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Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Portrait of a Lady : Theme and Summary

The fact that generation gap is not an unsurpassable gulf is characterised by the fact that a wave of nostalgia overpowers us when we think of the simple and serene days of our childhood spent with parents and grandparents. We might grow up and grow apart but the morals and principles instilled in us by the older generation refuse to die.
As we grow up, various tasks and interests attract our attention leaving us with little time to realize that we might be the only interest of someone in our family. If the birth of a grandchild leading to boundless joy for grandparents is a reality in every nook of the world, it is also true that the grandchildren’s attention will invariably be taken over by other things pretty soon. We end up being so busy that those silent steps the old ones take to retreat from our lives are rarely noticed.
The story by Khushwant Singh is an attempt to celebrate those childhood years spent with his grandmother when the simple pleasures of chanting of Gurubani and feeding the dogs kept the duo busy. There might not be anything dramatic in their routine but the way she took care of the smallest of his needs and worked for his education shows the depth of their relationship.
But, as is true of every good thing, this bonding had to face the test of time when the writer’s parents took both of them to the city, throwing them out of their humble abode into a city which took the attention of the child and drove them a little apart every passing day.     
Read about the various phases of their relationship carefully and see how the grandmother slowly withdraws herself when she finds her grandson participating in activities and hobbies that she did not approve of. With time, the philanthropic nature takes over and she devotes all her time in taking care of animals and spending her time in praying.
To understand the story properly, analyse how circumstances may change your lifestyle and look into your own lives to see if you may be paying less attention to some people and think of ways to rectify it.

The story is written in first person and is in biographical mode. It is a perception of Khushwant Singh of his grandmother through his own eyes.
Khushwant Singh recalls his grandmother as an eternally old person. She was an extremely religious person.It was difficult for him to believe that once she too was young and pretty like other women. The stories about her childhood games were like fairytales to him. She was short, fat and slightly stooped in stature. Her silvery white hair used to scatter on her wrinkled face. Khushwant Singh remembers her hobbling around the house in spotless white clothes with one hand resting on her waist to balance her stoop and the other busy in telling the beads of her rosary. Her lips constantly moved in inaudible prayers. Possibly she was not beautiful in worldly sense but she looked extremely beautiful with the peacefulness, serenity and the contentment her countenance displayed.
Khushwant’s relationship with his grandmother went through several changes when he was a small boy. In the first stage Khushwant lived in a village with her as his parents were looking for the opportunity to settle down in the city. In village grandmother took care of all the needs of the child. She was quite active and agile. She woke him up in the morning, got him ready for the school, plastered his wooden slate, prepared his breakfast and escorted him to the school. They fed street dogs with stale chapaties on their way to school which was a great fun for them. She helped him in his lessons also .It was her domain and she was the queen of her kingdom. In this period she was the sole unchallenged guardian, mentor and creator of the child Khushwant.
The turning point came in their relationship when they came to city to stay with Khushwant’s parents. In city Khushwant joined an English School and started to go to school in a motor bus. Here the role of his grandmother in his bringing up was curtailed a little bit. Now she could not accompany him to the school. Despite taking lot of interest in his studies she could not help him in his lessons because he was learning English, law of gravity, Archimedes’ principle and many more such things which she could not understand and this made her unhappy. She found herself at loss. One more thing which disturbed her a lot was that the kids were not learning about God and scriptures in the school instead they were given music lessons which was not an honorable thing in her opinion. To her music was not meant for gentlefolk. It was meant for beggars and prostitutes only. She highly disapproved this and as she could not change it she was dismayed and withdrew herself to some extent. Perhaps she had realized that in the makeover of the child her role was finished and this very thought saddened her most.
After finishing school Khushwant went to university. He was given a separate room. The common link of their friendship was snapped. His grandmother confined herself to a self imposed seclusion. She spent most of her time in reciting prayers and by sitting beside her spinning wheel. She rarely talked to anyone. The only recreation for her was in the afternoon when she relaxed for a while to feed the sparrows. A kind hearted person, in village she used to feed street dogs, here in city she focused on birds and they too became very friendly with her. This was the phase when she found herself totally isolated and aloof but she braved this isolation with grace and dignity.
Khushwant’s grandmother was a strong person. Whatever she went through in her heart she always restrained herself from demonstrating her emotions. He recalls that when he went abroad for further studies his grandmother was there to see him off on railway station quite calm busy telling the beads of her rosary and reciting prayers as always. When he came back after five years he found her more and more religious and more and more self contained. She spent still more time in prayers and spinning the wheel. Feeding the birds was her only happy pastime. But just the day before her death for the first time she broke this routine and gave up her prayers. That day she sang the songs of the home coming of the warriors on a withered drum along with the ladies of neighborhood in order to celebrate her grandson’s return from abroad. Next morning she got ill. Although the doctor said it was a mild fever and would go away she could foresee that her end was near. She was upset that she omitted her prayers just before the final departure from the world. She did not want to waste any more time talking to anybody. She lay peacefully in bed praying and telling the beads till her lips stopped moving and rosary fell from her lifeless fingers. To mourn her death thousands of sparrows flew in and sat scattered around her body in utter silence.They even ignored the breadcrumbs thrown for them by Khushwant’s mother. They only flew away after the corpse was carried away for last rites.
So this was the charismatic grandmother of Khushwant Singh.


  1. It's really good if you don't have time to read the chapter.
    After reading this, there's no need actually.
    Well done liveenglish11 !

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. '...I wouldbe away for five years,and at her age one could never tell.'can someone explain this ?

    1. One could never tell if she would still be alive when he came back after 5 years.. Because she was an old woman who would die at any time

  4. '...I wouldbe away for five years,and at her age one could never tell.'can someone explain this ?

  5. '...I wouldbe away for five years,and at her age one could never tell.'can someone explain this ?

  6. SuperbbbπŸ‘πŸ‘
    Nobody can explain the story in such a beautiful way.
    Everything is expatiatad in a simple fanthom manner...
    Great job.. Hats off

  7. Summary is really good but theme part is shit

  8. summary part is really good but theme part is shit

  9. Going abroad by train..its like a shit

  10. Please provide a short message coveyed by this chapter.

  11. Yes even i agree with kunal rajain plz do that......

  12. Imagine you are khushwnat singh and your grandmother had died recently and you are assailed with the feeling of guilt and regret on having neglected her.write diary entry expressing your feelings .
    Plss provide me ans