I had a dream. A very vivid one. In which Caesar crossed the Rubicon. And the masses cheered madly. That it was Caesar I had no doubt. There was Most Royal Personage written all over the front page. About the Rubicon there was some element of suspicion. Those marshes, that lagoon, the casuarina groves. These [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

The royal road to ruin-a-nation


I had a dream. A very vivid one. In which Caesar crossed the Rubicon. And the masses cheered madly. That it was Caesar I had no doubt. There was Most Royal Personage written all over the front page. About the Rubicon there was some element of suspicion. Those marshes, that lagoon, the casuarina groves. These put me more in mind of Muthurajawela than a landmark river near ancient Rome which our conquering politico had to ford before he could be acclaimed Imperator or Emperor.

Be that as it may, it was a Very Important Event (VIE) in the life of the Republic. The VIE vied for every column centimetre, sound bite, and long lens moment in the loving eye of the media. That Caesar crossed the Rubicon was not the point. It was, if one dare essay it, beside the point. Point was that there was a Rubicon to be crossed. By a bridge across the public imagination.

It looked to me very like a road… a long and broad and gloriously carpeted road… not unlike the one to dusty death – all tarmac-ked and macadamized and paved with the best intentions (like another proverbial road to the netherworld). I, too, would have cheered madly – because access to the heli-drome has been cut in half for half the length of the total route (go figure that one). But something Cato the Censor, that firebrand opposition MP, recently said in parliament about Carpeted Roads being the bane of our transparently corrupt society made me – like the ranks of Tuscany – forebear to cheer. 

In the meantime the media in my dream made the most of our Most Royal Personage crossing the Rubicon or fording the Republic, or taking the high road… take your pick, dears. Next day’s newspapers in the same dream trumpeted the beginnings of a more benevolent triumph for the all-believing hoi polloi. Money was pouring into state coffers, they hallooed! Here’s royal coinage enriching the republican strongbox by the thousands – no, the millions – of sestertii! I believe the impressed scribes who recorded the inflow of incalculable mint into state treasure chests mentioned that one million denarii had been raised by the passage of an estimated eleven-thousand chariots on the first day! Who’s to know; who’s to care; who’s really counting, comparing, contrasting? Statistics taken and quoted out of context can be made to sound like national salvation’s noisy gongs. Nobody much noted that nearly two billion denarii per Roman mile of Rubicon-crossing Road was the Royal cost to the Republic – what with the enterprise spanning, as it did, the unaudited administrations of at least two other Caesars and a Boadicea (remember her, dears?) to boot…

That the plebes, the proles, and the hoi polloi were suitably and sufficiently impressed was gleaned from the Careful Culling of these titbits of Citizen Conversation in the aftermath of the VIE:

“At last, a fast track to the heli-drome or air-chariot base!”
“By next year, it will connect the high road to the hill country, no?”
“Now we have two major high roads, you know…”
“Some time soon we will have six high roads to the south!!”
“North where the barbarians are might also be connected by next century?”
“Caesar crossed the Rubicon in his own chariot!”
“Chariot or no chariot I am glad we have Caesar!”
“Cheering Caesar and the Royal Roads across the Rubicons is the least we Citizens of the Republic can do to show our gratitude, no?”

Don’t get me wrong, dears. I’m glad the Royal Roads are being constructed. And I can’t complain about Caesar handsomely appropriating (“hogging”, in Latin) the credit for it. Any self-respecting Rubicon-crosser would have similarly grabbed the perfectly understandable opportunity (Greek for, “photo op”). None of us seem to care nor need to know how much corruption went into the building of the Royal Roads across the national imagination – that’s all water under the Rubicon-bridge. After all, it’s par for the course in perfectly normal island-republics such as Persia and Parthia across the seas… So, why can’t our Caesars indulge themselves a bit (or, in Hebrew, “serve the nation”)? But one can’t help wondering where all this is going to lead. And we don’t mean either of the two air-bridges these Royal Roads are servicing!

Let me share what else I saw in my vision or waking-nightmare. The press cuttings I clipped from my psychological insights of one night by the banks of the Styx included these – on the same page as Caesar’s celebrated Crossing of the Rubicon: ‘Casinos can be banked on by the nation to boost our flagging tourism industry.’ ‘No bombs have exploded in the Republic since the Great Triumph of many moons ago.’ ‘Air-chariots of fire to be imported to promote the prevailing Pax Romana and prove we are a nation at peace.’ ‘Good, bad, or ugly; no one can condemn what we choose to bring into the country.’ ‘Rome’s critics are all hypocrites because they are jealous of the state of our prosperous Republic.’

Then there are also the revelations in the Forum that ‘Corrupt Carpet-baggers are Rushing to Catch Road-Carpeting Contracts’. The Mongol Empire is making our Caesars take the hard road of hard loans at Commercial Rates in order to carpet our dreams. Taken in the context of Cato the Censor’s findings before the Forum that these mean ruin should make Real Republicans rue the day that the Caesars of a bygone age began to build the air-bridges across the Rubicon. Those that would bring more warmongering air-chariot wheeler-dealers, casino kings, and cheap tourists on the lookout for a deal on the never-never in. 

Do pinch me, dears, I must be dreaming. By all means let us roll out the Red Carpet for our Rubicon-crossing Caesars and Carpet the Royal Roads from here to Chogm (that mythical capital of the wider Commonwealth) and beyond. But let’s not have any Camouflage about the state of the nation. Rome is on the Royal Road to Ruination. Dream time is over.

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