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The Portrait of A Lady

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CBSE Gujarat Board Haryana Board

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Class 10 Class 12
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The three phases of the author’s relationship with his grandmother before he left the country to study abroad.

The first phase of the author’s relationship with his grandmother started when he was still a child. The old lady used to tell him and other children of the games she used to play as a child. ‘That seemed quite absurd’. The children treated them like the fables of the prophets she used to tell them.

The second phase of this relationship began when the narrator started going to school. 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 a breakfast of a thick, stale chapatti, they went to school. She carried several chapattis for the village dogs. The school was attached to the temple. They would walk back together.

The third phase of their relationship began when the narrator’s parents sent for them in the city. That was a turning point in their friendship. He used to go to an English school in a motor bus. As the years rolled by they saw less of each other. She didn’t like the English school as there was no teaching about God and scriptures there. She hated western science and music. When he went up to university he was given a room of his own. The common link of their friendship was snapped. His grandmother accepted her seclusion with resignation.


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

The intimacy between the narrator and his grandmother was snapped when they were sent for in the city. As the years rolled by they saw less of each other. When the narrator grew up, he went up to university. He was given a room of his own. The common link of friendship was snapped. The grandmother accepted it as her fate.

The grandmother found out new ways of spending her time. She now spent most of her time at the spinning-wheel. She rarely left her spinning-wheel to talk to anyone.

From sunrise to sunset she sat by the spinning-wheel. While spinning, she continued reciting prayers. She relaxed only in the afternoon to feed the sparrows.

The third way in which the old lady spent her time was her feeding the sparrows. She would sit in the verandah. She would break the bread into little bits. Hundreds of little birds collected round her. They created a ‘bedlam of chirrupings’. They came and perched on her legs and shoulders. Some even sat on her head. She smiled but never shoo’d them away. Feeding the sparrows used to be the happiest hour of the day for her.


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

When the narrator’s parents settled in the city they sent for them. That was a turning point in their friendship. They still lived in the same room. But the old lady was now quite disturbed. The narrator used to go to an English school. He used to go in a motor bus. She couldn’t accompany him to the school as she used to do in the village. In the village she used to stay in the temple that was attached to the school.

In the city there were no dogs in the streets. The grandmother felt quite disturbed. She couldn’t throw chapattis to them now. The old lady took to feeding sparrows in the courtyard, of their city house. As the years rolled by the narrator and the grandmother saw less of each other.

The most disturbing factor for the grandmother was the English school where he used to go. She didn’t understand English words. Nor could she help him in his studies. She knew nothing about western science and learning. She did not believe in the things they taught at the English school. She was distressed that there was no teaching about God and the scriptures. She was disturbed when she came to know that they taught music at the school. She hated music. She considered it fit only for harlots and beggars. It was not meant for gentle folks.


The ways in which the sparrows expressed their sorrow when the author’s grandmother died.

The grandmother took to feeding sparrows in the city as she used to feed dogs in the village. Hundreds of little birds collected round her. Some of them perched on her head and legs. Feeding the sparrows was ‘the happiest half-hour of the day for her’. The sparrows and the old lady developed an intimate companionship. When the grandmother died the sparrows expressed their sorrow in a unique and moving manner.

The grandmother lay dead wrapped in the red shroud. Thousands of sparrows sat scattered on the floor. There was no chirruping. They felt sorry for the birds. The narrator’s mother fetched some bread for them. She broke the bread into little crumbs. She threw the crumbs to the sparrows as the grandmother used to do. The sparrows took no notice of the bread. When they carried the grandmother’s corpse off they flew away quietly. Next morning the sweeper swept the bread crumbs into the dustbin.

The sparrows paid their silent tribute to the grand old lady. They mourned her death. They didn’t even touch the bread crumbs thrown to them.


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

After five years the narrator came back home. He found the grandmother at the station. She didn’t utter any words but clasped him in her arms. He could hear her reciting her prayers. But in the evening a change came over her. Her behaviour was quite odd. She didn’t pray. She collected the women of the neighbourhood. She got an old drum and started singing. For several hours she thumped the drum. She sang of the homecoming of warriors. She was very much excited. They had to persuade her to stop to avoid overstraining. That was the first time that she did not pray.

The next morning she was taken ill. It was a mild fever. But the grand old lady declared that her end was near. She was not going to waste any more time talking to them. She continued praying. They protested but she ignored their protests. 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. They knew she was dead. They lifted her off the bed and covered her with a shroud.

The grandmother behaved quite strangely just before she died. She was quite excited at the homecoming of her grandson. She tired herself and fell ill. She died while praying and telling her beads.