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For 2024 Board Exam
CBSE Competency Based Questions:
Class 10
Class 12

The Portrait of a Lady by Kushwant Singh

Updated: May 7, 2020

Lesson Architecture

1. NCERT Solution

2. Theme

3. Story Sequence

4. Recapitulation

5. Extra Questions

NCERT Solution

Understanding the Text (page 6)

1. The Three phases of the author’s relationship with his grandmother before he left the country to study abroad.


(a) His parents left the author under the pastoral care of his grandmother when they left the village for the city.

(b) The author started going to an English school in the city.

(c) The author went to the university and he was assigned a separate room for studies.

2. Three reasons why the author’s grandmother was disturbed when he started going to the city school.


(a) She could not help the author with his lessons.

(b) She could not teach him about God and scriptures.

(c) The author started getting lessons in music as the grandmother thought that Music had lewd association.

3. Three ways in which the author’s grandmother spent her days after he grew up.


(a) She spent time at the spinning wheel.

(b) She spent her time in chanting her rosary and prayers.

(c) She spent her happiest hours feeding hundreds of sparrows in the verandah.

4. The odd ways in which the author’s grandmother behaved just before she died.

(a) She missed her prayers for the first time in her life.

(b) She invited the neighbourhood women and thumped a drum and sang songs of homecoming of warriors to celebrate the return of the author from abroad.

(c) She lay down peacefully in bed praying and telling her beads.

5. The way in which the sparrows expressed their sorrow when the author’s grandmother died.


(a) Thousands of sparrows lay scattered on the floor of the verandah and in her room.

(b) They took no notice of the bread crumbs thrown to them by the author’s mother.

(c) They quietly flew away when the grandmother’s dead body was carried away.

Talking about the text

1. The author’s grandmother was a religious person. What are the different ways in which we come to know this?

Ans: The following are the ways in which we come to know that grandmother was a religious lady.

(i) While she used to make the author ready for the school, she herself kept chanting the morning prayers.

(ii) She dropped the author in the school because there was a temple attached to school where she used to visit to read scriptures for the entire duration of the school time.

(iii) Later on, when the author took admission to a city school, she was disturbed to know that there were no lessons on God and the scriptures.

(iv) At the time of her death she lay in her bed and peacefully prayed till she breathed her last.

2. Describe the changing relationship between the author and his grandmother. Did their feelings for each other change?


(i) The first change in relationship can be observed when the author shifted to the city where the grandmother could no longer accompany the author in the city school.

(ii) As he grew up, they saw less of each other and therefore, they interacted rarely.

(iii) Later on when the author went to the University , the common link of friendship was snapped as he was given a separate room in the house.

No, their feelings for each other did not change. The grandmother went to see the author off in the railway station when the latter left for abroad for higher studies. She was beyond herself with joy when the author came back home from abroad after five years. All these instances suggest that they shared a strong bond with one another.

3. Would you agree that the author’s grandmother was a person strong in character? If yes, give instances that show this.

Ans: The following are the instances to suggest that the grandmother was a person strong in


(i) The grandmother took care of the author very responsibly when the author’s parents left for the city. She was very caring and under her pastoral care, the author had a very jovial childhood.

(ii) She always kept herself busy when they all shifted to the city. When the author was given a separate room, she accepted her resignation with seclusion.

(iii) She did not show her emotional outburst when the author went abroad for higher studies. She went to the railway station to see him off, planted a parting kiss on his forehead and controlled her emotions strongly.

(iv) She had extreme faith in God and her prayers, which was reason for her indomitable strength in character.

(v) When the author returned from abroad, she celebrated his return in a grand manner by inviting the neighbourhood women and thumping the drums and singing songs of homecoming of warriors.

(vi) At the time of her death, she showed her religious bent of mind by chanting silent prayers on her lips.

4. Have you known someone like the author’s grandmother? Do you feel the same sense of loss with regard to someone whom you have loved and lost?

Ans: This is a subjective answer. Please write down according to your experience.


  • This story is taken from Khushwant Singh’s book’ The Mark of Vishnu and Other Stories.’

  • The story deals with the author’s memories of childhood days spent with his grandmother.

  • It highlights the strong emotional bond of love & affection that was present in Indian joint families.

  • The story describes the three phases of changing relationship between the author & his grandmother.

  • The lesson also highlights the devout religious nature of the author’s grandmother.

  • The lesson also portrays the grandmother as a woman of strong and responsible character.

Story Sequence:

  • The author’s grandmother was a very old woman- so old that it was difficult to imagine that she had even been young or pretty.

  • The author’s grandfather whose portrait was hung in the drawing room also looked so old in the picture that he too did not appear to have a wife or children.

  • The grandmother was a wrinkled old lady with grey hair. She use to wear clean white clothes and constantly chanted on the beads of the prayer garland. She was the embodiment of peace and contentment.

  • When the author’s parents moved to the city, the author was left in the company of his grandmother in the village.

  • While getting him ready for the school, she used to chant her prayers so that the author would pick up. The author never learnt the prayers , but listened as he loved his grandmother’s voice.

  • The Grandmother always accompanied him to the school which was attached to the temple.

  • When the little children attended the school, she used to read the scriptures. On her way back from the school, she always fed the stray dogs on bits of stale chapattis that she carried from home.

  • But the turning point in their friendship took place when the author’s parents sent for the him and his grandmother in the city.

  • He gradually became detached with his grandmother as the grandmother could neither accompany him to the city school, nor could help him with his studies.

  • She took to feeding sparrows as there were no dogs to feed in the city.

  • She did not like many things that were taught to the author. Therefore, a prominent change could be visible in their friendship.

  • The author was given a separate room in the house when he went to the university and this separation has brought about a marked distance in the last link of their friendship.

  • His grandmother started spending most of her time at the spinning wheel and kept on reciting her prayers.

  • In the evening, she threw little bits of bread to the sparrows who came in hundreds and sat around her. Some of the sparrows used to sit even on her legs and shoulders. It used to be the happiest half hour of the day for her.

  • Then the time came for the author to go abroad for five years to pursue higher studies.

  • His grandmother came to the railway station and planted a kiss on his forehead at the time of parting.

  • Her lips moved in prayer constantly while her fingers moved over the beads of the rosary.

  • While leaving the author thought that perhaps it was the last physical contact with his grandmother.

  • But fortunately when he returned after five years, the grandmother did not look even a day older.

  • She spent even happier moments with the sparrows.

  • One day in the evening a change came over her. She collected the women of the neighbourhood , took an old drum and sang for many hours to celebrated the return of her grandson.

  • The next morning his grandmother suffered from a mild fever. She started praying and chanting on her beads. Suddenly the rosary fell from her hands and her lips stopped moving. And she died.

  • Her body was wrapped in a red shroud and laid on the floor. But in the evening when a stretcher was taken to carry her dead body, golden light filled her room and verandah and thousands of sparrows sat silently around her body.

  • The author’s mother threw some bread crumbs to the sparrows, but they did not take any notice of them.

  • When the dead body was carried off for cremation, the sparrows silently few away. Even the birds reacted to the death of the grandmother.


  • The author’s grandmother was an old wrinkled lady, short and slightly bent. Her hands rested on her waist to balance her stoop.

  • She used to wear spotless white clothes and she looked like she is the embodiment of peace and happiness.

  • She was very pious and constantly kept her hands on her rosary.

  • She took great care of the author in the village when his parents moved to the city.

  • His school was attached to a temple and she always accompanied him to the village school.

  • A distance suddenly came up when the grandmother and the author left for the city.

  • The grandmother did not approve of the English medium school where he was taught Science and Music.

  • Grandmother spent her time in the city at her spinning wheel, reciting prayers or feeding the sparrows.

  • The last link of friendship was broken when the author studies in the university and was given a separate room.

  • The author went to abroad and returned after five years. He was surprised to find his grandmother still alive.

  • She was excited to see her grandchild back and collected the neighbourhood women to sing songs.

  • The next day she developed mild fever, but she kept on praying. Suddenly the rosary fell from her hands and her lips stopped moving. And she died.

  • When the dead body was carried off for cremation, the sparrows silently few away. Even the birds reacted to the death of the grandmother.

Extra Questions

Q1. What was the happiest moment of the day for the Grandmother? Why?

· She broke bread into small crumbs and scattered around her for the sparrows.

· They came and ate and sat on her head and shoulders.

· She enjoyed the chirping and hopping of the sparrows.

Q2. Why was the author’s grandmother unhappy with the city education?

· Teaching of Science and English incurred displeasure in the minds of the grandmother.

· There was no teaching about God and scriptures.

· Music lessons were taught in the school which the grandmother disapproved of.

Q3. How did the sparrows express their sorrow at the death of the grandmother?

· Thousands of sparrows sat in proximity to her body without chirruping.

· They did not eat bread given by the author’s mother.

· They simply flew away after her body was taken away.

Q4. What was the last physical contact with his grandmother?

· The grandmother planted a moist kiss on his forehead when he was going abroad.

· He presumed that it was his last physical contact with her because she being terribly old, had no hope of survival.

· Fortunately she was alive and hugged him when he came back from abroad.

Q5. What did Khushwant Singh’s grandmother think of education in the city school?

· Khushwant Singh’s grandmother did not approve of the education in the city school.

· She could not understand English and science.

· She did not approve of the fact that religious instructions were not given in the school.

· When Khushwant Singh started pursuing music, she was embarrassed.



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