The Portrait of a Lady Summary

The Portrait of a Lady” is a novel written by Henry James, first published in 1881. The story revolves around a young American woman named Isabel Archer, who inherits a considerable fortune and travels to Europe to explore her independence and possibilities. The novel delves into themes of freedom, choice, and the consequences of one’s decisions. Read More Class 11 English Summaries.

The Portrait of a Lady Summary

The Portrait of a Lady Summary in English:

Khushwant Singh draws here an interesting portrait of his grandmother. He presents her as a tender, loving and deeply religious old lady. Khushwant Singh says that his grandmother was an old woman. She was so old and her face was so wrinkled that it was difficult to believe she could ever have been young and pretty.

It appeared unbelievable when she talked of the games she used to play in her childhood. Her hair was as white as snow. She had a little stoop in her back. She could be seen telling the beads of her rosary all the time. The author says, “She was like the winter landscape in the mountains, an expanse of pure white serenity breathing peace and contentment.”

A picture of author’s grandfather hung on the wall. He appeared too old to believe that he ever had a wife. He appeared to have only lots and lots of grandchildren. Khushwant Singh was only a child at that time. His parents had gone to live in the city, leaving him behind in the village with Grandmother.

She would wake him in the morning and get him ready for school. As she bathed and dressed him, she would sing prayers. She hoped that in time, Khushwant Singh would also come to learn it by heart, but he could never do so.

After a breakfast of a stale bread and butter, Grandmother would accompany Khushwant Singh to the village school. The school was attached to the village temple. While the children sat in the verandah singing the alphabet or the prayer in chorus, Grandmother would read religious books in the temple. She would walk back home with Khushwant Singh when the school was over. On their way back, they would throw chapattis to the village dogs.

When his parents were well settled in the city, Khushwant Singh and his grandmother also went to live with them. Khushwant Singh joined an English-medium school. His grandmother didn’t like many things taught in this school. Though she still shared her room with Khushwant Singh, she could no longer help him in his lessons. She no longer went with him to his school.

In due course, Khushwant Singh went up to the University. He was then given a room of his own, and thus the common link of friendship between them now snapped completely. Grandmother began to pass her time at the spinning wheel from sunrise to sunset.

Only in the afternoon did she relax a little when she fed sparrows with little bits of bread. The sparrows also seemed to feel quite at home in her company. Some of the birds would sit on her shoulders, and even on her head.

Khushwant Singh decided to go abroad for further studies. He was to be away for five years. His grandmother went to the railway station to see him off. Khushwant Singh felt

that his grandmother would not live till the time he was to come back. But that was not so. She was there to receive him at the station when he came back. She celebrated his homecoming in her own way. She collected the women of the neighbourhood, got an old drum and started singing.

Summary The Portrait of a Lady

She kept singing and beating the drum for several hours. Next morning Grandmother fell ill. The doctor said that it was only a mild fever and would soon go. But Grandmother knew that her end was near.

She lay peacefully in bed, praying and telling the beads of her rosary. She did’t want to waste the remaining moments of her life in talking to anybody. Quite suddenly, the rosary fell from her hand. She had breathed her last.

Her body was placed on the ground and covered with a red shroud. After making preparations for her funeral, they went to her room to fetch her body for the last journey.

Thousands of sparrows had already gathered in the verandah and in her room right up to her dead body. The birds were all silent, and there was no chirping. The writer’s mother brought some bread, broke it into bits and threw it to them.

The sparrows did not pay any attention to the crumbs. When Grandmother’s dead body was taken away, the sparrows flew away quietly.

The Portrait of a Lady Translation in English

Khushwant Singh has written a number of books on Sikh history and religion. He has also translated a number of books from Urdu and Punjabi into English. Apart from being a writer, he has been a lawyer, a public relations officer, and the editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India.

Two of his well-known novels are ‘Train to Pakistan and Shall Not Hear the Nightingale’. My grandmother, like everybody’s grandmother, was an old woman. She had been old and wrinkled for the twenty years that I had known her.

People said that she had once been young and pretty and even had a husband. But that was hard to believe. My grandfather’s portrait hung above the mantelpiece 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.

The Portrait of a Lady essay

As for my grandmother being young and pretty, the thought was almost revolting. She often told us of the games she used to play as a child. That seemed quite absurd and undignified on her part and we treated it like the fables’ 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 has 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 undtidily over her pale, puckere face and her lips constantly moved in an inaudible prayer. Yes, she was beautiful.

She was like the winter landscape in the mountains, and expanse of pure white serenity breathing peace and contentment. 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 singsong 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 my wooden slate which she had already washed and plastered with yellow chalk, a tiny earthen ink-pot and a reed 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 the 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.

The Portrait of a Lady short Summary

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 and fighting with each other for chapattis we threw to them.

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 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 scriptures. One day I announced that we were being given music lessons. She was very disturbed. To her music had lewd associations. It was the monopoly’ of harlots and beggars and not meant for gentlefolk. She said nothing but her silence meant disapproval. She rarely talked to me after that.

When I went up to the University, I was given a room of my own. The common link of friendship was snapped. My grandmother accepted her seclusion 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 of chirrupings. Some came and perched on her legs, others on her shoulders. Some even sat on her head. She smiled but never shood 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.

She came to leave me at the railway station but did not talk or show any emotion. Her lips moved in prayers, her mind was lost in prayer. Her fingers were busy telling the beads of her rosary’. Silently she kissed my forhead, and when I left I cherished the moist imprint as perhaps the last sign of physical contact between us.

But that was not so. After five years I came back 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 me in her arms, I could hear her reciting her prayer. Even on 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 the sagging skin of the dilapidated 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. 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.

The Portrait of a Lady lesson Summary

She said that, since only a few hours before the close of the first 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 protest. 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 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 halfway in the courtyard. All over the verandah and in her room right up to where she lay dead and stiff wrapped in 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. Next morning the sweeper swept the breadcrumbs into the dustbin.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening Summary

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