The Portrait of a Lady, Explanation, Line by Line, Meaning of Difficult Words, English CBSE Class 11 NCERT Hornbill Chapter 1


(Explanation and Meaning of difficult words)

Author – Khushwant Singh

Expression Meaning
The thought was almost revolting Difficult to believe
an expanse of pure white serenity White and calm looks of a person
a turning-point Significant change, A major change
accepted her seclusion with resignation Accepted loneliness without objection
a veritable bedlam of chirrupings A real uproar of sound of birds
frivolous rebukes Superficial scolding
the sagging skins of the dilapidated drum Loose skin of an old drum



Word Meaning
Wrinkled Lines, Creases, Folds

The author is talking about his grandmother. In fact the whole lesson has been narrated by the author himself.

His grandmother was an old woman. Grandmother of every person is an old woman. He was born 20 years ago. Author had always seen her grandmother as an old woman. She had lot of lines, creases and folds on her skin.


Word Meaning
Pretty Attractive
Even Also
Hard to believe Difficult to believe
Portrait Photo – normally of the face only
Mantelpiece Shelf

People used to tell the author that once upon a time his grandmother was young and beautiful. She had a husband also. But it was difficult to believe this. Photo of my grandfather was hanging in the drawing room above the shelf.


My grandfather used to wear a big turban. He wore loose fitting cloths. His beard was white and long. It came upto his chest. In the portrait he looked as if he was 100 years old. Because he looked old, the author thought that his grandfather never had a wife or children.



Word Meaning
Lot and lots So many, In large numbers
The thought was almost revolting Difficult to believe

The author thought that his grandfather could have only grandchildren. It was difficult for the author to believe that his grandmother had been young and beautiful. Grandmother used to talk about the games she played when she was a child.



Word Meaning
Absurd Unreasonable, Silly
Undignified Unbelieving, Disrespectful, Ungraceful
Fables Short moral story
Prophet Saint, Representative of God.

Author thought that it was silly and unreasonable that his grandmother played games. He thought that these were the stories similar to other moral stories of saints told by grandmother. Actually he is not able to imagine that during those days she was a little kid.



Word Meaning
Slightly A bit, Somewhat
Criss-cross Full of, So many
Certain Sure

The authors had always seen her as a short and fat lady. Her back was bent due to old age. Her face was full of wrinkles everywhere. We all were sure that the grandmother had always been like that only.



Word Meaning
Terribly old Very old
Stayed Remained

She was so old that it was not possible to become older. Author wants to say that she was very old. She had been looking same during last 20 years. She could not have been attractive. But she was always beautiful.



Word Meaning
Hobbled Walked awkwardly, Staggered
Stoop Bend, Kneel
Beads Small pieces
Rosary A string of beads, Maalaa in Hindi

She used to walk awkwardly in the house. She used to wear clean white clothes that did not have any spot. Her waist was bent forward. She used to keep one hand on her waist to balance herself. In other hand she had rosary (maalaa) to say her prayers.




Word Meaning
Silver locks White hair
Scattered Spread
Untidily Not organized, Not combed and tied
Pale Yellow
Puckered Wrinkled, With Folds
Constantly Continuously
Inaudible That cannot be heard

Her white hair were usually not combed and tied. These used to spread on her yellow and wrinkled face. Her lips used to always move while saying prayers. She used to say her prayers in such a low voice that it was difficult to hear it.




Word Meaning
Landscape Terrain, Scenery
An expanse of pure white serenity White and calm looks of a person
Serenity Calmness
Contentment Satisfaction

She looked beautiful.  She looked  as white as a mountain looks in winter season. She looked like a white body moving with lot of calmness. She looked very peaceful and satisfied person.



Word Meaning
Constantly Regularly, Always

I and my grandmother were good friends. When my parent went to the city to live there, I stayed with my grandmother. We were always together. She would wake me up in the morning and get me ready for the school.



Word Meaning
Monotonous Not varying, Uniform
Sing-song Like a song
Get to know Understand, Memorise
Never botherred Never cared, Ignored
Learn Memorise

She said her morning prayers in a uniform tone. It was like a song without any variation in tone. She used to say her prayers while she bathed me and dressed me. She hoped that I would listen to it and understand the prayer. I liked her voice so I listened to prayer. But I did not make any effort to memorise it.



Word Meaning
Fetch To bring
Wooden Made of wood
Tiny Very small
Earthen Made of clay
Tie Fasten
Hand it to Give it to

After that she used to bring my wooden slate. Yellow chalk had already been applied to this slate. She would also bring my earthen ink-pot and my red pen. She would tie them together and give the bundle to me.




Word Meaning
Stale Old, Made earlier, Dry
Several Many

I had breakfast of a chapatti that was made earlier – probably on the previous day. Some quantity of butter and sugar was applied on the chapatti. Then together we went to school. She used to carry many old chapattis to be given to street dogs.



Word Meaning
Attached to Adjacent to, Near to

My grandmother always used to come with me to the school. The school was next to the temple. The priest used to teach us alphabet and the morning prayer.



Word Meaning
Chorus Together
Scriptures Books of religion, Religious books

All children used to sit in verandah of the temple. We used to sit in rows. Together, we would sing alphabets and prayers. My grandmother sat inside the temple to read books of religion.



Word Meaning
Finished Completed
Growling Making low sound of ‘grrrrr..’

After we both had completed our tasks, we used to walk back to our house. The street dogs used to wait for us at the door of the temple. They used to walk with us. They used to growl and fight with each other for the chapattis that we threw at them.



Word Meaning
Settled Lived decently, Established a residence
Sent for Called
Turning-point Significant change, A major change
No longer Not any more, Stopped doing something

After sometime my parents had established a comfortable residence in city. So they called both of us to the city. This was a major change in friendship between me and my grandmother. We used to stay in one room. But my grandmother now did not come to school with me.



Word Meaning
Sparrow Type of bird
Took to Started
Courtyard Open space in a house

I used to go to my school in a bus. My school was English medium school. There were no dogs in the streets. She started giving food to sparrows. They used to come in the open space of our house.



Word Meaning
Rolled by Passed, Went ahead

Years passed one after the other. Our discussion became lesser and lesser. During initial period she used to wake me up and get me ready for the school. When I came back from school she used to ask me about my studies. She wanted to know what my teachers had taught me.




I used to tell her English words that I learnt. I also told her about several principles of science. She was not able to understand anything. So she became unhappy.



Word Meaning
Distressed Unhappy

She could not help me in my home-work. She had no faith in what was being taught in the English medium school. She was unhappy that school did not teach anything about God and books of religion.



Word Meaning
Lewd Indecent, Vulgar,
Monopoly Exclusively, Only for
Harlots Rouges, Not good people, Vagabonds
Gentlefolks Good people

One day I informed that we would be taught music in our school. She was very unhappy to know this. She thought that music is not a good art. According to her, music was followed by rouges and beggars. Good people should not learn music.



She did not say anything. But her silence conveyed that she did not approve of learning music. After that she talked to me on very less occasions.



Word Meaning
Went up Moved ahead, Went to
Snapped Broken
Seclusion Loneliness
Resignation Defeat, Without objection

When I starting studying in University, I was given a separate room for me. The common link between me and my grandmother was broken. Now she was alone in her room. She accepted her loneliness without saying anything and without objection.



Word Meaning
Sat by Sat near
For a while For a short time

Now, most of the time she was sitting in front of her spinning wheel. She did not talk to anyone. From morning to evening she sat near her spinning wheel. She said her prayers. In the afternoon, for a short time she used to feed sparrows. That was her only method of relaxing.




Word Meaning
Bits Pieces
Veritable Real ,Virtual,
Bedlam Uproar, Confusion, Lot of noise
Chirrupings Sound of little birds

She sat in the verandah to feed sparrows. She used to break bread into small pieces before feeding sparrows. Hundreds of birds used to sit around her. This created a real uproar of sounds of little birds.



Word Meaning
Perched Sat
Shooed Made somebody go away by saying ‘shoo”

Some birds sat on her legs while others sat on her shoulders. Some birds sat on her head. She did push any of them away. It was her happiest half an hour of the day.



Word Meaning
Abroad Foreign country
Further studies Higher studies

I decided to go to foreign country for my higher studies. I was certain that my grandmother would be unhappy to know about it. I was going for five years. And nobody was sure if she would be alive till my return. But she knew that she would be alive.



Word Meaning
Sentimental Emotional
Mind was lost Fully occupied

She did not show any emotion to know that I was going abroad. She came to railway station to see me off. But she did not talk. She was not emotional at the station. She was saying her prayers. Her lips were moving. She was fully occupied in her prayers.



Word Meaning
Telling beads of rosary Say prayers with rosary (maalaa)
Cherished Liked, Respected
Imprint Impression, Mark

She was moving her fingers on her rosary and saying her prayers. Without speaking anything she kissed my forehead. I respected the moist mark of kiss as the last meeting with my grandmother.



But that was not the last meeting. After five years when I came back, my grandmother received me at the railway station. She looked as old as she was five years ago.



Word Meaning
Clasped Hugged
Frivolous Superficial, Light minded
Rebukes Scold, Reprimand

She did not speak anything while she hugged me. I could hear that she was saying her prayers. Even on the day of my arrival, her happiest moments were with sparrows. She fed them a litter longer and superficially scolded them.



In the evening she was a changed person. She did not pray. She called women from our neighbour. She brought an old drum. She started singing and playing that drum.



Word Meaning
Thumped Beat, Struck repeatedly
Sagging Loose
Skin Material at the end of a drum
Dilapidated Worn out, Shabby

For many hours she was beating the skin of the old worn out drum. She sang songs of a warrior coming back to his home.



Word Meaning
Persuade Convince, To make agree by appealing
Overstraining Getting more tired

We had to repeatedly request and convince her to stop playing the drum. We did not want to get her more tired. That was the first evening that my grandmother did not pray.



Word Meaning
Taken ill Became ill
Mild Low
Her end was near She would die soon

Next morning she had become sick. She had low fever. Doctor told us that fever would soon go away and she will be alright. But she felt something different. She told us that her end was near and she would die soon.



She told us that only some hours were left for her death. She had not prayed last evening. She wanted to pray. She did not want to waste her time in talking to anybody. We objected. But she neglected our objection.



Word Meaning
Pallor Yellow colour

She was peacefully lying in her bed. She continued to do prayer with her rosary beads. Before we could have any doubt about her condition, her lips stopped moving. The rosary fell down from her fingers. Her face became yellow. We knew that she was dead.



Word Meaning
Customary As per customs
Shroud Cloth, Cover, Sheet

We lifted her from the bed and laid her on the ground. This was the custom and we followed it. We covered her with a red cloth. We expressed sorrow to each other for few hours. Then we came out of the room to make arrangements for her funeral.



In the evening we went to her room. We put her on a rough stretcher to take her for her last rites. The Sun was going down. In her room and verandah there was shine of golden light. We stopped in the courtyard.




Word Meaning
Wrapped Covered
Scattered Spread widely

My grandmother was lying dead in her room. Her body was covered by a red sheet. Everywhere in the verandah and upto her, thousands of sparrows were sitting. They were silent. They were not making any sound.



Word Meaning
Crumbs Small pieces
Took no notice Did not pay any attention

We felt very bad for the birds. We thought they had come to eat bread. So my mother brought some bread. She broke it into small pieces similar to as my grandmother used to do. She threw those pieces to sparrows. The sparrows did not pay any attention to the bread.




Word Meaning
Corpse Dead body
Swept Cleaned

When we started carrying the dead body of grandmother, the sparrows flew away. They did not make any noise while flying away. Next morning one of the helpers of the house cleaned the floor. He put all the crumbs into the dustbin.







Poet – Shirley Toulson

Word Meaning
Paddling To walk in shallow water
Some twelve years or so Of about 12 years’ age

Poetic Devices

When the two girl cousins went paddling, Alliteration
Each one holding one of my mother’s hands, Repetition

The poet is looking at a photograph that is printed on a cardboard or paper. In the photograph the poets sees her mother and two cousins of her mother. They had gone to sea shore and walked in shallow water. In the photograph they were standing in the shallow water. Each cousin was holding one  hand of her mother. At that time age of her mother was about 12 years.  Her mother was the eldest of the three girls.



Word Meaning
Still Not moving, Motionless
Smile through hair Used when hair falls on a smiling face
A sweet face A beautiful face, A lovely face
Terribly To a great extent
Transient Changing

Poetic Devices

All three stood still to smile through their hair Alliteration
All three stood still to smile through their hair Alliteration
At the uncle with the camera. Repetition
My mother’s, that was before I was born. Alliteration
Washed their terribly transient feet. Alliteration
Terribly transient feet Synecdoche

While my mother’s uncle had taken the photograph, all the three girls had stood motionless. They were smiling. Their smiling faces were partially hidden because of hair. Their hair had come on their faces because of breeze flowing at the sea-shore. My mother looked very beautiful. This photograph was taken before the poet was born. The sea has not changed much since the photograph was taken. My mother has changed a lot.



Word Meaning
Snapshot Photograph
Wry Amusing
Laboured With lot of effort

Poetic Devices

Some twenty — thirty — years later Alliteration
Was her past, mine is her laughter. Repetition
laboured ease of loss Oxymoron

Betty and Dolly are names of cousins of poet’s mother. After about 20-30 years my mother used to laugh at the photograph. She was surprised to see the dresses worn by herself, Betty and Dolly at the sea beach. Poet wants to say that dresses worn at the sea beach have changed a lot since then. Sea beach holiday was my mother’s favourite pastime. And I enjoyed laughter of mother most – meaning that company of mother was most valuable to me. We both liked our favourite activity. After death of my mother we are not able to enjoy our favourite activity.  I make lot of efforts to bear the loss of my mother and try to remain at ease.



Word Meaning
As many years Same number of years

Poetic Devices

As that girl lived. And of this circumstance Alliteration
Its silence silences. Alliteration

Now the mother is dead since last twelve years. (As many years means the same number of years. In the beginning of poem it is mentioned that age of mother at the time of taking photograph  was 12 years) And her daughter, the poet, still alive. In this situation I do not have anything to say. I have nobody to speak to. There is total silence around me.





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