The Khaki clad messenger on a bicycle was an unwanted visitor to a household, in the fifties and sixties and was perpetually viewed as a harbinger of bad tidings, quite unlike the postman, who was always welcome! The sight of a messenger carrying telegrams late at night or early in the morning triggered panic and set pulses racing! The telegram, when invented, was epoch-making, as it was the quickest channel of communication till the seventies and eighties, and could convey death, ill-health, birth of a child or examination results, round the clock! A telegram was always opened with trepidation and with unsteady hands for fear of the ominous news it might carry!
“May heaven’s choicest blessings be showered on the young couple”, was a greetings telegram that was sent to the just married couple in colourful orange, green and yellow envelopes. “Mother serious, start immediately”, was sent to convey urgency. The birth of a child was conveyed thus, “Lakshmi delivered female baby. Mother and child safe”. In today's age of emails and ubiquitous touchscreens, where grammar is sidestepped and sentences are abridged for expediency and speed, these expressions seem like gobbledygook!
The telegram had a body, a soul and an emotion and was undeniably tangible. It is reminiscent of a bygone era when we developed film rolls, wrote letters, recorded cassettes, dabbled in philately, practised the art of letter writing and booked a trunk call to speak over long distances. The virtual world is now a reality and we pride ourselves on being connected by cyberspace, but do we really feel the connection that a telegram or a hand-written letter conveyed? Samuel Morse’s first telegraphic message “What hath God wrought” might well be relevant now!
In the wake of a swift leap into the digital world, the telegram has been on the endangered list for over a decade, for lack of profitability and patronage. Sadly, it will become extinct in India as it is consigned to the annals of history on 15th July, 2013. The last telegram to be sent out on 14th July might well be an objet d’art that could find its way into a museum some day!
My growing up years were spent listening to telegraphic jargon, the clutter of the dots and dashes of the Morse code, teleprinters and telex machines . The Telegraph Office was my late father’s shrine where he worshipped work indefatigably, with a diligent band of employees to ensure that messages reached the remotest corners of India. The code was etched in his psyche and in his pensive disposition, his fingers involuntarily tapped imaginary sentences. As the sun sets on the last vestige of an analogue era, I feel a strange void and nostalgia. The death of the telegram hence feels like a personal loss!