Telegram comes to a full stop

Telegram comes to a full stop

For the last 163 years, it conveyed good and bad news to people — birth of a child, a death, and greetings on birthdays and festivals. But at the stroke of 10 pm on Sunday, the telegram service came to a halt in India.

Hundreds crammed into telegraph offices across the country to send one last telegram to their loved ones on the last day of the service offered by the Indian Postal Services.
Telephones  and mobiles becoming a household item and easy access to emails and text messages spelt doom for the telegrams sent through Morse code–an arrangement of dots and dashes–since its invention by Samuel Morse in 1844.

In Bangalore, both young and old, and those who have never sent or received a telegram in their lifetime, thronged the telegraph section of the General Post Office to send their messages.

Charged per word, some sent out lengthy messages while others chose single words to convey their sentiments.

While some were seen sending two to three telegrams, some others sent more than 15.

Nikhil sent 21 telegrams. “This is the first and the last time I am using this service. So, while there are no sentiments attached, it is always good to have a memento for yourself,” he said.

But, for many, it was an emotional moment. “My father is a retired postmaster. He was a telegraphist during World War II. So, I am sending this telegram to him as a remembrance,” said Hari. 

During the telegram era, people across the country waited for the knock of the khaki-clad postal worker delivering the message.

Dr Praveen recalled the crucial role telegrams played in older times and shared a funny experience of his. “Ugadi is not celebrated in North India. I sent a message to my father who was then in the north and the message read ‘Attend Ugadi on 4th’,” he said. 

“The person in charge of sending the telegrams did not understand what ‘Ugadi’ meant and changed it to ‘gadi’. Finally, when the message reached my father, it read
‘Attend body on 4th’,” Praveen said, laughing. “It brought  my father rushing back,” he said.

“It was a hilarious experience. Today, I am sending these telegrams to my kids,” he said. The announcement of winding up the telegraph services, which evoked nostalgic demands for its continuance, came last month after a huge shortfall in revenue of the department running it.

According to officials, the government spent around Rs 100 crore a year on running the service, while the returns are only about Rs 75 lakh. The government had hiked the charges to Rs 27 for the first 30 words in 2011, the first revision in 60 years.
There are 75 telegraph centres in the country and the 1,000-odd employees involved with telegrams will be absorbed by the BSNL to manage mobile services, landline telephony and broadband services.

 For a rare telegram user, it’s just the end of a way of life while for many others, it is an end of an era.

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