[Column] The winds of winter

Longing for a real winter, columnist Vishal Onkhar knows it is time to hibernate until the new year has dawned.

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)

I have a ritual of sorts that I like to observe at the onset of each winter. Upon the arrival of the first snow, I don my coat and my earphones and take a leisurely stroll amidst the nearest woods. During these meanderings, I always listen to the band Agalloch, their raw, heathen sound laying bare their reverence for nature at its wintry best. For me, this evokes visions of vast swathes of pristine forest, snow-clad and tranquil, with scampering hares and prancing deer stopping to feed beneath the virgin snow, and silent wolves receding beyond the timberline. A vivid picture, albeit a tad melancholic. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For longer than I care to admit, I have flirted with the idea of making this reverie a reality. But since first I set foot in Europe over three years ago, I have yet to taste winter’s kiss – the Netherlands simply does not harbour the icy heart that I seek. Every year, I draw up elaborate vacation plans of traversing the Scandinavian taiga on foot and basking in the beauty of the northern lights, but I am always kept from seeing these plans through. On one occasion, it was due to a long-overdue family visit. On another, it was a looming thesis defence. And on yet another, it is the unrelenting coronavirus. Things have gone so awry that I will ‘count my lucky stars’ if I am able to go stargazing in Lapland a year from now.

‘What better time than the present to keep your kith and kin close’

You might be bemused by my fascination for winter. But, hailing as I do from the semi-arid southern reaches of the Indian subcontinent, the chilliest weather I ever endured at home was a tame 14°C. Hence, my conception of winter was moulded in its entirety by the peerless landscapes in films such as The Chronicles of Narnia, shows like Game of Thrones, and video games such as the inimitable Skyrim. A high bar to clear, even for the most picturesque woodlands. I am almost afraid that, once outside the warmth and safety of my living room, the forbidding cold and predatory dangers of the boreal forest will dispel any romantic notions I may have of it for good. But that is a gamble I am willing to take, one that stakes my idea of winter against the real thing.

Until then, though, a thicket of trees in the Delftse Hout will have to do, with its fallen leaves crushed underfoot by the gentle steps of the many souls spending the holidays at home. What better time than the present to keep your kith and kin close, and dream together of a brighter, happier, and healthier 2021? One brimming with fulfilling days, restful nights, rejuvenating vacations, and a few well-earned comforts. Because Lord knows we are ready to retire this year and see what the future has in store. But for now, it is growing dark, cold winds are rising, and it is nigh time that I hibernate until the new year has dawned and winter has run its course.

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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