Important Questions for CBSE Class 11 English Hornbill Chapter 1 - The Portrait of a Lady

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CBSE Class 11 English Hornbill Chapter- 1 Important Questions - The Portrait of a Lady

The Important Questions For Class 11 English Hornbill Chapter 1 PDF help students prepare for their examinations in an orderly manner. These Class 11 English Chapter 1 Important Questions are written in a simple and easy-to-comprehend way, by the subject-matter experts at Vedantu to enable students to get a fair idea of the story. The Portrait of a Lady Class 11 Important Questions PDF provides a conceptual understanding of the chapter, and a rough idea of the types of questions that they can expect in the exams. Class 11 English Hornbill Chapter 1 Important Questions can be downloaded for free.

Yes, we have made sure to make these curated sets of questions available to every student. You can download the Important Questions of Portrait of a Lady Class 11 PDF from Vedantu, on your phone, laptop, or PC for offline reading and can practice them according to your convenience. The summary provided below, consists of some basic information on the author and the main plot of the chapter, with an explanation of the story. Now, let us take a look at the summary of the chapter so that you can solve the Class 11 English Chapter 1 Important Questions PDF and assess your understanding.

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Study Important Questions for Class 11 English Hornbill Chapter 1- The Portrait of a Lady

A. Very Short Answer Questions                                                                                1 Mark

1. Write the meaning of the given words.

i. Revolting

Ans: Rebelling

ii. Serenity

Ans: Calmness

iii. Seclusion

Ans: Aloofness

iv. Veritable

Ans: Genuine

2. The story “The Portrait of a Lady” is about which lady?

Ans: In the story “The Portrait of a Lady”, Khushwant Singh describes the pen picture of his grandmother who raised him in his early childhood.

3. How does the grandfather look in the portrait?

Ans: In the portrait that hung above the mantelpiece in the drawing, the grandfather wore a big turban and loose-fitting clothes. His long, white beard covered the best part of his chest and made him look at least a hundred years old.

4. What two activities does the grandmother do every day?

Ans: When Khushwant Singh went to the university and was given a room of his own, Grandmother accepted her seclusion with resignation. She rarely left her spinning wheel. She realized for a while in the afternoon while feeding sparrows bread crumbs.

5.   “In the evening a change came over her.” What change came over the grandmother?

Ans: Grandmother was overjoyed when Khushwant Singh returned. In the evening she did not sing her prayers instead she gathered the neighbourhood women and started to sing songs of the homecoming of warriors along with playing a dilapidated drum.

B. Short Answer Questions                                                                                         2 Marks

1. Give a pen picture of the narrator’s grandfather as he appeared in the portrait?

 Ans: Grandfather in the portrait had the appearance of a man who would neither have a wife nor children. His beard, turban and loose-fitted clothes made him look like a person who could only have lots and lots of grandchildren.

2. How did the grandmother utilise her time in the city home?

Ans: After the author got a room of his own in the city home his grandmother accepted her detachment calmly. She recited prayers and worked on her spinning wheel the entire day. In the afternoon, she would take a half-hour break to rest and feed the birds bread crumbs in the veranda. 

3. How does grandmother feel about English education and music lessons at school?

Ans: Grandmother did not approve of the education Khushwant received in school. She did not believe in the things taught and was baffled to know that there was no teaching about God or scriptures. She was very disturbed to know about the music lessons because her music had filthy associations. It was meant for harlots and beggars, not decent people.

4. How were the author and grandmother connected and how did it break?

 Ans: The author was raised by his grandmother in early childhood. They were constantly together. She brushed, bathed, dressed, and accompanied him to school. It chanced when they shifted to the city where he went to the school with a motor bus and studied subjects grandmother could not comprehend. Their relationship saw a steeper turn when he was given a room of his own in the university and the common link of their friendship broke.

5. Why does the author say that at the age of her grandmother, one could never tell? What was one could never tell?

Ans: The author had to go foreign for his higher studies. Grandmother was remarkably old and at her age, one could never tell when she would breathe her last. The fact that he would be gone for five years made him fear losing his grandmother more.

C. Short Answer Questions                                                                                     3 Marks

1. What was the narrator unable to believe about his grandparents?

Ans: The narrator was unable to believe that his grandfather ever had a spouse and children. He had the look of a man who always had lots of grandchildren. On the other hand, it was difficult for him to believe that grandmother was ever young and pretty and that she too had a husband or she played as a child. He could only associate her image with the old and wrinkled grandmother he has seen her as since forever. 


2. Why it seemed to the author that his grandmother looked like a winter landscape in the mountains?

Ans: Grandmother had a very serene and calm vibe, similar to that of mountains. Her age gave her silver hair and she also wore spotless white clothes which made her look like a mountain covered with snow. She roamed around in the house with one hand on her waist and the other telling her rosary while whispering inaudible prayers. She was an expanse of pure white beauty.

3. Why was the grandmother unhappy in the city?

Ans: Grandmother grew up and spent a major fraction of her life in the rural. It was difficult for her to leave everything behind and adjust to a place she was least familiar with. At home, since the author was busy with his studies, she occupied herself with her spinning wheel, prayers and feeding the birds in the evening. The lack of company with the author also distressed her but she had no choice. She accepted her seclusion and buried herself in work and prayers.

4. “...thousands of sparrows sat scattered on the floor. There was no chirruping.” Why does the author say so?

Ans: The author’s grandmother was very fond of feeding the sparrows. It used to be the happiest half-hour for her in the entire day. Some birds would come and perch on her legs while others on her shoulder and head. When grandmother passed away the sparrows came, as customary but seeing her dead they neither chirped nor ate the bread crumbs and left eventually when grandmother’s body was lifted off the ground.

5. “And she the big girl — some twelve years or so.” Who is the big girl in this line? Why is the poetess talking about her?

Ans: Eldest of the three cousins, the author’s mother went paddling with her cousins when she was twelve years or so. The snapshot had memories of the sea holiday which the daughter randomly came across. She is talking about her because she was remembering the laughter and the sweet memory of her mother who is dead nearly as many years as the girl in the photograph had lived.

D. Long Answer Questions-                                                                                            5 Marks

1. Give a sketch of the author’s grandmother according to the chapter “The Portrait of a Lady”.

Ans: Khushwant Singh’s grandmother, like every other grandmother, was old, wrinkled and had white silver locks. She had a serene appearance and looked like snow-covered mountains. She always murmured inaudible prayers and while telling her beads of the rosary. She was adaptable as when they shifted to the city, a place and environment that was foreign to her she found peace in spinning, praying, and feeding the sparrows that visited her. She showed keen interest during the early education of the author and never dragged him down for doing things she did not approve of. She gradually felt more secluded when the author grew up but she accepted it with resignation.


2. How the grandmother was interested in the education of the author.

Ans: Grandmother had no formal education but she was serious about the education of her grandson. She helped him with his lessons in the village. She would wash and plaster wooden slate. She also accompanied him to the school. In the city, she could not do either of them as the author went to an English medium school and on a motor bus. Even after this gap, she asked the author regularly about his school lessons, even though she did not approve of them. She believed that the music is for beggars and harlots and they should be given religious knowledge instead of sciences. Her concept of the right education was different but still, she accepted and encouraged him for further studies. She never dragged him down morally or questioned him for his decisions.

3. What type of bond did the grandmother share with dogs and sparrows?

Ans: Grandmother was accustomed to living in the village. She raised the author during his early childhood in the village when his parents were trying to figure out their lives in the city. She was a spiritual person and close to nature. She loved the rustic living in the village and made sure to carry stale chapatis for the dogs and fed them when she and the author returned from the temple. In the city she lost touch with the life she was fond of but her love for nature still flourished. She made sure to feed bread crumbs to the sparrows every day. She never shooed them away when they perched on her shoulder and head. When she passed away, they mourned her death and sat in the veranda where the body lay, without chirping or feeding on the crumbs that were given to them.

4. “Some twenty-thirty -years later She’d laugh at the snapshot. “See Betty And Dolly,” she’d say, - and look how they Dressed us for the beach.” The sea holiday

Was her past, mine is her laughter. Both wry with the laboured ease of loss.”

Give line by line explanation of the stanza from the poem “A Photograph.”

Ans: The photograph of the poet's mother and her cousins capture a fond memory, some twenty-thirty years old. On being shown the photograph, the mother laughed at the way she, Betty, and Dolly dress for the sea holiday. The sea holiday and the photograph were a blissful memory for the mother while her laughter on seeing the photograph is a warm memory for the daughter who has lost her mother for nearly as many years as the girl in the photograph had lived.


5. Write the summary of the poem “A Photograph.”

Ans: The poem ‘A Photograph’ talks about the transient nature of mortals being compared with the eternal state of nature which appears to change less with time. The poet starts by describing a snapshot, on a piece of cardboard, of her mother and cousins. Her mother was the eldest one out of the three in the photograph. When asked upon the mother laughed remembering her cousins, Betty and Dolly making fun of the way they dressed for the beach holiday. The poet also beautifully adds how the immortal sea washes away the imprints of the mortals who walk on the sand, leaving no trace of their visit there. 

As of the present, the poet describes the mother's laughter on seeing the picture as a memory as she is dead. It brought her immense sorrow and the line “Its silence silences” reflects her remorseful state of mind.

Chapter 1 - The Portrait of a Lady

Summary and Explanation

Portrait of a Lady is a story based on Khushwant Singh's elderly grandmother's life. Khushwant Singh was one of the most famous authors, a well-known columnist, and a journalist in India.  a beautiful yet earthly image of Singh's grandmother is portrayed in this story. The story also shows how the relationship between Singh and his grandmother changed over the years, while he grew up. His grandmother was always seen either chanting her prayers, counting the rosary beads, or feeding animals and sparrows, even in the courtyard of their city house. It was quite the sort of life led by India's majority upper-caste Sikh or Hindu women. They spent their last days focusing entirely on their heavenly home and, whenever possible, looking after their grandchildren.

Don't mix this short story with a similar story by Henry James titled 'The Portrait of a Lady.' The Henry James version is that of Isabel Archer, a high-spirited young American woman, and her adventures. The tale by Khushwant Singh is of a different sort altogether. Singh describes the relationship between him and his grandmother in the story. As always, he speaks of her as being old and wrinkled; in no other way does he think of her. Unfortunately, grandchildren in India could never see the older women of their home, like anything else, particularly during the time of Khushwant Singh, but as their elderly grandmothers with wrinkles, bent backs, and a limp, stout body were a familiar part of the households.

Singh paints this portrait of a similar grandmother who spent even the last day of her life, praying, following the age-old traditions. In the pre-independence and post-independence eras, Indian conventions mean:

  • Grandmothers are expected to give up earthly matters and focus on their afterlife.

  • To read the scriptures, they should either be in prayer or visiting temples.

  • They are not supposed to have any desires as such.

  • They should never pursue what their senses gestured and suppress their unconscious impulses.

  • Even if they are retired, they should be obligated to look after their grandchildren and look after them in every possible manner.

Singh's grandmother probably got married when she was a child because her husband was a gentleman who looked very old and had already died when Khushwant Singh was very young. Singh only recalls his grandfather through his photos. He thinks of him as a guy who looked so elderly that he was just born to have grandchildren, not to have a wife and children! He couldn't imagine that his grandmother could ever be pretty, but he found her beautiful. Notice the small difference between 'beautiful' and 'pretty'. For frivolous women and young girls with lipstick, the term 'Pretty' was used. 'Beautiful' was used for a woman who had devoted her life to her family and who had always been cherished.

Women just weren't educated in Khushwant Singh's grandmother's time, and particularly not in English. They were taught only to read the sacred alphabets, Hindu or Sikh religious scriptures, and to be adept at household chores. Khushwant Singh's grandmother could read and comprehend the scriptures. However, when he went into an English school, she was unable to understand western thinking, western topics, and everything taught to Singh. As he began to study western music, she almost stopped engaging with him.  She felt that the music was:

  1. Having an affiliation that is loose.

  2. The monopoly of the harlots and beggars on this type of music.

  3. Not intended for gentlefolk.

It is odd, however, that this same grandmother picked up her dilapidated drum on the last day of her life to beat and sing a song celebrating the arrival of warriors. After being abroad for five years, Singh had just returned from university education overseas. Perhaps his grandmother had taken it upon herself to play the drum, to appease him. I sense, though, that she was looking for a justification to at least encourage music for a few hours in her otherwise colourless existence. The opposite notion she had about music was based on the dictates of society and particular cultures that looked down on music in pre-independence India.

Then came the grandmother's connection with Khushwant Singh, her grandson. They had a strong friendship of sorts, which, once he moved to the city, began to decline, and Khushwant Singh began attending an English school and then college. Grandma was never one to be sentimental at all. She was a calm and composed figure, the very picture of a Sikh or Hindu upper-caste grandmother. She would offer an occasional embrace, clasp her hands, but she was never a dramatic individual at all.

We wonder about the drumming episode, how much she lived a life she wanted to lead, and how much of her life was just a 'put on an act' to stick to the standards of a hegemonic culture that was very patriarchal. In our country, elderly uneducated women were always scared of the British and tried to stay as far away from them as possible which may have been the reason behind grandma distancing herself from her grandson, as he started attending an English school.

She tended to stay away from everything that in her ancient superstitious ways questioned her convictions. She was so remorseful of her actions right after the drumming incident that she spent her dying breath praying and chanting in an endless round of rosary. It almost felt like by giving in to her passion, she had committed a horrible sin. Finally, we come to the animals she nourishes, the dogs and the sparrows. In the village, she fed puppies stale chapati, when Singh and she would visit the temple. She began feeding the sparrows in the courtyard near her room when they migrated to the city. These are the sparrows that will give this short tale,' Portrait of a Lady,' a delicate and heartfelt touch. The sparrows crowded on the courtyard near her corpse on the day she died, but never made a sound or ate the bread crumbs given by Khushwant Singh's mother to them. They mystically paid their respects to a real lady who cooked for them, cared for them, and lived a holy life, even after the death of her husband.

After reading the above explanation, students can go through the Class 11 English Chapter 1 Important Questions PDF provided by Vedantu and attempt to answer the questions on their own. In case of doubts regarding the chapter, students can reach out to us as we offer a free consultation for doubt clarification.


The fact that the generation gap is not an unbridgeable gulf is marked by the wave of nostalgia that overwhelms us when we think of the simple and serene days spent with parents and grandparents during our childhood. Khushwant Singh's story is an effort to celebrate those childhood years spent with his grandmother. The story highlights the various phases of their relationship, the conventions which are still prevalent in our country when it comes to elderly people, and how those patriarchal conventions affect our perception of our grandparents.

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