A12: The grandmother’s passing represents the end of a life and the culmination of a rich legacy of tradition and faith. For the narrator, it marks the loss of a beloved mentor and confidante, prompting reflection and introspection. 

Q13: How does the portrayal of the grandmother challenge traditional notions of beauty and ageing?

Q13: In contrast to conventional standards of beauty, which often prioritise youth and physical attractiveness, the grandmother’s character embodies a different kind of beauty—one rooted in wisdom, grace, and spiritual depth. Despite her advanced age and physical frailty, she exudes an inner radiance that transcends superficial appearances, challenging society’s narrow definitions of beauty and ageing.

Long Answer Type Questions: 

Q1: How does the grandmother’s approach to death reflect her character?

A1: The grandmother’s approach to death reflects her deeply rooted spiritual and traditional character. Throughout her life, she maintained a strong connection to prayer and religious rituals, which were central to her existence. 

When she fell ill and believed her end was near, she prioritised her spiritual duties over earthly concerns, emphasising the importance of prayer even in her final moments. Her acceptance of death with serenity and resignation demonstrates her unwavering faith and adherence to her beliefs. 

Despite her stoic exterior, her actions reveal a profound spiritual preparation for the afterlife, emphasising the significance of faith and devotion in shaping her character until the very end.

Q2: Describe the appearance of the protagonist’s grandmother in “The Portrait of a Lady” by Khushwant Singh.

A2: The protagonist’s grandmother in “The Portrait of a Lady” by Khushwant Singh is depicted as an elderly woman with a distinct physical appearance. She is described as short, fat, and slightly bent, with a face crisscrossed by wrinkles. 

Despite her advanced age, she maintains a pristine appearance, often wearing spotless white attire. Her silver locks are scattered untidily over her pale, puckered face, and she is often seen with one hand resting on her waist to balance her stoop while the other tells the beads of her rosary. 

Though lacking conventional beauty, her demeanour exudes a sense of inner tranquillity and dignity, likened to the serene landscape of winter mountains, which evokes peace and contentment.

Q3: What were some of the activities the grandmother and the protagonist used to do together before they moved to the city?

A3: Before they move to the city, the grandmother and the protagonist engage in various activities together. The grandmother would wake the protagonist up in the mornings and prepare him for school while reciting her prayers. 

They would then go to the village school attached to the temple, where the grandmother would sit inside reading scriptures while the protagonist attended classes. After school, they would walk back home together, feeding stale chapattis to the village dogs. 

The grandmother’s presence was constant during these routines, fostering a close bond between her and the protagonist as they shared moments of daily life and religious observance in the village community.

Q4: How did the grandmother react when the protagonist started learning English and music?

A4: When the protagonist starts learning things like English and music, the grandmother reacts with discomfort and disapproval. She did not believe in the Western education imparted at the English school and was distressed by the absence of teachings about God and the scriptures. 

The introduction of music lessons particularly troubled her, as she associated music with lewdness and considered it inappropriate for cultured people. Though she did not voice her objections openly, her silence spoke volumes, indicating her deep-seated disapproval of the protagonist’s academic pursuits. 

This reaction highlighted the grandmother’s adherence to traditional values and reluctance to embrace changes that challenged her beliefs and cultural norms.

Q5: Describe the grandmother’s behaviour on the protagonist’s first day back home after five years abroad.

A5: On the protagonist’s first day back home after five years abroad, the grandmother’s behaviour remained consistent with her usual demeanour. She did not display overt excitement or sentimentality upon the protagonist’s return. 

Instead, she greeted him calmly and composedly, embracing him silently while reciting her prayers. Throughout the day, she maintained her routine activities, including feeding the sparrows in the courtyard, albeit with a slightly longer duration and more playful interactions with the birds. 

Even though the family reunion was an important event, the grandmother’s main priority was her religious beliefs and daily routines. This showed her dedication to keeping a disciplined lifestyle, regardless of any changes happening around her.

Q6: What did the grandmother attribute her illness to, and why did she stop talking to her family?

A6: The grandmother attributed her illness to a perceived omission in her religious duties. She believed that since she had missed her prayers only a few hours before what she considered the end of her life, her illness signalled the imminent closure of her existence. 

Consequently, she ceased communication with her family as she approached her final moments. This decision stemmed from her unwavering dedication to her spiritual beliefs and rituals. 

By prioritising prayer and solitude over verbal interactions, she sought to focus solely on her spiritual preparation for the afterlife, considering any earthly conversations or distractions as inconsequential in the face of her imminent departure from the mortal realm.

MCQ “The Portrait of a Lady”:

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