In Farewell to the Dear Telegram …

Special Story by Deepak Dube

\"T1\"Telegraph had achieved its centenary on 01.11.1953.    But alas ! it could not achieve a bi-centenary. It has become a part of history from 15.07.13, and by this reckoning in its 160th year. For a modern medium of communication, however, even this count is remarkable. Surely, none of its progeny, viz the net-based mail, SMSs or any of their current variants, are going to have that longevity. We are into an an age of fast technological super cessions.Except for the last decade-and-a half of its 160-year long currency, the telegrams were an integral part of our life , in a way as no other mode of communication had been ,or shall be .

The nationalist in the heart of each of us would feel at the juncture of its departure that its first impact on the national life of India was rather \’anti-national\’ — the telegraph was one of the several factors that helped the British defeat the patriots of 1857. But thereafter, the facility gradually permeated our society as its quickest and surest mode of ultimate communication , as if to make amends . From being the mode of the most momentous of our news … \"T2\"

 A telegram in long – hand ; from Patna to Allahabad dt. 21.08 1941.

…it had the distinction of popularity for facilitating the passage of the less momentous and sometimes even the more mundane of our news :\"T2\" Telegram of the typed – text ; from Kanpur to Allahabad ,dt. 17.04.1941

\"T4\" More typically \’ telegramic\’ in appearence –the telegram with the printed message-scrolls pasted on the form;from Allahabad to Bangalore, dt. 28.08.1942 


A typical Telegram-reciept ,dt. 28.08.1942

 It is amazing to know , in the present times of e-payments , that in its heyday, the telegraph was also the mode of express money-transfers, in the form of the telegraphic money orders


 A telegram in long – hand ,requesting a money-transfer by \’ wire \’; dt.29.12.1945


  Acknowledgement of a Telegraphic Money Order , dt. 28.08.1942 , with acknowledgement of reciept stamped 13.09.42

To have an idea of its comprehensive utility as a mode of communication in one of its best managed versions, in one of the best organized societies of its time,i.e. Great Britain, one only has to read ,, or re-read , the adventures of Sherlock Holmes . That may have been , mostly , in the Victorian milieu; but the telegraphic phenomenon continued to hold its own well into the vogue of telephony , and in all the spheres of life ranging from the personal to the commercial;the political and the military to the strategic and tactical intelligence, in the decades to follow.

\"T8\"The telegraph was not just a medium of communication. It influenced popular imagination and language , to give us some of our most graphic and telling speeches of expression : a sudden death could be a \” taar from the yamraj \” . Telegrams symbolized urgency , criticality ,and all that was emergent with a certain finality about it . Hence, a telegram always meant excitement usually over extremes of news , either extremely thrilling or extremely saddening.

Around such a phenomenon, it was natural for a distinctive style of expression to develop. This is the \” telegraphic \” style . Ironically, when the telegraph was on its way out, the \”telegraphic \” style was the \’in-thing\’ , both in literature and in academics. Compare any thesis in any subject, written in tne fifties, or even the sixties, with one of our own times to see the difference. While the former would look and sound more formal and verbose , those of today would appear more to- the – point and less formal of expression. Today, the most fruitful and paying writing style for most of the subjective – type competitive examinations like that of the Civil Services , is the \”telegraphic.

In literature , too , the \”telegraphic\” style is now the most fashionable. Especially, the terse\"T9\" and cryptic prose of some of the contemporary authors like V.S.Naipaul has been widely termed and acclaimed as \”telegraphic.\” Definitely, the vogue of the \”telegraphic\” style has ensured economy of words to the virtual exclusion of all circumlocution , brevity of the narrative- layout , increased usage of allusions , symbols and idiomatic descriptions. The short stories of Chekhov and Premchand, today, appear to be short-novels when compared to the ultra-short , and rather \’ telegraphic \’ contemporary short- stories. The telegraph may be a thing of the past, but its stylistic legacies would live long. Modernity , certainly, is \”telegraphic\”.

However, the telegraph had begun to take its leave since quite some time now, almost unnoticed. Most of the telegraph- offices in most towns had wound-up long back, with only the nodal or the district -level offices open to service. Evidently, the telegraph had already been made to recede from most of the country-sides and hinterland. Where were those who are politicizing the issue of the withdrawl of the service today and agitating in opposition to the Government\’s decision , then ? This fact became known only when enthusiasts and philatelists began to look – out to book their last telegrams.

In good time, it became known that the last day for a telegram to be booked would be the 14th of July (a Sunday) and not the 15th , as had been understood from most news. For logistical consideration of last-moment hiccups, the \’ penultimate \’ dates of 12th (Friday) and 13th July ( Saturday) became important . .As had been indicated in most quarters , for the surety of the last-telegrams, it would be best to book them on the \’ penultimate \’ dates. Yet, even on the 12th, difficulties in transmission had begun to bog the system.

Even as I am penning this piece, the first of the \’last\’ telegrams sent to me on the 12th and the 13th July have arrived. These are \’ local \’ however, sent by BSNL as ordinary post, \’ delay intimated \’ . The ones from other places are yet to reach.

One hopes that all of the \’last\’ telegrams would reach their destinations and will not be lost in the oblivion of official apathy , inaction and disservice , the way quite a big quantum of ordinary post is lost in some of the northern Indian states .This becomes a serious concern when one gathers that all the telegrams booked, but remaining un-transmitted as after closure of the service from the 15th of July ,, would be sent to the addressees as ordinary post …

Obviously. we have not been able to tender the out-going facility a \”telegraphic\” farewell. Why are the \’last\’ telegrams being made to go the way of ordinary post when the public has paid the telegraphic charges for them ? Could\’nt the business of the final days be planned better when the event was well known in advance? It would been a better way to manage the issue by closing the bookings as announced, but keeping the telegraphic transmission open till all the booked telegrams had been passed – on . Yet , those manning the policy- chambers would be having \’ valid \’ bureaucratic and technocratic reasons for not doing exactly so.

Be the things as they stand, we would do best to wish our \’last\’ telegrams sure and safe delivery and ,as the message goes , bid a warm goodbye to the \’ missives in the Morse \’ .

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2 Responses to In Farewell to the Dear Telegram …


    I think the final blow to Telegrams has been dealt with by the
    popularity & ease of a mobile phone. Fax & E-mail are still
    quite elitist in India.

    This mobile communication is also finishing-off the Post Card &
    Inland Letter for sure as a means of personal communication.

    Mobile telephone is also softly killing
    Landline Telephone.

  2. Santanu Panigrahi. says:

    It is common phenomenon that new invention supersede the old one. There are several instances like Typewriter superseded by Computer, Radio superseded by Television, Cycle superseded by motorcycle, Bullock cart superseded by Motor Car. So, this is natural cycle where we get new invention in place of old one. Now Telegraph is History. RIP.

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