The poem ‘An Old Woman’ gives a graphic picture of an old beggar woman. The decay of the old woman here symbolizes the decay in our own lives. She grabs hold of the sleeve of a person and tags along with him till the person gives him a coin in alms. Like all other beggars, she insists on getting something from others. She is a poor woman who has lost the promises of her past and is reduced to the present state. The speaker, in the poem, views her squarely and becomes aware that decay has set in her person.
Summary of the poem
An old beggar woman catches hold of the sleeve of the speaker and insists on getting a fifty paisa con in alms. She tags along with him and promises that she will take him to the horseshoe temple. If he tells her that he has already seen the temple, she hobbles along with him and catches hold of his shirt tightly and again insists on getting a fifty paisa coin. She will not let him go. Like all other old women, she, too, sticks to him life a burr (prickly seed case of plants which stick to clothes). He turns around and wants to get rid or her. In order to end this useless activity, he tells her firmly to leave him. When she remarks, “What else can an old woman do On hills as wretched as these”. He looks right at the sky in contemplation. As he looks on her, he finds that the cracks that begin around her eyes have spread beyond her skin. The decay of the old woman has spread to the hills and the temples and in our lives. The old woman stands there alone. And he is reduced to the small change in her hand.
Someone may be walking and a woman may grab ahold of his or her sleeve. For a price, she will take what seems to be a sightseer to a nearby shrine. The man will not interested: he has seen the shrine before. However, the woman will be insistent; the man may want to dismiss her because she is an old woman, and they cling and won’t let go. The man will turn, about to end their association, to put her in her place and demand that she leave, but she will look at him and explain that there is little else left for an old woman to do in the hills where she abides: how can she live? She seems to imply. The shock the man receives is looking at the sky, perhaps as blue as the woman’s eyes: but what stops him is the sense that her eyes are like bullet holes—this image is shocking and riveting, as is, perhaps, his enlightened perception of this woman and her connection to this old land. The man will note that as he looks at the woman, and the cracks around her eyes, the cracks will seem to spread to the landscape around her: to the hills, the temples and even the sky. But he will see, as he watches, that even though the sky may fall and shatter around her, she is untouched: “shatterproof.” In the midst of the life that has reduced her to trying to earn some money as a guide for tourists, and seen only an old woman to the tourists—not worth their time and barely worth their notice—her resolve is strong. She is a part of the land, as old as it is: she is as immovable. She lives, the man will see, with what is made available to her. It would seem, that in the face of the man’s realization, he will feel as if he has been reduced to nothing more than his money, for he does not have that kind of connection to his land or his heritage. And perhaps, in light of the trials and tribulations of life, he is really the unimportant one—beyond the small change
in his pocket—but she stands, unbreakable and strong.
1. Who is ‘you’ in this poem?
Ans: – The reader/anyone.
2. What does the old woman grab?
Ans: – The sleeves of the tourist.
3. Why does she grab sleeve?
Ans: – Because she wants a fifty paise coin.
4. What would she do if you pay her a fifty paise coin?
Ans: – She would take them to the holy shrine.
5. Where would she take the tourists?
Ans: – To the horse-shoe shrine.
6. Where is the horse-shoe shrine?
Ans: – In Jejuri.
7. How does the old woman walk?
Ans: – She hobbles along the way.
8. Why does she tighten her grip on the shirt?
Ans: – Because the tourist should not slip away/go away from her.
9. How do the old women stick?
Ans: – Like a burr.
10. What does she expect for her service?
Ans: – A fifty paise coin.
11. How would he end the farce?
Ans: – By giving the old woman a fifty paise coin.
12. What does she ask when you would like to end the farce?
Ans: – What else can an old woman do on hills as wretched as these?
13. What does ‘the cracks that begin around her eyes’ suggest?
Ans: – That the woman is very old.
14. Where do the cracks spread?
Ans: – The cracks spread beyond her skin.
15. What is meant by the hills crack/temple crack/The sky falls?
Ans: – Hill/temple/sky are the hard things that are unshaken even they crack, but the old woman is harder than these objects who could tolerate all the difficulties of life.
16. How does she stand?
Ans: – Alone.
1. How does the speaker’s attitude undergo a change?
Ans: – The speaker is on a visit to the temple at Jejuri. He meets an old woman there. She is not an ordinary old Woman. She represents the degradation of human values. The old woman offers her service of taking the tourist to horse shoe shrine for just a 50 paise coin. She hobbles along the way. She holds the tourist by the sleeves & sticks like a burr. The speaker feels that she is being exploited by her. Then later, he understands that she is doing this as there is no other ways for her livelihood. There are cracks around her eyes & they spread beyond her skin. She faces many difficulties in her life like the cracks in the hills & temples. Even the sky be falls on her she stands all alone, firm and bring change in the self-esteem of the speaker. The speaker is reduced to so much and he keeps a small change that is a fifty paise coin in her hand.
1. How is the plight of the old woman depicted in the poem?
Ans: – The old woman is depicted as a helpless lonely pitiable person, who is forced to beg for her living, but she is proud enough to render a small service for the money that she asks; she will take the tourists to the horse shoe shrine) When the tourist says that he has seen the shrine & tries to walk away, she tags along. Though she is unable to walk properly, she hobbles along the tourist gets irritated with her & turns around to scold & sends her away. She asks what a lonely, old helpless woman could do, if not beg from people He looks into the sunken eyes which look like bullet holes & sees the innumerable wrinkles which seem to stretch all around her up to the sky His irritation vanishes & his pride collapses in front of her helplessness. He feels guilty for not being able to help her in any substantial manner. She is shatterproof, having faced such tourists & being asked such questions every day. There is nothing more in life to surprise or excite her. He just gives her some coins & goes away. She goes back & is forced to enact the same behavior with another tourist.