Summary of the Portrait of a Lady



The writer speaks of his own grandmother. By the time, he wrote the story, she was quite old and all her hairs had been white. Her wrinkled face and body gave him a kind of surprise. Since twenty years, the writer is with his grandmother. People said that once the old lady was as beautiful as a fairy. Her husband – writer’s grandfather was also very handsome. His photo was being hung in the drawing room of the writer.

Grandmother had always been short and fat, and her back was slightly bent. Wrinkles were across on her face. When the writer came to know her, she had been such condition. She was wearing a spotless white saree. Her silver locks were scattered untidily over her pale puckered face, and her lips constantly moved in inaudible prayer. She was like the winter landscape in the mountains.

Both the writer and his grandmother were good friends. His parents had left him with his grandmother at village. His parents were in city. Every day, she used to wake up the writer to be ready to go to school. She was uttering the monotonous song while she was bathing. The writer liked her very much. His grandmother was going to school with him because there was the temple nearer the school. She would sit among the children and listen to the priest’s prayer.

When writer’s parents were settled in the city, they sent for them. That was a turning point in their friendship. Both the writer and his grandmother started spending days separately and the writer became separated from the close relation with his grandmother. When he reported her about the music lesson he was being taught his grandma felt sorrow, because she knew that music had been associated with hariots. She said nothing but her silence meant disapproval.

When the writer went to University, he was allotted a room for his staying. His grandmother spent time with her spinning wheel. From sunrise to sunset she sat by her wheel spinning and reciting prayers. In the afternoon, she relaxed for a while to feed the sparrows. She was always getting surrounded by sparrows that were perching on her legs and shoulders. Some even sat on her head.

When the writer decided to go abroad for further studies and his grandmother would be upset. But she came to leave him at the railway station but did not talk or show any emotion. She was totally absorbed in prayer and her fingers were busy telling the beads of her rosary.

After five years, he came back home and was received at the station by his grandmother. She did not look a day older. The author could feel her pulse as usual and her sparrows were with her. That evening she was seen very happy spending time with the older women folk.

The next day morning she was found being ill. Doctor was called for and he told that the fever was mild and she would be well within a short time. But she told others that her time had come. She lay peacefully in bed praying and telling her beads. Next time she breathed her last.

Then the funeral arrangements and proceedings went on. The dead body of the grandmother was covered with a red shroud. A crude stretcher was brought to take her to be cremated. By that time, thousands of sparrows sat scattered on the floor. There was no chirruping. When her corpse was taken, the sparrows flew away quietly. Here ends the portrait of a pious lady.

- By Khushwant Singh