It’s goodbye to that thin strip of paper which once brought urgent news to people all over the country.
You recognised the knock instantly, you sensed the urgency and knew something was up. Known as the taar, the telegram was always the harbinger of Big News. You reached home safely and sent a telegram to your parents back in your village. Your wife delivered a baby and you let all your relatives know. Your mother-in-law announced her impending arrival by telegram. What was earlier transmitted via a dedicated telegraph line was later transmitted via the Internet. Now there will be no more dots and no more dashes.
A deluge of senders
Once it was announced that the telegram would soon be history (as of 14 July), I thought it would be a good idea to head to the telegraph office and send a few token telegrams to family and friends.
It was not a very original idea, of course! I discovered I was one among hundreds! When I reached the Central Telegraph Office last weekend, I found that all sorts of people were already there, sending off telegrams by the dozen. It was almost like a party, with strangers smiling and teaching newbies how to write a telegram (“No, no! You don’t need to write STOP anymore”, “Don’t forget to put in the pincode, it’s that tiny box on the side”). However, the telegrams that my friends eventually received were just scanned copies of the forms I filled in, and not the thin strips of paper we remember.
On the day I sent my telegrams, the weather too seemed to be in farewell mode. The rain came down in sheets when the telegraph lines went silent, for good...
When they made it to film
The telegram could send movie characters into a veritable tizzy.
The Sound Of Music: The eldest Von Trapp daughter Liesl and her boyfriend Rolfe talk of exchanging telegrams during one of their furtive meetings. She begins by saying ‘Dear Rolfe STOP’ And then says ‘DON’T STOP’ before running into his arms.
Munna Bhai MBBS: In this comedy directed by Rajkumar Hirani, a telegram announces the arrival of Munna’s (Sanjay Dutt) parents. This creates panic as Munna and his friends now have to convert their chawl into a hospital.
Masoom: Directed by Shekhar Kapur, DK Malhotra (Naseeruddin Shah) receives a telegram asking him to come to Nainital to pick up his son (the one he never knew existed), Rahul (Jugal Hansraj).
The humble beginning... and the inevitable end
May 24, 1844: The world’s first telegram is sent by Samuel Morse to his business partner Alfred Vail.
1850: India’s first experimental electric telegraph line runs between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour.
1851: The telegraph line is opened for the British East India Company.
1854: Telegraph facilities are opened to the public. William O’Shaughnessy, a surgeon, is the brain behind the system in India.
June 12, 2013: The official announcement to end the telegram service is made.
July 14, 2013: The Dot Dot Dash Dash script bids us goodbye.
To save time, the office had a list of 43 standard greetings. All you had to do was give the serial number. The messages included festival greetings, wishes for a married life, a new birth and a new home. And right at the end – deepest condolences.
From HT Brunch, July 21
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