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Chapter 1: The Portrait of a Lady
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 had 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.
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 crisscross 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. 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 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 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 and fighting with each other for the 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.
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NCERT Solutions Class 11 English Chapter 1 The Portrait of a Lady
1. The three phases of the author’s relationship with his grandmother before he left the country to study abroad.
The three phases of the relationship of the author with his grandmother before leaving the country to study abroad are –
(i) Childhood – His grandmother helped him while getting ready and went to the village school along with him.
(ii) Boyhood – He shared a room with his grandmother when he studied at the city school. She was not able to help him in his studies.
(iii) Early youth – The link of friendship was snapped when he was provided a separate room at the university.
2. Three reasons why the author’s grandmother was disturbed when he started going to the city school.
The three reasons why the grandmother of the author was disturbed when he went to the city school are –
1. She did not like Western learning and Science.
2. She was hurt when she came to know that there were no scriptures and teachings of God there.
3. She did not like music and thought that it was not for gentlefolk and decent people. It was the monopoly of beggars and prostitutes.
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