The Portrait of a Lady| Ch 1 By Khuswant Singh

The portrait of Lady


  • Rapport Building 
  • About Lesson
  • Comprehension 
  • Projects and activities

Start with a joke or fun

Rima: Mom, why are you ironing this dress?

Mom: Beta, Iron makes clothes smooth and shiny, so I do…

Rima: O! That’s great! I’ve got an idea, mom. Please give me this iron. 

Mom: What! why? What will you do with it?

Rima: Let me make grandma’s chick smooth and shiny.

Rapport Building

  1. How many of you are living in joint families?
  2. Who is in the family?
  3. How does your grandmother look?
  4. What kind of clothes does she wear?
  5. Do you spend your time with her after school?
  6. What did you talk about with your grandmother lately?

So, here we are going to learn an interesting story of a child (Author) and his grandma. The writer’s grandmother loves him and tries to inculcate moral and religious values in him. Let’s see what happens later if the writer learns from her grandma or not….

Text-Unit 1 

The teacher will ask the students to read the text. He is supposed to do the following things to make the class more learning-oriented and interesting:

Pronunciation: Intonation and tonality

Difficult words and expressions: Simplify the words and expressions with some examples.

My grandmother, like everybody’s grandmother, was an old woman. She had been old and wrinkled (having deep lines on the skin) 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 (a shelf above a fireplace) 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 ( shocking). She often told us of the games she used to play as a child. That seemed quite absurd (unbelievable)and undignified (improper)on her part and we treated it like the fables (a story that teaches a moral lesson)of the Prophets she used to tell us.

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.

Comprehension Questions

  1. What are the descriptive words that the writer has used for her grandmother in this paragraph?
  2. Whose portrait was hung in the drawing-room? How is the portrait described?
  3. Why does the writer say this, “ He did not look the sort of person who would have a wife or children”?
  4. What did people say about the author’s grandmother when she was young?
  5. Why did it seem absurd and undignified to the author when her grandmother used to tell him about the game she used to play in her childhood?
  6. Why did the author say this about her grandmother: She could never have been pretty, but she was always beautiful.
  7. What do you understand by,telling the beads of her rosary’?
  8. Why does the author compare his grandmother with the Winter landscape in the mountain?

Text Unit 2



  • Who is the best friend in your family?
  • What do you like most about him or her?
  • How does he/she look?
  • Does he/she love to play with pets? 

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 ( a regular, repeated pattern) 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 (go and get) 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. My grandmother always went to school with me because the school was attached to the temple. The priest taught us the alphabet and the 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 (a low noise of dog )and fighting with each other for the chapattis we threw to them.

Comprehension Questions

  1. Why did the author’s parents leave him with her grandmother?
  2. How would grandma prepare the author for school?
  3. Who went to school with the author and why?
  4. Which is the interesting line you like most in this paragraph?

Text Unit 3


  • Think about a turning point in your life.
  • What could be the turning point in someone’s life?
  • Do you miss any of your friends who left you forever or settled in another city?

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.
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 (indecent) associations. It was the monopoly (the act of group/company) of harlots and beggars and not meant for gentlefolk. She said nothing but her silence meant disapproval. She rarely talked to me after that.

Comprehension Questions-

  1. What was the turning point of the author’s friendship with her grandmother?
  2. Where did the author take admission?
  3. How is the tone as the author mentioned about his English School?
  4. Why was his grandmother was not happy when the author took admission to English School?
  5. Why was her grandmother not able to help in his study?

Text Unit 4


  • Think about life in a university hostel.
  • What will you miss the most about your home if you reside in a hostel?
  • Make two lists of fun things. a) The fun things at home.  b) The fun things at University Hostel.
  • Who among all of you likes birds, and why?

When I went up to University, I was given a room of my own. The common link of friendship was snapped (broken) My grandmother accepted her seclusion ( isolation,)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 (Nice sound) of chirrupings. Some came and perched (sitting down)on her legs, others on her shoulders. Some even sat on her head. She smiled but never shooed (to let it go away)them away. It used to be the happiest half-hour of the day for her.

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(emotional). 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 moist imprint ( Full of value)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( hold,) 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. 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 (to hit) the sagging skins of the dilapidated drum (Old drum) and sang of the homecoming 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.

Comprehension Questions-

  1. How did grandmother spend her time after seclusion with the author?
  2. What was the best time the grandmother used to spend every day?
  3. Why was grandmother emotionless when she came to the station to receive her grandson?
  4. Why did she collect women of the neighbourhood in the evening when the author arrived and what did they do?

Text Unit 5


  • Think about the situation when your grandmother or grandfather is on their deathbed. 
  • What could be the best way to cure the patient?
  • Share your observation with your friends if you have ever seen someone on a deathbed. 

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. 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 (lack of colour) spread on her face and we knew that 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. The next morning the sweeper swept the bread crumbs into the dustbin

Comprehension Questions-

  1. One day, why did grandmother omit her prayer?
  2. Why did the rosary drop down from grandmother’s hand?
  3. Why didn’t the sparrows take notice of the bread crumbs and chirp on that day?

Project and Assignment

The teacher is advised to assign the students for the project work in a group pair (maybe individual).

Write short notes about your loving grandfather or mother (if you have). You need to highlight the following points:

  1. Your relationship with your grandma or grandpa
  2. How do they look?
  3. What do they like most?
  4. Any fun facts about your grandparents?

A teacher is advised to divide the learners into different houses (Blue, green, yellow, red etc.) Let them participate in the debate on the following topics.

  1. Life in a village is better than in a city.
  2. Building an old-age home in the city is a good idea.
  3. Old is GOLD, so we should follow traditional education and values. 
  4. The memory of childhood is the best for everyone.

The teacher is advised to motivate the students to write a poem or short story about their childhood.

The teacher is advised to motivate the students to sing a poem about parents in their mother tongue.


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