The telegram I never sent

While I wrote telegrams for homework, Amma spoke of the telegrams she had sent.

Going through my parents’ ancient wedding album from 28 years ago, I found the last quarter of it filled with cut-outs of greetings and wishes sent via telegrams. Some of the telegrams were pasted in whole, while others were rectangular cut-outs of the six to 10-word wishes with names of the senders, stuck separately, one below the other.

Those limited words in faded royal blue hue, in capital letters, were not completely alien to me; for I had seen, heard and read about them, but not so much examined any. I had neither received nor physically sent one. Where was the need? I grew up in a time when landline phones were available quite easily for emergencies. For out-of-town calls, there was always the neighbouring kiosk which allowed us to make STD and ISD calls till 10 pm, for exorbitant rates.

I did, however, learn the art of writing telegrams in primary school, between 1996 and 2001, as it was a part of the syllabus. I always had a hard time limiting my sentence to seven to eight words. That was the trick after all – decreasing the number of words as much as possible so as to lessen the cost. I did succeed most of the times; but all that knowledge went in vain. I have heard that in the present day, children are taught to write e-mails in their English classes.

While I wrote telegrams for homework, Amma used to talk about the telegrams she had sent. Every time I read the telegrams she had received during her wedding and my birth, I would be in awe. I still fancy old methods of communication, probably because they weren’t as instant as they are today, making them special and wait-worthy. I still prefer writing letters to sending e-mails.

About two and a half years back – July 2013 to be precise – when I heard that telegrams were going to be extinct in a few days, I decided to finally send a telegram for the first and the last time. Sadly, college assignments managed to snatch away my time. On the last day, despite knowing what day it was, I admit I did not try making an effort to take a walk to the post office.

Newspapers reported about old men and women – employees who had worked in the telegram section all their lives – weeping on the last day, July 14, 2013. Men and women, children and the elderly, waited in queues all day long to send telegrams. And I wasn’t one of them. It was a wish left unfulfilled and will always remain so. The system was functional in the country for 163 years.

From telegrams to postcards and inland letters, and from letters to e-mails and SMS, I have had a glimpse of them all with the turn of the century (and millennium). However, not sending a telegram will always feature at the top of my list of irrevocable regrets.

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