Class 11: A Photgraph Summary and Question Answers



Detailed Summary Of The Chapter

By Khushwant Singh
Chapter Sketch
The Portrait of a lady’ is part of an autobiography by Khushwant Singh. In this story, the author talks about his grandmother. He beautifully unfolds their relationship and how it undergoes several changes. In other words, the story is a loving tribute from a grandson to his grandmother. The story gives a picture of human relationships. It is a realistic account of how the grandparents give all their time, attention and love to their grandchildren.
About the Characters
Grandmother Khushwant Singh’s grandmother is described as an extremely religious person. She was a very kind lady. She was short, fat and slightly bent. Her face full was wrinkled and she was always dressed in spotless white clothes. In the village, she took care of all the needs of the author when he was a child.
Khushwant Singh, the author he recounts his childhood days and his relationship with his grandmother.
                                    SUMMARY OF THE CHAPTER 

The Author Remembers his Grandmother and Grandfather 

The author recalls his grandmother as a very old lady. For the twenty years that the author had known his grandmother, he had found her old and wrinkled.
It was hard for him to believe that she had once been young and pretty and she had a husband. Khushwant Singh’s grandfather’s portrait hung on the wall of the drawing room. He wrote a big turban. His clothes were loose. He looked at least a hundred years old. Looking at his portrait once could not imagine him in his youth with his wife and children.
The Author’s Grandmother
The thought of the grandmother being young and pretty was almost revolting to him. She was short, fat and slightly bent in stature. Her face was a criss-cross of wrinkles. Her silvery white hair was scattered over his wrinkled face.
The author remembered her hobbling around the house in spotless white clothes with one hand resting on her waist to balance her stoop and the other hand busy counting the beads of her rosary. Her lips constantly moved in inaudible prayer.
To the author, she could never have been pretty, but she reflected a divine beauty. 
The Author’s Childhood with his Grandmother
The author and his grandmother were good friends. His parents left him to stay with her when they shifted to the city. In the village, his grandmother took care of all his needs. She was quite active and agile. She used to wake him up early morning and get him ready for school.
She said her morning prayers in a sing-song manner while she bathed and dressed him in the hope that her grandson would learn them by heart. The author listened to the prayers because he loved her voice, but never bothered to learn them.
Then she would fetch his wooden slate which, she had already washed, the plastered it with yellow chalk. She would take an earthen inkpot and a reed pen and tie them in a bundle and hand it to the author. After having a thick, stale chapatti with a little butter and sugar spread on it for breakfast, they used to leave for school. The author’s grandmother always accompanied him to the school as it was attached to the temple 
The Author at School
The priest taught children the alphabet and the Morning Prayer. The children sat in two rows in the verandah. They would sing the alphabet or the prayer in a chorus. While the author learned his lesson at school, the grandmother would read scriptures in the adjoining temple. On their way back, they would feed stale chapattis to the dogs.
The Turning Point in the Relationship of Grandmother and the Author
The turning point came in their relationship when they moved to the city to stay with Khushwant Singh’s parents. In the city, the author used to go to an English school in a motor bus. The grandmother could no longer accompany him to the school. As there were no dogs in the streets, the grandmother took to feeding the sparrows.
As the years rolled by, they spend less time with each other. In spite of her immense interest in his studies, she was not able to help him in his lessons as he was learning English, the law of gravity, Archimedes’ principle and many more such things which she was unable to understand, and this made her unhappy. Sometimes she would ask him what the teacher had taught him.
Grandmother Distressed and Disturbed
Grandmother didn’t believe in the things taught at the English school and was distressed to learn that there was no teaching about God and the scriptures in the school.
Moreover, she was very disturbed at the idea of music lessons being given at the English school. To her, music had a lewd association and she considered music to be unsuitable for gentle folk
The Common Link of Friendships gets snapped
The common link of friendship between the author and the grandmother was broken when the author went to the University and was given a room of his own. The grandmother accepted her loneliness and rarely spoke to anyone. All day long, she sat spinning the wheel and reciting her prayers only.
Only in the afternoon she relaxed for a while and feed the sparrows. They perched on her shoulders and some even on her head but she never shooed them away. It can be said that it was the happiest half-hour of the day for her.
The Author Leaves for Higher Studies
The author decided to go abroad for higher studies for five years. He was sure that his grandmother would be upset at his departure, but she was not even sentimental. To see him off, She came to the railway station. She showed no emotion. She was absorbed in praying and counting the beads of her rosary. Silently she kissed his forehead. The author thought that perhaps it was the last sing of physical contact between them.
The Grandmother Celebrates the Author’s Return and Falls Sick
After five years, the author found his grandmother at the station when he returned. She held him in her arms. He found her more religious and more self-contained. He could hear her reciting prayers. Even that day, the happiest moment for her was feeding the sparrows herself. However, something strange happened to her in the evening.
For the first time ever in her life, she did not pray. Instead, she collected the women of the neighborhood, got an old drum and started to sing songs of the homecoming of warriors. They tried to persuade her to stop to avoid overstraining herself. But she didn’t listen. She fell ill the next morning.
Grandmother’s Death
The grandmother was diagnosed with a mild fever by the doctor but she insisted that her end was near. She informed everyone that she did not want to talk to anyone and would rather spend her last moments praying. She ignored everyone’s protests and started counting the beads in her rosary while praying.
After a short while, the author noticed that his grandmother’s lips stopped moving and the rosary fell from her lifeless fingers. She died a peaceful death. She was covered with a red shawl.
The Sparrows Mourn her Death
When the author and others came to take away the grandmother’s body, they met a strange sight. To mourn her death, a log of sparrows had surrounded the grandmother’s body. They were all silent. When the author’s mother offered the sparrows some bread, they refused to eat and quietly flew away after the grandmother’s body was carried away for the last rites.

                        QUESTIONS- ANSWERS

1. What does the cardboard show?
Ans. The cardboard shows an old photograph of the poet’s mother, standing on the beach with her two girl cousins. They were smiling at the uncle who was standing with a camera at the beach
2. What has the camera captured? 2012
Ans. The camera has captured the pretty face of the poet’s mother who was a girl of about twelve and the smiling face of two girl’s cousins Betty and Dolly. They were standing at the beach holding the poet’s mother hand.
3. Why did the poet’s mother laugh at the snapshot? What did their laugh indicate? 2015  2016  2017
Ans. The poet’s mother laughed at the snapshot as they were dressed up by their parents for the sea holiday. She pointed it out to her cousins Dolly and Betty who were with her in the photography. The laugh indicates her youthful sprit.
4. What is the meaning of the line ‘Both wry with the labored case of loss?
Ans. Both the poet’s mother and the poet suffer a sense of less. The mother has lost her happy and cheerful childhood. For the poet lost that sweet laughter of the mother as was captured by the snapshot years ago.
5. Why are feet of all the girls called ‘terribly transient’? 2016
Ans. Feet of all the girls are called terribly transient because all three girls are mortal. They are subjected to death, decay, old age or destruction, etc. Compared to the sea, the three girls are mortal. They have, ‘momentary’ existence.
6. “The sea, which appears to have changed less, washed their terribly transient feet.” How does the poet contrast the girls’ terribly transient feet’ with the sea?
Ans. All the girls standing at the beach have ‘terribly transient’ existence. They are mortal and suffer physical changes with the passage of time. The mother’s sweet face and her smile have disappeared after twenty or thirty years. But the vast sea remains unchanged or seems ‘to have changed less’ in their comparison.
7. Why are feet of all the girls called ‘terribly transient’?
Ans. Feet of all the girls are called terribly transient because all three girls are mortal. They are subjected to death, decay, old age or destruction, etc. Compared to the sea, the three girls are mortal. They have, ‘momentary’ existence.
8. What has not changed over the years? Does this suggest anything?
Ans. In the photograph only the sea has not changed whereas many changes has cove to these little girls who had enjoyed on that beach. This suggests that human beings are subjected to death, decay, old age or destruction.
9. What does “this circumstances” refers to?
Ans. The poet talks about her mental condition at present. The situation is very lonely and she feels unbearably sad without her mother’s presence.
10. Why do you think were girls smiling through their hair?
Ans. The girls were smiling through their camera because they were happy and excited and wanted to make their smiles long-lasting by capturing them in their uncle’s camera through snap.
11. What is the reason that the sea has not changed?
Ans. The sea and its huge body of water is a natural object. Unlike human life it is not a subject ot death decay, old age or destruction etc. It remains forever and therefore has hardly changed at all.
12. Why there is nothing to say at all?
Ans. While talking about the emptiness created by the death of her mother, the poet becomes very sad and sentimental. She feels the paid of her mother’s presence and losses the power of expression, she becomes unable to talk about her exact emotions. That is why she feels and says that there is absolutely nothing to say at all.
13. The three stanzas of the poem ‘A photograph’ depict three different phases. What are they? 2018
Ans. Shirley Toulson’s ‘A Photograph’ describes three phases in time.
In the first phase, the poet’s mother is described as a twelve year old girl with a sweet and innocent smile. She is standing on the beach enjoying a holiday with her two cousins – Dolly and Betty. This was the phase before the poet’s birth.
In the second phase, the poet’s mother’s middle age is described, where she is laughing at her own snapshot. Perhaps the girls were looking quite funny in the beach clothes.
The third phase describes the poet’s feelings for her mother, who has died many years ago. This is the current phase. The photograph revives nostalgic feelings in her and it leads to a deeper silence.
close button