Long live, TELEGRAM!

Looking back at the telegraphic tidings

15th June 2013 08:06 AM
News on the impending death of telegraphic services in India has failed to evoke any sense of loss among people, particularly in networking sites, the modern day barometer of public opinion, but for some nostalgic outpourings.
Perhaps, not many in the modern generation ever had a real feel of the telegram, which played a glorious role in long-distance communication at a time one had to wait for at least three long years even after paying a princely Rs 3,000 as deposit for a mere landline connection.
And it was in those days the word “telegram” cried out from the doorway would send a chill down the spine of all, keeping those at home in deep suspense till the crisp message printed on a strip and stuck to a piece of paper, designed like an inland letter, was read out. True, the telegram was more associated with bad tidings, though it did bring good news too.
The last telegram I received was in 1991, on the sudden passing away of an uncle. The uncle’s son, living in another city, too received a telegram, sent by his brother-in-law, reading “Father dead”. The message broke the hearts of all at the house, particularly the son’s wife who started sobbing inconsolably as the news came from her brother. Only after reaching the hometown did the family know who had died.
Yes, the telegram is a one-way communication — a reason cited for its fall from glory — and always sends truncated messages. As telegraphic charges were on word basis, people were economical with words, thus offering enhanced scope for misreading of messages and misunderstanding. Once, a friend wanted to go to the telegraph office in a quaint hill town during a sudden visit. Remembering that he had to inform his office of his absence, he thought of just sending the cable. He asked a man on the road for the telegraph office. “What? You want to send a telegram?” the stranger asked with awe and gathered the entire neighbourhood around him, urging people to help out the “distressed” visitor. My friend had to wriggle out with great difficulty telling the worried crowd that it was okay if the telegraph office was not close by.
The telegraph office was once part of the daily itinerary of news correspondents in small towns. The correspondents were given a telegraph card, using which they sent stories. Their reports landed at newsrooms as telegrams.
Telegrams had another use for the common man: Sending greetings. For long, the department had a list of stock greeting legends for most festivals, special occasions, marriages and other things. All that the sender had to do is mention the code number in the booking form for a message printed in an artistically designed envelope. Towards the end there were 37 standard greetings listed and if we were to greet “telegraphic services” on July 15, we could go for code number 31. The message would read “Wish you a happy retired life”.
Online comments:
M G Warrier
The memory of 5 telegrams sent from Trivandrum Telegraph Office on July 10, 1979 to my three sisters, another relative and my father's 'Illam' in Payyanur(about 600km from Trivandrum) is fresh in my mind. My father who was staying with me breathed his last that day afternoon. As requested by me my friend Madhavan Nair sent out these telegrams conveying the sad news. When the trivandrum Municipal Corporation ambulance, which started from Trivandrum at around 5 p m on July 10, reached my father's Illam(house) by around 5 p m next day (It was raining and the old ambulance which had a breakdown on return journey took 24 hours to travel 600 km) all my sisters and other relatives had arrived there from different parts of Kerala and everything for the last rites had been arranged by my father's village. 4 out of 5 telegrams had been delivered on 10/11 July. The one undelivered came back to me after few days with a request to collect a 'refund' of Rs1.50(one rupee and fifty paise).


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