Friday, 11 December 2015

The Undefeated

I was ten years old when I was first introduced to the adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha.

It was a school literature textbook – Radiant Reader if I’m not mistaken, with a logo of a rising sun on an open book on the cover – which had a children’s version of the tale of his “tilting at windmills”. This, of course, is the one story everyone knows about him. I assume the reader of this knows the tale well enough so I don’t have to repeat it, so I won’t.

My class teacher then was one Miss Corrie. Thinking back now, 35 years later, she was probably in her mid twenties and also probably very pretty, with a cap of curly hair and a narrow intelligent face. Back then, of course, she was as old as the hills to us, and either annoying or frightening, depending on her mood of the moment.

One thing she knew was to tell stories. I mean, she didn’t just read out of the textbooks – she really knew how to tell the tale, bring it alive, at least to anyone who was interested in listening. She also knew how to pronounce Quixote correctly – ki-ho-tay, not quick-sot. To this day I am one of a vanishingly tiny minority among people I know who can call the Don by the name he chose for himself.

So, one day in class she opened up the textbook and told us the tale. Don Quixote and Sancho saw the windmills, the Don insisted they were giants, he charged at them, the windmill’s sail picked him up, horse Rosinante and all, and flung him to the ground...and what happened after that.

The rest of my classmates were either bored to death (“lessons!”) or laughed at his craziness, but I was...well, I was totally, fully on the Don’s side. Even then.

Even today, three and a half decades later, I remember the pleasure I felt when the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance...instead of being beaten, instead of owning himself defeated...he got up, brushed himself off, and declared that, basically, he hadn’t been beaten, that he would go on doing exactly as he planned. Pain be damned – he would put his blood and bone, flesh and mind, on the line and nothing would get in the way.

What a brave man Don Quixote was!

That wasn’t exactly the wording in which I thought this, obviously – I was ten years old – but the sentiments were exactly this. And, many years later, when I finally got hold of and read the book, which actually is a pretty impressively thick 120-odd chapters – I discovered that I hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface of just how brave he was.

Yes, of course he was crazy. One has to be crazy to try and remake one’s world as one wants it, and take all the blows that said world throws one’s way. And one has to be crazy to stick it out, as Quixote did, until he arguably proved himself far more heroic than the fictional knight errants he was trying to emulate.

And, of course, he was invincible. Oh, his physical body was vincible all right. You could beat him up, and mock him, and even almost kill him. But you could never, ever, break his spirit.

If you can't break someone's spirit, whatever you do, you can't beat him.

One of my favourite adventures of Don Quixote is the time he went into a lion’s cage to prove his bravery. The lion, wanting nothing to do with him, lay down in the corner, whereupon Quixote asked the keeper to stir the animal up with a stick. The keeper refused, saying the knight had already proved himself brave enough.

Also, crazy or not, one thing Quixote was emphatically not, unlike the entire social structure around him, was evil. He may have been deluded, but he was striving against a system which was not quite as insane as he was, but actively malignant, one where the very concept of chivalry or humility would be as alien as the giants and wizards the Don thought he was fighting.

I’ve long wanted to paint him, and one of the reasons I didn’t try it before was the simple fact that I didn’t think I was good enough. Now, though I am certainly not the best of painters, I do think I am good enough.

I hesitated a bit over whether to paint him on stone, using acrylic, or paper, with gouache. Paper would undoubtedly be easier (for example I could pencil outlines as guides), but I decided the Don needed to be painted on stone, to match the granite at the core of his character. This was also undoubtedly the largest painting I have ever attempted on stone – the piece is about the size of a shoebox. Unfortunately, even then, there was no space left over for Sancho. I will probably paint them both again, though.

And I need to buy a copy of Cervantes’ book. Time I read it again.

Title: The Undefeated
Material: Acrylic on Stone 
Copyright B Purkayastha 2015


  1. Your painting does justice to the great Don Quixote. —Jim

  2. Bill,
    I like your painting. Yes, you do need to do it again and include Sancho. Like you, I also need to re-read that great book again. It has been far longer than your 35 years since I last read it. Hey, if I make it till the later days of this month, I'll hit 68 years on this rock we call our home planet.
    Yes, Don may have been a bit crazy, but as you pointed out, he was NOT evil. Far too many evil critters, two legged, in this world of ours. Also, being a bit crazy can actually help you get through some very difficult times. Just be careful to not go too far crazy, as in off the deep end. As my grandpa used to tell me, most everything is OK, in moderation.

  3. Good stuff Bill. Recently Cervantes bones were disturbed in Spain's modern vainglorious assertion insisting on it's cultural greatness; by men who are not worthy to polish the shoes of the one they profoundly but hypocritically worship. Cervantes is not the property of Spain but is solely the property of a rare and unorthodox Pantheon of legendary men, no matter nationality. If indeed they have disturbed his ghost, I say let it be to inspire another such as he who would set example one's spirit can be greater than any institution.

  4. I very much relate to Don Quixote. For most of my life I stood up against what I perceived to be evil... and sometimes ended up being viciously attacked. Perhaps I was wrong at times and was fighting against delusions. I do sometimes wonder how crazy I am.

    Great painting! I think it's your best so far!

  5. Definitely good enough.

  6. Tu es Don Quijote, es verdad. In so many ways.

  7. I probably don't have to tell you to never, ever, see the American movie called "Man of La Mancha", or a musical production of the same name.

    1. Never heard of it till this moment, but I'll be sure to keep that in mind :)

    2. Benni speaks truly. The musical production was written by grave robbers who were looking for a more appalling career.—Jim

  8. Da Im artistically handicapped and so I have no clue how to judge your paint but after I read your monologue I feel you did justice with The Don. But thats my feeling really


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