Column: Vishal Onkhar

Moments before dusk

Walking in the countryside outside Delft, Vishal Onkhar found himself humming a strangely familiar tune. He traced its origins and realised that he was living in this poem.

“I grew from a bright and hopeful MSc student to a tired and somewhat jaded PhD candidate in the final stretch of his endeavour.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.
Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day…


So went a dainty ballad I learnt as a boy of nine on Wednesday afternoons in Western Music class, in a petite international school tucked away in South Indian suburbia. I was the overzealous child who always stood barefoot at the front of the choir, sang at the top of his lungs, and inexorably drowned out the voices of the other kids. It mattered not that I barely comprehended or even properly enunciated some of the lyrics. All that mattered were the rousing visions of idyllic pastures and rustic homesteads in the mind of a sheltered city boy, and the gleam in his eye.

Fate is a curious thing. It has a way of creeping up on you when you’re not looking. I was on an ambling walk in the lush countryside outside Delft some 18 years later when I found myself humming that familiar tune once more. Possessed by a sudden urge to uncover the source of this long-forgotten song in my head, I hurried home across the verdant fields and twilight skies and turned to the mighty Google for answers. Several minutes of fervent searching later, I traced the origins of that delicate ditty to 1871 and the cowboys of the American West. Now here was a melody borne by yearning hearts across the oceans of time and far from home! And then it dawned on me – it was, on the contrary, very close at hand, for I was living out the poem myself.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this was the Shire!

You may recall my column on the jewel that is the old town of Delft. But spare a thought for its scenic outskirts beyond the Delftse Hout, replete with saffron and lilac sunsets, sprawling meadows sprinkled with ornamental trees like highlights upon a sea of emerald green, whinnying horses and serene cattle, babbling brooks, meandering trails with their little crimson bridges, watchful owls, and flocks of ducks dancing across iridescent skies. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was the Shire! And against such a backdrop is a place I am fortunate to call my home. Me, who has never lived more than a stone’s throw away from a supermarket before!

And true to its mythical reputation, this area lies in limbo – on approaching from one end, a signboard says you are leaving Delft; on approaching from the other, you are told you are leaving Delfgauw! Still, just like moss on a tree, this tranquil setting grows on me day by day. There is always a charming new spot to stumble upon, taken straight out of a Jacob van Ruisdael landscape painting. I like to imagine the Old Masters once stood around these parts with their easels and palettes, surveying the terrain before setting up to work. Even familiar scenes are seldom timeworn here – there is something inexpressibly beautiful about the moon grinning at you through wisps of lavender cloud, mist on the surface of a nearby pond, the intoxicating scent of wet earth moments after a spring shower, and waking up to discover a bird’s nest in a nook of your hallway. What can I say? This is a good retreat to write a Delta column… or perhaps a PhD thesis.

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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