Khushwant Singh

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Provide a character sketch of the grandmother in "The Portrait of a Lady" by Khushwant Singh. How she is beautiful even though she is not pretty? Discuss the character of the grandmother and changes that come about in her as the story proceeds.

The grandmother in "The Portrait of a Lady" by Khushwant Singh demonstrates a tremendous amount of love and selflessness. She devotes herself to looking after the narrator while he is young, and even when he grows up and becomes distant as he pursues his own interests, she remains devoted to loving him and allowing him to live his life. The narrator believes his grandmother is very beautiful in the sense that he has a great amount of respect for her.

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In this story, the narrator maintains that his grandmother "could never have been pretty, but she was always beautiful." The narrator's grandmother was an extremely religious woman. To the narrator, his grandmother was beautiful because she exuded "peace and contentment." Hers was an inner beauty rather than a physical one. Physically, she was "short and fat and slightly bent." Her face was a "criss-cross of wrinkles running from everywhere to everywhere." She was not conventionally attractive; that is why he says that she was not pretty.

However, he maintains that she was beautiful because she was kind, warm, loving, attentive, and caring. In his childhood years, the narrator lived with his grandmother. He describes her as a good friend. She would wake him up on school days and prepare him a simple breakfast of chapatti with a little butter and sugar. The narrator remembers that his grandmother always handed him his pen, earthen ink-pot, and wooden slate in a bundle after breakfast. They would then walk to school together. Since the narrator's school was connected to a temple, his grandmother would study the scriptures in the temple while he attended school. He relates that his life continued in this fashion until his parents sent for him. Although his grandmother followed him to the city, he never walked to school with her again; instead, he rode to school on a bus. He admits that his relationship with his grandmother changed from that point forward. This is because she could no longer assist him with his homework; he had begun to study subjects that were beyond her expertise and experience. Additionally, his grandmother, a very religious woman, disapproved of him taking music lessons.

When the narrator began to attend college, he noted that his grandmother took to living in seclusion. She became wholly alienated from her grandson and other people. The narrator remembers sadly that his grandmother spent most of her time spinning, praying, and feeding the sparrows during this difficult period. When the narrator went abroad to pursue further studies, his grandmother saw him off at the railway station. She did not speak to him then, but she did kiss him on the forehead before they parted. The narrator remembers that, upon his return after five years, his grandmother was there to welcome him home. The grandmother's actions demonstrated her fidelity and great love for her grandson. To the narrator, she was still beautiful because she continued to love him, despite their differences. The narrator's grandmother eventually passed away peacefully, after having prophesied her own death. The narrator recalls fondly that his grandmother loved him until the day of her death. Although they no longer enjoyed the easy, intimate camaraderie of their earlier years, the narrator notes that his grandmother never stopped loving him. She was a lady to the last.

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