The Portrait of a Lady Class 11 Chapter 1 Summary, Explanation, and Question Answers

By Ruchika Gupta

 

The Portrait of a Lady Class 11

 

CBSE Class 11 English Hornbill Book Chapter 1 The Portrait of a Lady Summary, Explanation and Question Answers

The Portrait of a Lady  – CBSE Class 11 English (Hornbill Book) Lesson 1 The Portrait of a Lady Summary andDetailed explanation of the lesson along with the meanings of difficult words.

Also, the explanation is followed by a Summary of the lesson.  All the exercises and Questions and Answers given at the back of the lesson have been covered. Also, Take Free Online MCQs Test for Class 11

 

The Portrait of a Lady Class 11 English Chapter 1

by Khushwant Singh

 

 

The Portrait of a Lady Introduction The Portrait of Lady Video Explanation
The Portrait of a Lady Summary The Portrait of Lady Lesson Explanation
The Portrait of a Lady Question Answers The Portrait of a Lady Grammar Exercise

 

The Portrait of a Lady Introduction

The Portrait of a Lady is the story of the author. He describes his relationship with his grandmother over the years. He pens down her daily activities and how she evolved as a character as time passed by. He explains her appearance which helps create an image in the reader’s mind.

 

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A Portrait of a lady Class 11 Video Explanation

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The Portrait of a Lady Summary

The Portrait of a Lady Summary – The chapter ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ is the story of the author and his grandmother. The grandmother was an old woman with a wrinkled face. The author had always seen her like this, for the past twenty years. She appeared to be so old that he could not imagine her being ‘young and pretty, someone who had a husband. She was short, fat, and slightly bent. The author had seen his grandfather’s portrait- an old man with a turban and a long white beard covering his chest. To the author, his grandfather didn’t seem like a man who could have a wife and children, but someone who could have lots of grandchildren. His grandmother used to move around the house in ‘Spotless White’ with her one hand resting on her waist and her other hand counting the beads of her rosary.

In the initial days, the author and his grandmother had a good relationship. She used to wake him up and get him ready for school. She used to pack the things required by him for the day and walked him to school every day. She used to visit the temple that was attached to the school. She had a routine of reading the scriptures. The author along with other children sat on the verandah singing alphabets and morning prayers. They both used to come back home together with stray dogs roaming around them as his grandmother would carry the stale chapattis to feed them.

Soon, the parents of the author who went to the city to settle in and called them. As they reached the city, his relationship with his grandmother took a turn. Though they shared the room, there bond grew apart. He started going to an English medium school, she no longer accompanied him to his school, and there were no longer stray dogs who roamed around them while walking back home. She, however, used to ask him about his day and what he had learned. She didn’t understand anything as everything was in another language which she could not understand. She didn’t approve of the new syllabus that he was studying because she thought that they did not teach him about God and the scriptures. They saw less of each other.

As the days passed, he grew older and soon went to the university. He had his own room and this made their relationship sour. She stopped talking to everyone and spent her whole day sitting at her spinning wheel, reciting prayers and moving beads of the rosary with one hand. However, she loved feeding sparrows in the verandah at dawn. Breaking bread into pieces and feeding it to the birds was her daily routine. The birds would sit on her legs, her head, some even on the shoulders.

Soon, the author decided to go abroad for further studies. She came to the railway station to leave him off. She was not sentimental, continuously recited her prayers, her mind lost in the prayers, and she kissed him on the forehead. After five years, as he returnedhome, she was there, came to pick him at the station, was still the same as she had been five years ago. She clasped him within her arms and didn’t say a word. She still used to feed her sparrows.

One day, she didn’t recite her prayers but instead collected the women of the neighbourhood, got a drum and started singing. The next morning, she was ill with mild fever. The doctor said that there was nothing to worry about but she was sure that her end was near.

She didn’t want to waste her time talking to anyone in the family anymore but spend her last hours in reciting her prayers laying on the bed. She died and so her body lay on the bed, lifeless. As they prepared for her funeral, they saw all the sparrows sitting in the verandah around her, mourning her death.

 

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The Portrait of a Lady Lesson Explanation

My grandmother, like everybody’s grandmother, was an old woman. She had been old and wrinkled for the twenty years that I had known her. People said that she had once been young and pretty and had even had a husband, but that was hard to believe. My grandfather’s portrait hung above the mantelpiece in the drawing-room. He wore a big turban and loose-fitting clothes. His long, white beard covered the best part of his chest and he looked at least a hundred years old. He 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. As for my grandmother being young and pretty, the thought was almost revolting. She often told us of the games she used to play as a child. That seemed quite absurd and undignified on her part and we treated it like the fables of the Prophets she used to tell us.

Wrinkled- having lines or folds
Portrait- painting or picture
Mantelpiece- a structure of wood, marble, or stone above and around a fireplace.
the thought was almost revolting- it was very hard for the author to believe
Revolting – unpleasant
Absurd – Illogical
Undignified- disrespectful
Fables- fictitious stories with a moral teaching
Prophets- saints

The author talks about his grandmother. He had known her for the past twenty years and she had always been old and wrinkled. He was told that she was once young and pretty and had a husband. His grandfather’s portrait hung on the wall, in which he wore loose fitted clothes, a turban and had a long, white- coloured beard that reached his chest.

 

He also appeared very old and the author thought that he was someone who could have many grandchildren but not a wife or children. The author could never imagine that once his grandmother was young and pretty. He could not connect to this idea.

She used to tell him and his cousins about her childhood memories like the games she used to play as a child. They found these stories illogical and disrespectful because it was beyond their imagination to think that grandmother was once a child and played such games. 

They thought that her life’s stories were like the other moral stories which she used to tell them.

She had always been short and fat and slightly bent. Her face was a criss-cross of wrinkles running from everywhere to everywhere. 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. She could never have been pretty; but she was always beautiful. She hobbled about the house in spotless white with one hand resting on her waist to balance her stoop and the other telling the beads of her rosary. Her silver locks were scattered untidily over her pale, puckered face, and her lips constantly moved in inaudible prayer. Yes, she was beautiful. She was like the winter landscape in the mountains, an expanse of pure white serenity breathing peace and contentment.

Criss- cross – a pattern of intersecting straight lines
Hobbled – walked in an awkward way
spotless white – she wore clean, white coloured dresses
Stoop – bend one’s body forward
Rosary- a string of beads for keeping count of number of chants made of a religious prayer
Locks- hair
Scattered – disorganized
Untidily – not neat
Puckered – a face contract into wrinkles
Inaudible- unable to be heard
Serenity – the state of being peaceful and calm
an expanse of pure white serenity – refers to the calm, relaxed and peaceful character of the author’s grandmother
Contentment – a state of happiness and satisfaction

His grandmother was short, fat, slightly bent in posture and her face had lots of wrinkles. She seemed so old and she had been the same for the past twenty years. According to the author, she was beautiful but not pretty.

She walked around the house in an awkward way, wearing spotless white clothes with beads of the rosary hanging from one hand and the other hand rested on her back for support. She had silver-colored hair which was not neatly combed and was disorganized. She was constantly chanting prayers. He compares her to the winter landscape in the mountains which has a peaceful and calm feel. She was a live example of a pure, white, peace – emitting entity.

My grandmother and I were good friends. My parents left me with her when they went to live in the city and we were constantly together. She used to wake me up in the morning and get me ready for school. She said her morning prayer in a monotonous sing-song while she bathed and dressed me in the hope that I would listen and get to know it by heart; I listened because I loved her voice but never bothered to learn it. Then she would fetch my wooden slate which she had already washed and plastered with yellow chalk, a tiny earthen ink-pot and a red pen, tie them all in a bundle and hand it to me.

After a breakfast of a thick, stale chapatti with a little butter and sugar spread on it, we went to school. She carried several stale chapattis with her for the village dogs.

Monotonous – dull and boring
Bothered- to be concerned
Fetch – go for and then bring back something for someone
Slate- a flat plate of slate formerly used for writing on in schools
Plastered- covered with a layer of plaster
Earthen- made of baked or fired clay
Stale-  no longer fresh and pleasant to eat; hard, musty, or dry.

The author lived with her in the village. They were good friends. His parents left him with her to settle in the city. The author’s grandmother used to wake him up every morning and get him ready for school. She would recite her morning prayers while she bathed and dressed him up and he loved her voice but would not try to memorize a word of what she spoke. She would make his things ready like a wooden slate, a tiny earthen inkpot, and a red pen. He would eat a thick stale chapatti with butter and sugar spread on it. They both used to walk to school and his grandmother carried stale chapattis with her to feed the village dogs.

My grandmother always went to school with me because the school was attached to the temple. The priest taught us the alphabet and morning prayer. While the children sat in rows on either side of the verandah singing the alphabet or the prayer in a chorus, my grandmother sat inside reading the scriptures. When we had both finished, we would walk back together. This time the village dogs would meet us at the temple door. They followed us to our home growling and fighting with each other for the chapattis we threw to them. When my parents were comfortably settled in the city, they sent for us.

That was a turning-point in our friendship. Although we shared the same room, my grandmother no longer came to school with me. I used to go to an English school in a motor bus. There were no dogs in the streets and she took to feeding sparrows in the courtyard of our city house.

Scriptures – the sacred writings of a religion
Growling – making a low guttural sound in the throat
Courtyard- verandah

His grandmother would accompany him to the school as the temple was attached to the school and she used to visit the temple daily. On one side, he would sit on the verandah with other children, would sing the alphabet and prayers in the chorus. On the other hand, she would sit in the temple to read the scriptures. After finishing, they would walk back home together.

The village dogs met them at the village door. They would follow them to their home, growling and fighting with each other for the stale chapatis that she fed them. When his parents got settled in the city, they called them. That was the turning point of his friendship with his grandmother. They shared the same room but she no longer would give him company to his school. He started going to an English medium school and a motor bus would come to pick and drop him. There were no dogs in the streets whom she could feed as she did in the village. So, she started feeding sparrows in the verandah of their house.

As the years rolled by we saw less of each other. For some time she continued to wake me up and get me ready for school. When I came back she would ask me what the teacher had taught me. I would tell her English words and little things of western science and learning, the law of gravity, Archimedes’ Principle, the world being round, etc. This made her unhappy. 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. One day I announced that we were being given music lessons. She was very disturbed. To her music had lewd associations. It was the monopoly of harlots and beggars and not meant for gentlefolk. She said nothing but her silence meant disapproval.

She rarely talked to me after that.

Years rolled by- time passed
Distressed – suffer from extremely sorrow, anxiety or pain
Lewd Association – Indecent or Obscene
Harlots – Prostitutes
Gentlefolk – People of noble birth

 

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As the years passed in the city, their interaction reduced. For some time, she continued to wake him up and would get him ready for school. She would ask him what he had learned in school that day. The scientific terminology and English words made her unhappy. As she didn’t know the language, she could not help him with the lessons. As his new school never taught him about God and religious scriptures, this made her sad. She did not approve of such an education. When she came to know that he was getting music lessons, it disturbed her. According to her, music was indecent and it was an art for the beggars and prostitutes, and not for those belonging to decent families. She didn’t like that he learned music, so, she stopped talking to him.

When I went up to University, I was given a room of my own. The common link of friendship was snapped. My grandmother accepted her seclusion with resignation. She rarely left her spinning-wheel to talk to anyone. From sunrise to sunset she sat by her wheel spinning and reciting prayers. Only in the afternoon she relaxed for a while to feed the sparrows. While she sat in the verandah breaking the bread into little bits, hundreds of little birds collected round her creating a veritable bedlam of chirrupings. Some came and perched on her legs, others on her shoulders. Some even sat on her head. She smiled but never shooed them away. It used to be the happiest half-hour of the day for her.

Snapped-  break suddenly and completely
Seclusion – the state of being private and away from the people
accepted her seclusion with resignation- the grandmother accepted a lonely life as she accepted the separation from her grandson without objection
Spinning-wheel  – a household machine with a wheel attached to it for spinning yarn
A veritable bedlam of chirrupings – refers to the noise and confusion caused by the chirrupings of the sparrows

Veritable – use to describe something which is very interesting or unusual
Bedlam – confusion
Chirrupings – the noise of a small bird
Perched – alight or rest on something
Shooed – make a person or animal go away by shouting or saying ‘shoo’

As the author went to university, he had a room of his own. The common link of his friendship with his grandmother that they had when they shared the same room, was changed now and thus, his friendship with her ended. She became more private and spent her whole day spinning wheel. From sunrise to sunset, she would sit and silently recite her prayers. In the afternoon, she used to feed sparrows in the verandah. Breaking the bread into small pieces, she would feed hundreds of birds. The birds would gather around her, some sat near her, some on her legs, some on her shoulders and few on her head. She never shooed them, but always smiled. She was the happiest in that half an hour during the whole day.

When I decided to go abroad for further studies, I was sure my grandmother would be upset. I would be away for five years, and at her age one could never tell. But my grandmother could. She was not even sentimental. She came to leave me at the railway station but did not talk or show any emotion. Her lips moved in prayer, her mind was lost in prayer. Her fingers were busy telling the beads of her rosary. Silently she kissed my forehead, and when I left I cherished the moist imprint as perhaps the last sign of physical contact between us. But that was not so. After five years I came back home and was met by her at the station. She did not look a day older. She still had no time for words, and while she clasped me in her arms I could hear her reciting her prayers. Even on the first day of my arrival, her happiest moments were with her sparrows whom she fed longer and with frivolous rebukes.

Sentimental – a feeling of nostaglia, sadness or tenderness; an emotional feeling
Beads – a small piece of glass or stone threaded with others to make a rosary or necklace
Cherished – hold something dear
Moist- wet
Imprint – impression or stamp
Clasped – hold tightly
Frivolous – not having any serious purpose, light-hearted
Rebuke – disapproval of something or someone
frivolous rebukes – light hearted scoldings

When the author decided to go abroad for further studies, he believed it would be the last time he would see her as he would be gone for five long years. As they all reached the station, she held him tightly and kissed his forehead. He thought it was the last physical contact with her. The wet impression of her hand was dear to him. She was not sentimental at all. When he came back after five years, she came to meet him at the station. She looked just the way she did five years ago, not a day older. She held him again in her arms and was still reciting her prayers.

He noticed on the first day of his arrival that only sparrows would make her happy.

In the evening a change came over her. She did not pray. She collected the women of the neighbourhood, got an old drum and started to sing. For several hours she thumped the sagging skins of the dilapidated drum and sang of the home-coming of warriors. We had to persuade her to stop to avoid overstraining. That was the first time since I had known her that she did not pray. The next morning she was taken ill. It was a mild fever and the doctor told us that it would go. But my grandmother thought differently. She told us that her end was near. She said that, since only a few hours before the close of the last chapter of her life she had omitted to pray, she was not going to waste any more time talking to us.

Thumped- hit
Sagging – sinking downwards
Dilapidated – in a state of despair or ruin
the sagging skins of the dilapidated drum- The loose surface of the worn out drum
Persuade – to talk someone into doing something, requeste
Overstraining- overdoing something
Omitted – leave out or exclude something

An evening, she didn’t follow her regular routine of praying. She collected a few women from the neighbourhood, got a drum and started singing with them. She thumped the ruined part of the drum and sang along. The whole family persuaded her to stop as she might get ill due to exhaustation. The next morning, she fell ill. It was a mild fever. The doctors told them that it would go away but she took it differently. According to her, she would die soon as her end was near. She started chanting prayers as she didn’t want to waste her last hours in talking to anyone.

We protested. But she ignored our protests. She lay peacefully in bed praying and telling her beads. Even before we could suspect, her lips stopped moving and the rosary fell from her lifeless fingers. A peaceful pallor spread on her face and we knew that she was dead.

Protested – express an objection against something or someone
Pallor – an unhealthy pale appearance

The family protested, tried to stop her but she lay peacefully on her bed, chanting prayers and doing her beads. Suddenly, she stopped and the rosary fell from her lifeless fingers. A calm, pale appearance spread on her face and she was dead.

We lifted her off the bed and, as is customary, laid her on the ground and covered her with a red shroud. After a few hours of mourning we left her alone to make arrangements for her funeral. In the evening we went to her room with a crude stretcher to take her to be cremated. The sun was setting and had lit her room and verandah with a blaze of golden light. We stopped half-way in the courtyard.

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. There was no chirruping. We felt sorry for the birds and my mother fetched some bread for them. She broke it into little crumbs, the way my grandmother used to, and threw it to them. The sparrows took no notice of the bread. When we carried my grandmother’s corpse off, they flew away quietly. Next morning the sweeper swept the bread crumbs into the dustbin.

Customary – traditional
Crude – in a natural state, roughly made
Cremated – dispose of or burn a body after it is dead
Blaze – a very large burning fire
Shroud – a piece of cloth used to wrap a dead person
Corpse- dead body

The family lifted her from the bed, laid her on the ground and wrapped her with a red- coloured cloth. Thousands of sparrows sat silently near her. The author’s mother fetched some bread for the birds but they didn’t eat any. They flew away later as the family carried the dead body. The sweeper removed the crumbs the next morning. The birds were so sensitive. They did not want to eat bread but were mourning the death of the one who had fed them for so many days.

 

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The Portrait of a Lady Question Answers

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

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

1. First Phase: The period of his early childhood where he used to live with her in the village. His grandmother used to wake him up and get him ready for school. They both would walk to school together and come back home together. They had a good friendship with each other.

2. Second Phase: In this phase, the author and his grandmother shifted to the city as the author’s parents settled well in the city. Although they shared the same room, this was the turning point of their friendship. Now, they saw less of each other.

3. Third Phase: When the author went to the university, he was given a room of his own. This made their friendship bond weaker as the common link between them ‘the same room’ snapped. She became quieter and private and kept the spinning wheel all day long. She would feed the sparrows once a day and this was the only thing that made her happy now.

 

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

Ans: When the author used to live in the village with her, they both had a good friendship. She used to wake him up, got him ready and would also accompany him to school. All this changed when they moved to the city. The grandmother was disturbed for the following reason:

1. She no longer could help him in his lessons. As he started going to the English medium school, this became a barrier for her.

2. There were no teachings about God and the scriptures.

3. She didn’t like him taking the music lessons. According to her, music was only for beggars and harlots.

 

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

Ans: His grandmother changed a lot since he grew up. She would spend her day at the spinning wheel, chanting prayers and feeding sparrows.

 

4. Mention the odd way in which the author’s grandmother behaved just before she died.

Ans: She didn’t pray the evening before dying. She collected the women from the neighbourhood and started singing homecoming of the warriors with the help of the drum. The next morning when she fell ill, she said her end was near. She started praying peacefully while laying on her bed. She refused to talk to anyone during her last hours.

 

5. Mention the way in which the sparrows expressed their sorrow when the author’s grandmother died.

Ans: The grandmother used to feed the sparrows in her verandah each day. She developed a special relationship with them. When she died, thousands of sparrows expressed their sorrow by sitting in a scattered way around her in the verandah. They didn’t chirrup and there was complete silence. The author’s mother tried to feed them by breaking the bread and throwing it in front of them. But they didn’t eat anything. When the family carried grandmother’s corpse, they all flew away quietly.

 

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

Ans: When she lived in the village with the author, she used to sing prayers in a monotonous sound while getting him ready each morning. She used to walk the author to his school and then visit the temple attached to the school everyday. She would sit and read scriptures. Later when they moved to the city, she would carry the beads of the rosary with her all the time. She would continuously chant her prayers and her hand remained busy in telling the beads. When the author went to study at the university, she went into seclusion and spent her whole day in chanting prayers.

 

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

Ans: In the early days, they both shared a good bond. She would get him ready for school, accompany him and would come back with him later in the day. She would help him with his studies and would teach him prayers by singing in a monotonous tone every morning. When they moved to the city, their relationship was strained. He started going to an English medium school. She would no longer accompany him to the school or could not help him with the lessons. She didn’t like his new school as they never taught him about God or scriptures. Later, when he started taking music lessons, she disapproved of it as she thought that music was only for beggars or harlots. She stopped talking to him afterwards and would spend her day alone while chanting prayers.

When the author went to university and then abroad, their bond weakened. She would spin the wheel the whole day and chant her prayers. She accepted the seclusion.

No, their feelings for each other didn’t change but during the time, a distance developed between them.

 

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

Ans: Yes, the grandmother was a strong person in character. The instances to show this are as follows:

1. She had her own thoughts about schools and their teachings. She considered learning scriptures a better thing than studying science or English.

2. She didn’t like music as according to her, music was for low-level people.

3. When the author went to the university, in seclusion, she would spin the wheel, chant prayers, tell beads and feed bread crumbs to the sparrows.

4. When she sang the homecoming of the warriors for hours and didn’t stop even when her family tried a million times.

5. During her last time, she didn’t want to waste any time talking to anyone so she lay silently on her bed and chanted her prayers till she died.

 

9. Which language do you think the author and his grandmother used while talking to each other?

Ans: The author and his grandmother used to talk to each other in their mother tongue. As the author belongs to Punjab state, they would talk in Punjabi language.

 

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The Portrait of a Lady Grammar exercises

I. Notice the following uses of the word “tell” in the text.

1.  Her fingers were busy telling the beads of her rosary.

2. I would tell her English words and little things of Western science and learning.

3. At her age one could never tell.

4. She told us that her end was near.

 

Given below are four different senses of the word ‘tell’. Match the meanings to the uses listed above.

1. Make something known to someone in spoken or written words

2. Count while reciting

3. Be sure

4. Give information to somebody

Ans:

1.  I would tell her English words and little things of Western science and learning.

2. Her fingers were busy telling the beads of her rosary.

3. At her age one could never tell.

4. She told us that her end was near.

 

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.

Ans: These phrases have been used in the story as follows:

1. “… she took to feeding sparrows in the courtyard of our city house”

She would feed sparrows daily in the verandah. She made this her habit when they moved to the city.

2. “The next morning she was taken ill”

This phrase refers to the fact that the author’s grandmother was suddenly ill.

 

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.

haggle shuffle stride ride waddle
wriggle paddle swagger trudge slog

 

Ans: The words which also refers to a manner of walking are: shuffle, stride, waddle, swagger, trudge, and slog.

 

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