21. 1. 2021

English version | Public-Private Partitions

by Nuno Miguel Dias


The pinnacle of what we’ll be discussing below is encapsulated in that forceful interview done to the murderer’s neighbor right after he went to jail. Taken by surprise by the media team, she’s dressed in Hello Kitty pajamas and a nude robe and babbles out something like: “I’ve never noticed anything. He seemed like such a calm person. He was so nice.” The private sphere is, oftentimes, a den. An uncrossable lair where only those who are inside can ever say they witnessed it. That’s what happened to many characters in our History, recently or not. We’re bringing to the public what some of them held most privately.

How to wash away History? By hiding the dark side of their players. And no, we’re not talking about Cleopatra, who’s forever carved in our retinas as a blue-eyed Elizabeth Taylor, what in itself would be impossible since she was a Nubia queen, whose exoticism and charisma won over Júlio Cesar, according to few historical data and a ton of hearsay. We’re also not referring to Alexandre Dumas, the glorious author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, both inspired by the heroic actions of his father, the Haitian Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, son of a white marquis and a slave – and that, at one point, was sold as a slave, when he was a child – but that ended up commanding more than 50 thousand men as a general during the French Revolution. His son, the mulatto who was translated with honors from the State in 2002 to the Paris Pantheon, thus conquering the unfair racism that prevented his father from entering the pages of History. Even less so, we wouldn’t dare to mention the most washed away of all, the one and only, Jesus Christ, the Nazarene who, understandably so, never took a stand in our mind as a dark Jew from the Middle East, as he obviously would have been. The incredibly fair skin tone (sometimes even with rosacea), the long blondish hair (sometimes with a slight balayage, other times Californian highlights) and blue eyes ended up forming the image that reached our day and age, the one of a boy who, parables aside, was “made to our image”, meaning, “picture him as you like, as long as you turn the other cheek and whatnot.” Although these are times where the pertinence of the aforementioned is perhaps a little bit more than debatable (as if there had been, until now, any period where racism wasn’t a pertinent subject), it is not the one I’m referring to when I say “washing away History” or “hiding the dark side of their players.” It’s not figurative. It’s literal. Because if it’s natural that the great people in the History of Humanity have become, with time, idolized, when it comes to their biggest flaws, for which they were known within their households, neighborhoods or even by those opposing to their ideas, these tend to be swallowed by the mist of memory that ends up fogging the trails of an unprecise past. From now on, we don’t take any responsibility for the chock these following facts might cause over those we’ve always thought as the archetype of integrity. Some of them. Others, not so much. Welcome to the universe of gossip, hearsay, rumor, intrigue and bavardage. All the things we generally enjoy. Even if we say we don’t.

The time was set for 7 a.m. In my city guy logic. Because in reality, that is the time monks in that region of Thailand, a furnace of humidity close to the border with Burma (today’s Myanmar), take the offerings that constitute their breakfast. What’s for sure is that they were told some occidental person would be there at that time. There was no need for an alarm clock. Because contrary to what one might have thought, the tropical jungle is submerged in a sepulchral silence during the night while at night it is replaced by the deafening sounds of monkeys, insects, and lizards (yes, the loudest animal of all). Only that ascetics have the terrible habit of building their temples in isolated places. If I was to take the road, it would be double the distance, and odds are I would be lost by the time I reached the third Bridge Over The river Kway (that same one). I decided to do some cross-country which ended up not being a total jungle. It was a dense net of bamboo canes of unbelievable diameters that would tangle to the height of my waist. It wasn’t, thus, a track. It was an obstacle run with 35 degrees and 80% air humidity, without water, and carrying a bag of rice and some vegetables I had cooked the night before. When I finally saw the temple, it looked empty, besides one or two dogs with that terrible look all Asian dogs seem to have, skin and bones and with a gaze of “illness” in their eyes. Inside the building, monks were sitting in a circle around the eldest one of them, who stood up as I walked in, showing the most reproachable posture. I was 45 minutes late, a younger monk informed me, refusing to translate the elder’s following words. I still recall that, to this day, as my biggest reprimand, though. Loud and articulate but, fortunately for me, in Thai. I couldn’t help but wonder: “But aren’t these people all about peace and forgiveness and whatever?”. But I must have verbalized it somehow. Because said monk-boy explained to me that Buddhism is a process. It doesn’t mean there aren’t flaws along the way. After all, we’re all human. Even me and I was simply late, without knowing I would be disturbing in such a vile way the peace that should characterize that place. Thus, leading the “boss” around there to show me his other side, which odds are not even those other monks had witnessed until then. For a Buddhist, all that irascible behavior wasn’t at all condemnable. Removed from western principles, which would entail a tracking of the psychological profile that would aim to find child abuse or psychosomatic causes. There, what anyone did before their search for Nirvana was of no consequence whatsoever. Buddha himself was Sidharth Gautama, a prince accustomed to living a lavish life before he experienced said three visions that sent him on a quest for Bodhi. Here, in the Occident, once you reach that stage, a bunch of news outlets would rush to find all the dirt the poor chap had done in the past. We love some hot tea, don’t we?

Hindu of the State of Gujarat, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, globally known as “Mahatma” Gandhi, honorific title that in Sanskrit means “Venerable” or “the Great Soul”, is one of those names we all have present at all times and that mention with the utmost respect, even if we don’t know that well the role he actually played in contemporary History. We’ll explain it though. He was the one who fought for the independence of India from the British Empire. But he did it resorting to “Non-violent Resistance”, a terminology he immortalized. One of his great legacies is the one of 1930, when he led Indians to challenge the saline tax instated by the colony with the Salt March (400km). When, in 1942, independence was finally instituted, the nationalist lawyer was already lifer of the Indian National Congress, a position he took over in 1921, after being the face for numerous peaceful campaigns against the institutionalized power, since he had returned to India in 1915, from South Africa, where he had been expatriated and fought (pacifically, always) for the civil rights of black communities. He lived a humble life, in a self-sufficient community, always wore his dhoti (a white traditional garment), and dreamt of an independent India based upon religious plurality which, in 1947, he ended achieving. But not before the British Empire split the country in half, into a mostly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, as well as outbreaking multiple acts of violence throughout the country (or countries) so brutal, they led Gandhi (who hadn’t been present at the Independency ceremonies precisely because he was against the division of the country), to start a hunger-strike on the 13th of January 1948, one that came to an end on the 30th of that same month, when he was killed (at the hands of Nathuram Gotse, a radical Hindu). 

Nonetheless, in this gossip thing, as in everything else, the more contemporary the subjects are, the bigger the impact. Greta Thunberg, who only very recently became of age, is already held as an undeniable icon in the fight against climate change. However, her activism might not be as spontaneous as one could have thought. The Internet is filled with images where we can see her eating fast food from plastic containers, from critics to the opportunistic launch of her mother’s book, the opera singer Malena Ernman, who became vegan thanks to her daughter’s convictions, to accusations of being simply a lobby “weapon” for the companies funding her fight, taking advantage of their “problem.” Because if her most public facet is the one of a rebellious child against grownups who want to steal the planet from future generations, her private sphere hides problems with autism and eating disorders: “She was slowly disappearing towards a sort of darkness. She quit playing piano, laughing, talking and, lastly, eating. She lost 10 kg in two months”, her mother revealed. It was around that time that Greta’s father found out she was being bullied at school. Only afterward was she diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, as well as with obsessive-compulsive disorder. It was her autism and bonds with other people that led to the most substantial improvement. More recently, the entire world bowed down before the death of an idol – of not one, but multiple generations. I wasn’t a fan of football until I watched the unforgettable performance by Diego Armando Maradona on the World Cup of Mexico in 86. Even then, no one at the time thought they were in the presence of such a legend. To be honest, no one thought of football in those terms, as today it is bound to create a messy discussion if someone at the table raises the question: “Who’s the best player… Messi or Ronaldo?” It was about the pure enjoyment of a moment and all the enchantment it entailed. There were many, many the stars that since then, flashed before our eyes, from Ronaldinho Gaúcho to Zlatan Ibrahimovic… But there was never another like Maradona. In such a way that not even all the commonplace scandals surrounding him managed to knock down such a picture of greatness. And yet, it’s paradigmatic to consider that one of the most scrutinized lives ever still kept some secrets private. Within many private spheres. And the families that were left behind by his complicated trajectory. All his ex-wives accused him of physical and psychological violence. In 2014, his girlfriend Rocío Oliva recorded a video where he was seen assaulting her while trying to take her phone. Three years later, the same woman called the reception of the hotel they were staying at asking for help: she was being assaulted. In 2019, his ex-wife and mother of his two daughters, Dalma and Giannina, Claudia Villafañe, reported a file on domestic violence. Outside his family circle, other complaints also arose, like the one from a Russian reporter who, in 2017, accused him of undressing her against her will and offering her cash for sex. He was even publicly accused of having sex with minors, though these cases never got trialed in court. In Cuba, where he lived from 2000 to 2005, he was photographed many times accompanied by naked teenagers. Santiago Lara’s mother, who pushed a court action against him so he would recognize his son, with whom she got pregnant when she was still a teenager. Apart from the violence exerted over women, what people had always been suspicious about was finally revealed in a documentary by Asif Kapadia in 2019, Diego Maradona, where many unseen videotapes lead to the obvious link between the football player Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia, through Carmine Giuliano, from the Giuliano clan, who would be his main cocaine supplier, an addiction he took up in Barcelona. All his ascend and fall can be resumed by the years he played for Naples. But not even eternity will erase his deeds. The ones that glorified him, yes. But neither the ones that will forever cast a black cloud over the legend.

What if, in the meantime, we were to find out this symbol of exponential concord amongst people and of pacificism (October 2nd, Gandhi’s birth date, became International Day of Non-Violence) was, after all, a racist, warmonger, and pedophile? When he was a lawyer back in South Africa, he would have written that the white race should be predominant in that country. And that “the English try to put Indians at the same level as black people, who only know how to hunt and whose sole ambition is to gather enough cattle to buy women.” Apart from this, in the final stretch of his life, he would have “slept with naked women”, including the wife of one of his nephews, only 17 at the time. When confronted with these allegations, he answered that the only reason he did it was to test their chastity. The claims are made by two Catalan journalists, Malcolm Otero and Santi Giméneza, in their book The Club of the Abominable. But that’s not all. Another very famous Indian, Mother Theresa of Calcutta (truth be told she was from Skopje, Northern Macedonia, and was called Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, though later she got Indian citizenship), who dedicated her life to helping the poor, became a Nobel Prize winner for Peace and was canonized for her deeds, had a rather occult dark side. Medical reports point at fundamental issues in the medical and caring facilities ran by her congregation, from lack of hygiene to the absence of basic equipment, going through unqualified, untrained caregivers. In the aim of Malcolm Otero and Santi Giméneza is also Steve McQueen, the king of cool, who was, rumor has it, intolerable. He wanted to make it in Hollywood so badly he would turn the entire shooting of a movie into a living hell, leaving most of them without any friends. In fact, everyone who had ever worked alongside him would avoid him ever since (Quentin Tarantino explores this theme in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, specifically in the Playboy Mansion scene). Besides, he was addicted to Peyote and cocaine, while systematically cheating on his first wife, Neile Adams. “Very few women are creative. I wouldn’t send my daughter off to a Physics degree. I’m very pleased with the fact that my wife knows nothing about science” is a quote by Albert Einstein, a man often described as a cold, aggressive husband, and an even worst misogynistic. It’s nothing short of interesting to know that sources close to the couple, amongst their first marriage with fellow physicist Mileva, affirmed how his wife was equally good or perhaps even better of a scientist than himself, that being one of the reasons why the complex led to aggression. The couple’s second son was, in the meantime, diagnosed with schizophrenia and Mileva spent the rest of her life as his main caregiver. Albert moved on to become as we know him today, the brilliant astrophysicist. Or maybe even that can be, as the man himself stated when talking about time, relative.

Translated from the original on Vogue Portugal's The Mirror issue, published january 2021.