The Fifth Column

12th October 1997

Choose your words

My Dear Mangala,

I thought of writing to you as everybody is either scolding you or praising you these days. You seem to be the man of the moment. You have gained a lot of importance by just a few words. Earlier, the only man from Matara that we knew of was Sanath Jayasuriya but now we realise you are from Matara too!

I am sure you are enjoying every moment of all this. This is a far cry from what you were - an innocent ‘podi kolla’ of a fashion designer with pictures of your creations appearing in the Sunday papers.

Even as recently as three years ago, when Satellite picked you to oversee our Post Offices, we hardly took notice of you though we knew you were one of the blue-eyed boys, supporting her to the hilt during those difficult days when she was clashing with AB.

Then she picked you to oversee the ‘Sudu Nelum’ campaign, you came up with your ‘thavalama’, and suddenly you were in business. When you called the Sinhala Commission Report a gift to Prabhakaran, you became the hottest property in town.

Now, Mangala, I don’t want to discuss whether you were right or wrong. That, I think, is a matter of opinion and you are entitled to yours. But, as someone who is also the official government spokesman, I think you should be more careful in what you say and how you say it. I am sure by now Satellite would have called you to a side, given you a small ‘tokka’ and told you, “Aney, Mangala, Maaluwa nahinneth kata hindalu...”

Then, I noticed that you had given wide publicity to all those “Satyagrahas”, that have become the order of the day. I don’t know whether using the state media to condemn those protests is the best way of dealing with this issue.

Then, I also noticed that there were not one, but two satyagraha campaigns. I would like to think the second campaign, with a totally opposing view to the first was a spontaneous reaction but that seems to be too much of a coincidence, isn’t it?

Now, you yourself said the Sinhala Commission Report will only help Prabhakaran. But I am sure Prabhakaran, that rascal, wherever he is, must be having the last laugh now seeing not only the majority community but also their religious leaders divided into two camps and trading insults at each other.

Certainly, Mangala, this is not the best way to promote your package, but I am sure you have realised that by now. I know some want an apology from you and we are all waiting to see what you will do about that.

And, watching all this, I am sure Dharme, our old friend must be a relieved man having been relieved of his media job by Satellite! See what a mess this media job has landed you in...

Anyway, don’t get disheartened, even if you have to swallow your pride and apologise. After all, if everything fails you could always go back to designing your batik sarongs and beach wear!

Yours truly

Punchi Putha

PS - If you only asked me how to deal with the Sinhala Commission, I would have told you to ignore it. Then, everybody would have forgotten what it said, after a few days. But then, Mangala, you wouldn’t be old enough to remember what dear departed Pieter Keuneman once said about Commissions: “It’s like a morning visit to the toilet, first there is a sitting, then there is a little deliberation; then there is a little noise, and finally, you drop the matter...”

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