The Koslanda tragedy:
Need for better communication techniques a sine quo non
My first contribution was published in the Daily News, about 64 years
ago. It was woven around an old woman on whom her hut crumbled in a
Her hut was at the edge of our land where it met the fields and for
days the hitherto desolate place seethed with people who gathered there
more out of curiosity in that rural setting where sensational events
were a rarity.
What did they tell her? Obviously that she should leave that death
trap of her hut. But none of them ever told her where to go. Or did they
tell her at all? The dead leave behind no tales, so the old woman would
never in macabre fashion rise from the cluttered debris around her and
accuse, “No. They never told me anything. The world was too busy to tell
me anything let alone notice me”.
Communication, though it can turn into a bugbear as demonstrated
recently, is as old as human civilisation, the development of language
In the absence of language, other ingenuous modes are used for humans
to interact. The writer remembers a white flag fluttering in a village
almost sunk within the rings of mountains in the hill country. From
roads that ran above it was an enthralling sight. That was the medium of
communicating a funeral in the cosseted hamlet. The Ana Bere too was the
most popular mode of communication in days gone by.
“Asav! Asav!” That meant the spread of a royal decree. If finding
more high connections to this business of communication, we have to
revert to the Buddha himself who can be reckoned as the most efficient
media personality. We have just bypassed in the calamity a Poya that
celebrates the launch of his teachings via five disciples.
Oh. Bhikkhus. Go your way spreading the Dhamma and each should take
his own path. No two need to go on the same route.” All other religious
leaders too naturally fall into this category of concerned media
A modern counsellor need to have added more injunctions at a time as
that which presaged the Koslande tragedy and even been mindful of these
factors. Will the message really reach the intended recipient?
Can the message so conveyed be put into actual practice?
Is the message conveyed in a plausible manner that the recipients
would act on it fast?
Unlike in the instance of the encounter of Pas Vaga Mahanun of the
Isipathna Deer Park fame here is an occasion where life and death
themselves are immediately involved. The gap between the disposer of the
message and the recipient has been testified by quotes from the involved
officers. The haughty disdain is evident.
Ea minissunta kochcharawath yanta kivva. Eth ahuve nay”
We told those people several times to go away. But they never did”.
Conjure a pack of obstinate bulls not heeding any advice. The matter
ended there for the bureaucracy but tragedy followed killing hundreds.
Indifferent communication can be as bad as non-communication. One has
to make a go of it, if this process is to succeed. The target group has
to be netted where they can be netted the most. Crowded places as the
fair, the village co-operative, the local bus stand are very suitable
venues to disseminate important messages and for this, did those
officers ever go round and halt at these places saying that the angry
hill is moving, that the massive rock is sliding down? May be they could
have been accused of raking up unnecessary fear. But that is better than
seeing hordes of dead bodies.
In any calamity, natural or otherwise, the ones at the bottom suffer
the most. Come thunder, rain or floods. they get victimised first. A few
years back a newspaper carried a grisly photo of five young girls
electrocuted under a tree in our country. They had gone searching for
firewood even as the clouds darkened and grew heavy with rain. The girls
could have been even domestic servants afraid to go back to their
working places without the firewood.
Needless to say none of the girls belonged to the upper class or even
the middle class. Such miserable dramas too stalk only the poor. That
those in the lower rungs move more with the natural elements need no
reiteration. Flash a streak of lightning or let thunder make a little
fuss, those used to soft and luxurious living ensconce themselves in
bed. Their finely built houses would even last up to doomsday and never
would accompany eroding earth.
Hence more vigilance regarding communication that percolates down to
the masses is very much in need. There are whole Ministries and
Departments delegated this task and endowed with all equipment mostly
electronic and starkly modern (imported fresh from the west), but it is
usually the glamorous aspects they are in pursuit such as the doings of
politicians and the haloes of men and women already in the limelight.
Crime publicity today has earned a place mostly due to the
sensational aspect of it. Even that pays. There is an evil alternative,
that is to chant, que sera sera, “whatever will be”. But that is a
despicable alternative that decimates to zero valuable human life.
Better communication modes for the lowly and the poor and for those
far from the capital, is what is needed. And of course the needs of
those for whom good communication is a matter of life and death have to
be especially considered.