Ringing a pleasant bell

Ringing a pleasant bell

Recently, my sister and I visited the demolished Central Telegraph Office (CTO) site in Bengaluru, where we worked 60 years ago.

This photograph, taken at the CTO in 1958, is a reminder of our time there. It was clicked on the occasion of the farewell party of Shri Chellam Iyer on his retirement. Thanking him were Mr Deguier and Mr Dodd, vice superintendent and superintendent, respectively.

On our visit, we remembered the days when the office was buzzing with Graham Bell’s telephone rings and Samuel Morse’s code sounds of dots and dashes.

The majestic stone board reading ‘Bangalore Telegraph Office’ stood in the compound full of tall trees and flowering plants. In fact, it looked like an extension of Cubbon Park.

Adjacent to our office were the Telephone Exchange, General Post Office and Mysore Government Insurance Corporation.

Vidhan Soudha was just coming up at that time. We used to see the prisoners chiselling the marble and making columns. Our famous haunt was the MIDC canteen where we ordered four-by-five coffees and two-by-three masala dosas. It was one of the busiest canteens serving people like big drive-in hotels.

Our superintendents and most of the staff were Anglo-Indians. After Independence, they were given the chance to work in the telegraph or railways. They were very jovial and kind, but very strict about punctuality and discipline. We had no weekends! And even on a holiday, we had to work for 2 hours — something that’s not really heard of today.

On festivals and other auspicious days, the telegrams would just pour in and we actually liked it because we were paid overtime money.

We also took part in many cultural activities of the Post and Telegraphs Association. Our superintendents lived upstairs in the CTO and a spiral staircase led us to their houses. I remember Mr Degueir had invited a few of us for a Christmas party once and we all had a very enjoyable time there.

At that time, Bengaluru was called a ‘night city’ since the neighbouring states had prohibition. By 9 pm, the streets would be deserted. With no proper bus services, no autos and odd duty hours, we fully depended upon cycle rickshaws and thankfully, they were very reliable. On one occasion, I sat down to explain to my grandchildren my work as a phonogram clerk. I told them that I had to ring numbers (remember those holed numbers) and take down telegrams, repeating them to confirm the accuracy.

Then I had to send the carbon copy to the accounts section and the original to the circulation desk. The words were counted and charged. These children found it very funny!

In fact, there was a very fine difference between S and H in Morse code. So a telegram saying ‘Sow Kamala matured’ became ‘How Kamala matured’.

The telegram took a longer time reaching its destination since it travelled the whole office giving its tired staff the much-needed break!

I am nearly 80 years old now and live in Dombivli in Thane district, Maharashtra. Though I am not in touch with any of them, but the voices of the people and the various sounds at the Central Telegraph Office still ring in my ears even today and transport me to Bengaluru in an instant.

Rajalakshmi Subramaniam
(The author can be contacted on 09619972308096199723080961997230809619972308)

To our readers
We invite you to share your memories through our column ‘From the Albums’ by sending in your photograph, with family or friends, in old Bangalore. You can mail us on dhmetro@gmail.com or metrolife@deccanherald.co.in

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