The Portrait of a Lady: MBOSE Class 11 English Core notes

The Portrait of a Lady
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Get summaries, questions, answers, solutions, notes, extras, PDF of Class 11 English Core textbook (Resonance), Chapter 5 The Portrait of a Lady by Khushwant Singh which is part of the syllabus of students studying under MBOSE (Meghalaya Board). These solutions, however, should only be treated as references and can be modified/changed. 

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“The Portrait of a Lady” by Khushwant Singh recounts the author’s fond memories of his grandmother. Singh describes his grandmother as perpetually old and wrinkled, a perception that never changed throughout the twenty years he knew her. Her husband, Singh’s grandfather, seemed just as ancient, depicted in a portrait with a long white beard and a turban, giving the impression that he was much older than her.

The grandmother’s appearance and habits conveyed a timelessness; she was always dressed in white, her silver hair untidily scattered, and she constantly prayed, telling the beads of her rosary. Despite her age, she was a pillar of serenity and contentment, likened to a winter landscape.

During Singh’s childhood, his parents lived in the city, leaving him under his grandmother’s care. She prepared him for school, accompanied him, and read scriptures while he attended classes. Their bond was strong, but it changed when they moved to the city. Singh started attending an English school alone, and his grandmother turned to feeding sparrows, a new routine replacing her old one.

As Singh grew older, he and his grandmother drifted apart. Her disapproval of the English school’s secular education and his music lessons further strained their relationship. When Singh went to university and later abroad, the physical and emotional distance grew, yet she remained steadfast in her routine of spinning and praying, finding solace in feeding sparrows.

Upon Singh’s return from abroad, his grandmother’s routine resumed unchanged. However, a day after celebrating his return by singing with the neighborhood women, she fell ill. Her premonition of death proved true, and she passed away peacefully, engaged in prayer.

At her funeral, thousands of sparrows gathered silently around her body, paying their last respects. The sparrows’ presence and subsequent departure marked the end of an era, leaving an indelible image of the grandmother’s serene and spiritual existence.

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Textual questions and answers

Answer these questions briefly

1. What image did the author have of his grandfather?

Answer: 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.

2. Why does the author find the thought of grandmother having once been ‘young and pretty’ revolting?

Answer: The thought was almost revolting because she had always been old and wrinkled in his memory. She had always been short and fat and slightly bent. Her face was a criss-cross of wrinkles running from everywhere to everywhere.

3. Trace the manner in which the writer and his grandmother gradually developed a bonding.

Answer: They were constantly together when his parents left him with her, she woke him up, got him ready for school, and they went to school together.

4. Describe the daily routine in Khushwant Singh’s life in the village.

Answer: His grandmother woke him up, got him ready for school, took him to school where he learned the alphabet and prayer, and she read the scriptures. After school they would walk back home, and his grandmother would feed the village dogs.

5. “That was a turning point in our friendship.” Explain ‘turning point’.

Answer: The turning point was when they moved to the city and she no longer went to school with him, leading to less interaction between them.

6. Cite examples from the text to show that grandmother was a religious lady.

Answer: She said her morning prayer in a monotonous sing-song while she bathed and dressed him. She carried a rosary and her lips constantly moved in inaudible prayer. She sat inside the temple reading the scriptures while he was in school. She rarely left her spinning-wheel to talk to anyone and spent her time spinning and reciting prayers.

7. How did grandmother react to what was being taught in the city school?

Answer: She was distressed that there was no teaching about God and the scriptures and disapproved of music lessons.

8. What was the happiest time in grandmother’s life in the city?

Answer: The happiest half-hour of her day was when she fed the sparrows in the afternoon. Hundreds of birds would collect round her creating a veritable bedlam of chirrupings.

9. How did grandmother celebrate the return of her grandson?

Answer: She collected the women of the neighbourhood, got an old drum, and sang of the homecoming of warriors.

10. How did the sparrows pay their last respects to grandmother?

Answer: When they went to her room to take her to be cremated, thousands of sparrows sat scattered on the floor and in her room right up to where she lay dead and stiff wrapped in the red shroud. There was no chirruping.

Answer these questions in detail

1. Describe the relationship that the author shared with his grandmother.

Answer: The author shared a deep and affectionate relationship with his grandmother. She was his constant companion, taking care of him, waking him up, getting him ready for school, and even going to school with him. Their bond was strengthened by their daily routines and the time they spent together. As he grew older and moved to the city, their relationship evolved but remained strong, with her continuing to show her love and concern in different ways.

2. Why was grandmother beautiful and not pretty?

Answer: Grandmother was described as beautiful and not pretty because her beauty was not about her physical appearance. Despite being old, wrinkled, and bent, she had an inner serenity and contentment that made her beautiful. Her white hair, puckered face, and peaceful demeanor gave her a beauty that was compared to a winter landscape in the mountains, pure and serene.

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

Answer: The first phase was during his childhood in the village, where they were constant companions, and she took care of all his needs. The second phase was when they moved to the city, and although they still shared the same room, their interaction decreased as he went to an English school and she took to feeding sparrows. The third phase was during his university years when they were even more distanced, with him having his own room and her spending most of her time at the spinning wheel and feeding sparrows. Despite the physical distance, the emotional bond remained strong.

4. What was specially emotional and moving about grandmother’s funeral?

Answer: The funeral scene is deeply emotional and moving due to the symbolic gesture of the sparrows. Their quiet presence, their refusal to eat, and their silent flight as the body is carried away serve as a poignant expression of their grief and their connection to the grandmother. The sparrows, who represented joy and companionship in her life, now express their sorrow in a way that deeply touches the reader and reinforces the enduring nature of the grandmother’s spirit.

5. What enduring image of the grandmother are you left with? Support your answer with examples from the text.

Answer: The enduring image of the grandmother is one of serene beauty and devoutness. She is pictured hobbling around the house in spotless white, her silver locks scattered over her puckered face, constantly telling the beads of her rosary and whispering prayers. Her deep religious faith is shown in her daily routine of spinning the wheel, praying, and feeding sparrows. The description of her feeding the sparrows, where she smiled but never shooed them away, and the sparrows’ silent tribute at her death, further cements her as a figure of quiet strength, devotion, and love.


1. Imagine you are Kushwant Singh. Make a diary entry for the day of your grandmother’s funeral. Record all that happened and how you felt.


June 2

Today was the day of my grandmother’s funeral, and it was one of the most emotional and sorrowful days of my life. Early in the morning, I woke up to a house filled with an unusual silence. The air felt heavy, and the absence of her presence was profoundly felt. As I approached her room, I saw her lying peacefully on the bed, covered with a red shroud. Her face had a serene pallor, and she looked as though she was in a deep, eternal sleep.

Family members and neighbours gathered to pay their respects, each one offering condolences and sharing stories of her kindness and devotion. We lifted her off the bed and laid her on the ground, as is customary. While making arrangements for the funeral, I couldn’t help but reminisce about all the moments we shared – her morning prayers, the way she fed the sparrows, and her silent strength that had been a cornerstone of my childhood.

In the evening, when we returned to take her body for cremation, the sun was setting, casting a golden light across her room and the verandah. To my astonishment, thousands of sparrows had gathered, sitting quietly all over the floor. Their usual chirruping was absent; they seemed to understand the gravity of the moment. My mother brought some bread and crumbled it the way grandmother used to, but the sparrows did not touch the food. Their silent tribute was deeply moving, and it felt as though they were mourning with us.

As we carried her body out, the sparrows flew away, leaving behind a profound silence that echoed our grief. Watching them, I felt an overwhelming sense of loss but also a strange peace, knowing that grandmother was at rest, surrounded by the love and respect she had always given to others.

Today, I lost not just a grandmother but a friend, a guide, and a symbol of unwavering faith and love. Her memory will forever remain etched in my heart.

2. Justify the title The Portrait of a Lady.

Answer: The title “The Portrait of a Lady” aptly captures the essence of the grandmother’s character and her profound impact on the author’s life. The word “portrait” signifies a detailed depiction, reflecting not just her physical appearance but her entire persona – her spirit, actions, and influence.

Through the author’s eyes, we see her as a figure of immense dignity and grace, despite her old age and wrinkles. Her devout nature, serene beauty, and constant engagement in prayer and feeding sparrows paint a complete and beautiful picture of her life. The title underscores the admiration and reverence the author feels for her, portraying her as a lady of substance and grace, immortalising her memory in the reader’s mind. Thus, it aptly describes her character and lasting impression.

Extra fill in the blanks

1. My grandmother’s lips constantly moved in ______ prayer. (inaudible/frivolous)

Answer: inaudible

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12. My grandmother could not help me with my lessons. She did not believe in the things they taught at the ______ school. (English/village)

Answer: English

Extra true or false

1. The author’s grandmother was always young and pretty.

Answer: False

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15. The sparrows chirruped loudly after the grandmother passed away.

Answer: False

Extra question and answer

1. What did the author’s grandmother always wear?

Answer: The author’s grandmother always wore spotless white clothes.

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18. What significant event occurred the evening before the grandmother passed away, and how did it impact her?

Answer: The evening before the grandmother passed away, she experienced a change in her routine by not praying and instead gathering women from the neighbourhood to sing songs of the homecoming of warriors, playing an old drum. This unusual activity, which caused her family to persuade her to stop to avoid overstraining, was significant as it was the first time she did not pray since the author had known her. This change was followed by her falling ill the next morning, leading to her belief that her end was near.

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