What does Khushwant Singh describe in ‘The Portrait of a Lady’?
In The Portrait of a Lady’ Khushwant Singh draws a pen-picture of his grandmother. He describes how he spent his childhood with her in the village. He also describes the changes that came in their relationship in the city. Ultimately, he describes the moving scene of her death.
Describe in brief the pen-picture of the narrator’s grandmother highlighting her noble qualities.
The narrator’s grandmother was a true picture of love, affection and care. She had all those virtues which grandmothers generally have for their grandsons. She was highly religious, kind hearted but a conservative lady.
The grandmother presented a picture of peace and contentment. Her spotless white dress and her silver hair reflected her spiritual beauty. The grandmother was not physically very attractive. She had deep love and affection for her grandson. She got him ready for school. She accompanied him to his school, stayed there and came back home with him.
She was a very religious lady. She was always telling the beads of her rosary. She had compassion even for animals and birds. She fed the village dogs. She took to feeding the sparrows in the city. But the grandmother was a conservative lady. She didn’t like English language and science. She hated music. She associated music with prostitutes and beggars.
Describe the unique relationship of the grandmother with the sparrows. How did the sparrows mourn her death?
The grandmother had love and compassion even for animals. In the village she fed the street dogs. In the city she took to feeding the sparrows. She would sit in the verandah. She would break the bread into small bits. She used to throw the crumbs to the sparrows. Hundreds of sparrows would gather around her. Some of them perched on her legs and shoulders. She never shoo’d them away. It was the happiest half-hour of the afternoon for her.
The sparrows paid their silent tribute on her death. They gathered around her dead body. They were in the mourning mood. They didn’t chirrup as usual. Nor did they take any notice of the crumbs of bread thrown to them. They flew away silently when her dead-body was carried off on a wooden stretcher for cremation. In this way, they paid their silent love and tribute to the grand old lady.
Describe how the common bond of friendship was broken when the narrator’s parents sent for them in the city.
The narrator and his grandmother had developed a unique relationship in the village. He was completely dependent on her. But soon a turning point came in their relationship. His parents sent for them in the city. He went to an English school in a bus. The grandmother’s role was now marginalised. She couldn’t accompany him to his school as she did in the village. Nor could she help him in his studies. She had no knowledge of English and science. She hated music. She was very sad that they gave lessons in music at the school. She rarely talked to him after that.
The narrator went up to university. It separated them even more. They now saw less of each other. In the end, she accepted her loneliness quietly. She didn’t show any emotion when he left for abroad. So she accepted this separation without any complaints or regrets.
Draw a contrast of the life the narrator’s grandmother spent in the village with the kind of life she led in the city. Particularly, highlight her concern for her grandson’s education.
The grandmother was used to the life of the village. She got up early in the morning. She woke up her grandson and got him ready for school. She was very much concerned about the education of the narrator. She accompanied him to his school. She sat in the temple reading the scriptures. She was friendly even to the village dogs and fed them regularly.
The city life and its culture didn’t suit her. She was a religious lady. She was quite conservative in thinking. The English school, English language and science were foreign to her. Actually, she didn’t like them. She was upset to know that they didn’t teach about God and the scriptures at the city-school. She hated music. She didn’t like music lessons being given at the new school. She felt lonely when he went up to University and then abroad for five years. But she had accepted her loneliness silently.
How did the grandmother receive the narrator when he returned from abroad? Do you notice a change in her behaviour?
The narrator went abroad for higher studies. He had to stay abroad for five years. The grandmother went to the railway station to see him off. The narrator thought that perhaps he was seeing her for the last time. She was terribly old and could die at any time. But he was proved wrong. When he returned home after five years, she came to the railway station to receive him. She didn’t look even a day older. She clasped him in her arms. He could hear her reciting her prayers.
In the evening a change came over her. She seemed to be quite excited. She didn’t pray. It was quite unusual. She collected the women of the neighbourhood. She got an old drum and started to sing. For several hours she continued thumping the sagging skins of the old drum. She sang of the home-coming of warriors. She would not stop. They had to persuade her to stop to avoid overstraining. It was quite unusual for the grandmother to behave in that fashion. That was the first time that she forgot even to pray.