An Indian visitor to Roman Chester

An amusing write-up in The Times of India.

I’d never met a Roman soldier
before and wasn’t sure as to how to greet him. Hail Caesar? But suppose the guy
belonged to the other camp. Hail Brutus? In the end, the Roman soldier solved
the problem by saying Hi, I’m Lance, your guide for the day. Bunny and i were in
Chester, in the British county of Cheshire, and Lance represented the Roman
Soldier Guides, said to be the fourth most photographed subject by tourists to
the UK. In his orange-crested brass helmet, body armour and sword belt, Lance
was assuredly snapogenic, and he obligingly posed for sundry shutterbugs in
between filling in Bunny and me on the origins of Chester, where over 2,000
years ago the Romans had set up a fort the size of ‘six football fields’. It was
just as well we had Lance to tell us about Chester’s Roman past. Because —
thanks to the exertions of the local council in the 1960s who thought they’d
tidy up the place by clearing it of all those bits and pieces of old stone
— there’s precious little of that past left in Chester, barring the
basements of a few shops where Roman pillars carved in indomitable sandstone
have stood the test of time and the vandalism of city dads.

As we
walked around Chester — a picture-postcard city with its obligatory
cathedral, paving-stoned lanes and squares lined with signature black-and-white
half-timbered houses, and its maze of canals — I was struck once again by
how ingeniously the Brits have taught themselves to market their history —
even when that history has been obliterated thanks to the misplaced zeal of a
bygone generation. No more Roman ruins left? Right. Dress up a couple of guys in
ye olde Roman gear to give visitors a walkabout through a vanished past. Lance
made a perfect sutradhar for a Roman colony that had long disappeared. Why
couldn’t we in India similarly showcase our history, using actors playing Mughal
emperors — or scam-tainted netas with suitcases of swag?

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