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THE GATHERING STORM. Kangra, c. 1790. Victoria and Albert Museum
THE GATHERING STORM


The state of mind behind this picture is what T. S. Eliot has called 'the torment of love unsatisfied'. The posture of the lady, her eyes turned blankly away while her hand strays outwards to the courtyard, suggests a state of feverish distress and this impression is reinforced by the maids fanning her brow and bringing water. It is other objects, however, which emphasize the true emotional position. The presence of twin pillows, twin lotus-flowers, twin pitchers, bottles, towers and turrets suggests the passionate union with her lover for which she longs while the choice of these particular objects hints at the true causes of her tension.
Such frankly sexual symbols were borrowed by Kangra painters from the conventions of village life and poetry, conventions which, in general, stood in marked contrast to the more rigid codes of Rajput morality. 'The symbolism of village songs' Verrier Elwin has said 'is simply the symbolism of everyday set to music. The villagers actually do think and talk in symbols all their lives. When the emissaries go on the delicate business of arranging a girl's betrothal, they do not state their purpose directly, but say they have come for merchandise, or to quench their thirst for water or seek a gourd in which to put their seed. Similarly the whole intricate absorbing business of daily love is carried on by symbols. Not only the solicitations of the seducer but the domestic arrangements of wife and husband cannot be decently conducted without a verbal stratagem.'
In the present picture, it is the maid in the courtyard leaning on the long staff and the swollen clouds rolling up the sky which provide the vital keys. The staff is one of the commonest sexual symbols in village India while in Indian poetry generally, vast clouds, the flash of lightning and the fall of rain are treated as conventional equiva¬lents for the sexual act. It is for this reason that clouds and rain habitually evoke 'memory and desire' and why, in the present picture, the great clouds should play their supremely important role.