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Saturday, July 13, 2013

just 2 more days to go....... Telegram would cease to exist in India... !!


This morning when I drew a list of ‘to do’ ~ this featured on the top of the agenda and reading it did bring in a wry smile……. ~ I did complete the agenda, rushed back home and waited eagerly for the man to come calling…. A person to whom the whole India waited in the morning ….. in every cinema you can see aged people waiting for him to deliver a message….. 3 decades ago, it was the King……… but the service has lost millions once the cellphone, email, SMS and other technologies galvanized Indian population. The nearly empty telegraph office is a pale shadow of what it was once !

There are times when feel anguished – when a particular thing ceases to exist…..though we know that things are not permanent, all will change and only change is permanent… there is some mental block to accept most changes… modern day youngsters may not understand the importance and the way certain things co-existed or the way we grew up in our younger days………  I entered this building today ~ already it was forlorn… not many used this service in the past few years…. Sad it could not fight obsolescence …. Irony that it was associated with speed once…. Things are relative in life…  for a second thought what would happen to once busy building ~ the workforce got reduced over the years……..

A few decades ago, the Post Office in every area was the most visited place – it used to be always busy…… people used to communicate through letters [post cards / inland letters / covers and the like…] – when was the last time, you ever wrote a letter [handwritten]  to your relative or to your friend – a few decades ago, that was the most chosen form of communication…. Caring parents would send off their wards telling ‘drop a letter immediately upon reaching the place’ … almost all official communication was by way of typed letters with signature of authorized persons.   Then there was this telegram – the most efficient and speedy communication of message[of those days] ….. ‘telegrams’ used to cost high and hence only most important things would be sent by telegram and people used ‘short words / abbreviations’ for conveying as telegram was charged per word.

Those people were thoughtful in saving money in every possible way and hence when it came to sending telegrams the first thought was ‘how to save Words;  the  right way is economical, the wrong way, wasteful. If the telegram was to be  packed full of unnecessary words, words which might be omitted without impairing the sense of the message, the sender was guilty of economic waste. ….. there was this ‘Telegram style, telegraph style’, a clipped way of writing that attempts to abbreviate words and pack as much information into the shortest possible number of words and or characters. For long mankind had been using abbreviations and code words and this came in handy to compress the meaning of phrases into a small set of characters for ease of transmission over a telegraph, which those days revolutionized the way people communicated…………… much faster and most important decisions were conveyed through telegrams.  Do you know that “The term STOP was used in telegrams in place of the full stop. The end of a sentence would be marked by STOP, because punctuation cost extra”.. Read that the first message Samuel F B Morse sent from Washington to Baltimore  was way back in May 24, 1844.  Morse was the one who invented the system of sending text messages over long distances by assigning each alphabet a unique sequence of dots and dashes.

In India, telegram had been overtly official in communicating selection process and ………. At homes, the arrival of postman carrying telegram was dreaded for many a times, sad messages used to be delivered through telegram………. In those olden days, one could obtain a train [air too !] ticket by showing the telegram…. !!  ~ and people used them for obtaining ‘leave’ in office too; some young lovers caused heartbreak to their parents by informing their elopement…..  In Insurance field, Development Officers and Agents used to send telegrams to Office about collection of premium [especially in Friday evenings after office hours and on holidays] as a proof of collection and to ensure compliance of Sec 64VB of Insurance Act.

It was at somepoint the backbone and most trusted official communication, now after 163 years, it is about to experience a painful ‘full STOP’ – when was the last time you saw a Postal worker delivering a letter at your door – in most flats you see them in your box [or worser still lying down] – and do you remember the postman coming in a cycle to deliver that ‘telegram’. On Monday, 15th July 2013, the state-run telecommunications will send its final telegram, closing down a service that fast became a relic in an age of email, reliable landlines and ubiquitous cellphones.

The Government till today has been using  telegrams to inform recipients of top civilian awards and for court notices. Fearing that the younger generation at home, might never see one in their lifetime, today morning [13th July 2013] I walked into Telegraph Office, Mount Road, Chennai Road and booked a telegram to my son……… it  cost only Rs.28/- [somehow it has not been delivered at home till this moment of posting this at 0930 pm]

Before concluding read in the Hindu that the  Madras High Court bench  on Thursday ordered notice to the Ministry of Telecommunication and Bharat Sanchar Nigam limited (BSNL) on two public interest litigation petitions that sought restoration and continuance of the telegram service in India. The petitioners contend that the BSNL failed to consider the rural masses before scrapping the telegram service. The petitioner, a Madurai-based advocate, claimed that 70 per cent of India’s population lived in the rural areas where communication through mobile phones and email had not reached. “Telegram is also an integral mode of communication for the lawyers, litigants, armed force and police. Urgent interim orders in habeas corpus, bail and civil cases are normally communicated by the court through telegram. The armed police personnel extend their leave through telegram,” he contended.  The other petitioner alleged that the BSNL gave a ‘stepmotherly treatment’ to the telegram service before scrapping it.  He states that BSNL should have made it more cheaper to attract people but instead raised the rates.  The petitioners pleaded the court to direct the BSNL to restore the telegram service and hand it over to the Postal Department.

Most unlikely that the telegram would survive. The first telegram in India was transmitted between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour on November 5, 1850; the service was opened for the public.




With regards – S. Sampathkumar.
13th July 2013….. @ 2130 hrs.

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