[Column] Delft by starlight

For as long as he remembers Vishal Onkhar has been a night owl. Nevertheless he experiences a brand new nocturnal adventure in Delft after dark one night.

Vishal Onkhar: “Rembrandt’s forays into Indian drawing techniques might have guided his hand in The Jewish Bride, a copy of which hangs in the hallways of 3mE.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

To those who know me, it will come as no surprise that I am a creature of the night. My work timings routinely spill into the wee hours of the morning as I often have bursts of creativity while the city around me sleeps. It is also under the cover of darkness that I make the most progress in my duties, be it research or a Delta column. In fact, as I write this, the clock on my bedside table ticks softly and strikes three, but I am wide awake and feeling entirely at ease. I find that there are precious few moments more soothing than when all the world is quiet, and one is free to focus on the task at hand.

These nocturnal proclivities of mine are not new – I’ve been a night owl for longer than I care to remember, staying up into the small hours to watch movies or play video games, much to the dismay of my parents. But until recently, my nightly pursuits have solely been confined to the indoors, a fact I awoke to when cycling back home after a late evening spent at a friend’s. Instead of making a beeline for my house as is my wont, I decided, purely on a whim, to enjoy an extended ride through the old town and take every detour that caught my fancy. The weather was perfect for such an adventure – cool, not a hint of wind, and with a lingering scent of rain in the still night air.

The warm lights of posh dwellings lining the town square are enchanting to behold

Throughout this impromptu journey, I was in awe of how Delft after dark is utterly unrecognisable from the bustling city most people know by day. Doubtless, it is a picturesque town in the sunshine, but at night, it transforms into a scene of nigh indescribable beauty. There is not a living soul in sight, and the silence of the streets wraps itself around you like a long velvet cloak. The warm lights of posh dwellings lining the town square are enchanting to behold, and you feel like a moth drawn to a flame, bathing in its radiance. In the distance, the faint glow from rows of little houses dotting the canals is juxtaposed by the mischievous glint of stars strewn across the night sky. Is this what Van Gogh was trying to convey in Starry Night Over the Rhône? I set eyes on it once at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, three years ago. But I think I finally understand.

Cycling through the Oostpoort and via the quaint, paved streets, and standing in complete solitude in the centre of the city beneath the majesty of the Nieuwe Kerk, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the beauty of Delft. The old town is brimming with history, and there is so much that the brick walls have witnessed over the centuries and are yearning to tell. Stories of bloodshed and harmony, laughter and sorrow, fierce friendships, unspeakable betrayals, loves overcoming mountainous odds, and inconsolable grief in the face of loss – all laid bare if one were just to pause and contemplate it, in a museum the size of a city.

And as I turned to head home, absorbed in thought about the multitudes whose lives once revolved around this place, I thought I glimpsed the figure of a woman amidst the faraway glow, with flaxen hair and a flowing gown of gossamer. I did not chance another look, for I was loath to discover if she was just a trick of the light. But in that instant, I knew that even if the eons caused the memories of Delft to fade, they would never truly be forgotten so long as there were still those who remembered.

Vishal Onkhar is from Chennai, India and pursuing his PhD in Vehicle Engineering at TU Delft. He is an avid player of chess and video games, but he also harbours a special interest for reading and writing fantasy fiction. He doesn’t drink coffee but good music and film have the same effect on him.

Columnist Vishal Onkhar

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