Last telegram

Telegrams will become history in India in a month,  with BSNL’s decision to stop the service from July 15.

The humble snail mail may plod its way for some more time because there is some need for it and patronage in many parts of the country. But the odds were heavily stacked against the telegram with the spread of telephones, both landline and mobile, and the advance of e-mail. BSNL tried to save the telegram from extinction by redeploying it for uses like money transfer and by  increasing the charge. But what always prevails in evolution is the Darwinian reality. Faster and more accessible means of communication, on which the communicator has better control, made the telegrams  redundant.

The telegraph marked an important stage in man’s efforts to shorten time and bridge space. Like all tools of technology which pushed history forward,  telegrams also have had a great social and political role to play.  When it was first was introduced in India by the British 163 years ago, it helped  them to control and administer a vast country.  The first war of independence was defeated perhaps in the telegraph offices of British India. But when the imperial tool of communication became a  countrywide network,  it connected people socially and personally.

The message of emergency rode on it.  It was identified with the urgent and the unexpected,  and it imposed a code of brevity on language. The arrival of the messenger brightened up faces with glad tidings but  darkened others with bad news.  Some of them changed lives forever. Before the computers took over news rooms information travelled through the clutter of the Morse code around the world, and even life in mofussils came alive in hours. But an hour is a long  time in today’s instant world, and the runner has to stop and bow out with the script.

One wonders whether there will be nostalgia.  But many will keep memories with mixed emotions.   Things change, and obsolescence is the law of life. Drums no longer send out coded words and pigeons do not fly with messages. Even the pen  and ink are perhaps endangered.  But when the last telegram goes out on July 15 an age would have ended.  An epitaph would certainly  be in order, as one whose name was writ on wire or in air.

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